Scott Brown has tried to make the New Hampshire Senate race about national security, illegal immigration and incumbent Jeanne Shaheen’s political fidelity to an unpopular president.
But the Republican candidate has spent a lot of time the past two weeks defending his somewhat ambiguous record on abortion rights. The issue boiled over Tuesday at a hastily organized “media availability” in Derry, where Brown was set to talk foreign policy with Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla).
A frustrated Brown demanded the Shaheen campaign take down a television ad that spotlights his co-sponsorship of two anti-abortion bills when he was a state lawmaker in Massachusetts, calling it “despicable.”
By Wednesday morning, Brown had released a 30-second rebuttal that accused Shaheen of running a “smear campaign” that distorts his record. “I’m pro-choice,” Brown says while looking directly into the camera. “I support continued funding for Planned Parenthood, and I believe women should have access to contraception.”
This is not unfamiliar territory for Brown. He came under attack from abortion-rights groups in 2010, when he won a Massachusetts special election to replace the late Ted Kennedy, and again in 2012, when he lost the seat to Elizabeth Warren.
In both races, Brown’s pro-choice credentials were questioned in light of his support for “women’s right to know” legislation in 2003 and 2005. Among the provisions in the two bills was a requirement that doctors provide women seeking abortions with color photographs or “realistic drawings” of a fetus at two week intervals.
What role the legislation played in Brown’s defeat in 2012 is hard to know. But his rebuttal ad – which is running on WMUR, NH1, cable stations and in the Boston market – suggests he clearly sees it as a potential threat in 2014.
Brown was first asked about the bills on September 22. At a candidate forum at the UNH Law School with NHPR’s Laura Knoy, he appeared to draw a blank.
“I’m not familiar with the specific bill that you’re referring to,” Brown said. “I’m not sure if it’s wrong, but I’ve voted on probably 8,000 bills give or take in my lifetime.”
When Knoy pressed the matter, Brown replied, “I’d have to refer back. And if you want to get me some information, I’m happy to follow up.”
You can hear that portion of the interview right here:
Brown’s campaign issued a statement after the forum saying he “will protect a woman's right to choose.” But he had yet to respond to requests for comment on his support for the legislation until Shaheen’s ad hit the air.
In Derry, Brown maintained that his “sole intent” in backing the bill was to help promote adoption as an alternative to abortion. He reminded reporters that the bill was filed nearly nine years ago and never came up for a vote. And he said language in the ad saying women would be “forced” to view photographs of the fetus before getting an abortion is a “clear and blatant misrepresentation.”
“Nowhere in the bill does it say women were forced to do anything,” he said. “It required doctors to provide alternatives to abortion, to provide additional information, and that woman could have taken that and put it right in the barrel if she wanted to. It wasn’t forced.”
With every poll showing he trails by double digits among women, Brown, in forceful tones, reiterated his support of Roe. V. Wade as “the law of the land,” touted his co-sponsorship of the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act of 2012 and outlined his work as a National Guardsman to strengthen the Pentagon’s sexual-assault policies.
“The very sad thing about it is that Sen. Shaheen knows all of this,” he said.
Maybe. But there’s no chance her campaign will back off this particular line of attack, let alone retract the ad.
Indeed, on Wednesday, Shaheen took her “A Senator New Hampshire Women Can Trust Tour” to Keene and Peterborough, where she continued to hammer Brown on the issue.
“I believe women should be trusted to make private medical decisions in consultation with their families and their healthcare provider," she said, "not with the government, not with their employer, and not with Scott Brown."