Ad-Drop Period: Reproductive Health Jingles Sweep the Airwaves

Sarah Seltzer

Across the country, political ads have alleged that Palin forces rape victims to pay for their rape kits, that Obama supports infanticide, that McCain will constitutionally ban abortion. Which of these claims are true?

Across the country, women have
heard that Sarah Palin forces rape victims to pay for their rape kits,
that Barack Obama supports infanticide, that McCain will do everything
in his power to constitutionally ban abortion, and more. Of course,
not all of these allegations are true.  But as the election hits
the home stretch, ads targeting the candidates’ positions on reproductive health are
blaring from radios, televisions and computer screens, regardless of their accuracy. The
ads are popular in swing states, where issues like choice and the future
of Roe could net the dueling presidential candidates some crucial voters.

The following is a round-up
of some of the best, and worst, ads voters  are watching and listening to
as the election draws near. 

The Final Round 

After the final presidential
debate, NARAL seized on John McCain’s widely-discussed
use of "air-quotes" and a dismissive tone around the notion of a woman’s health exception to a late-term abortion ban. NARAL created this starkly compelling ad. 

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The Verdict: Okay, so McCain
didn’t use the air quotes ten times in a row. But even using
them once reveals a disturbing lack of sympathy for the health issues
facing women in all circumstances, as well as this particular one. 

Another viral video that
has been circulating on the Internet in recent days features a young
woman, tearily addressing VP Candidate Sarah Palin: "I didn’t have
a choice about being raped, but I should have a choice about this,"
she says, referring to Palin’s opposition to abortion even in cases of rape or incest. The ad was created by a group called "Women Against McCain

The Verdict: It is unclear
whether the woman in the ad is a real rape victim or an actress, but
the website does feature testimonials from rape victims, as well
as a number of sourced articles addressing Sarah Palin’s position
on abortions for victims of rape and incest. 

Rape Kits 

The news spread quickly last
month that under Sarah Palin’s mayoral administration, survivors of rape in Wasilla,
Alaska, had to pay out of
pocket for their own rape kits. The public outcry prompted several ads. 

The Nurses Association of California,
an 85-thousand member union, released an ad warning voters about Sarah
Palin, set to a chorus of "One Heartbeat," — reminding viewers that vice-presidential candidates are not presidential
candidates’ political assistants, but their potential successors.
As the tune plays, the ad mentions Palin’s rape kit policy as the
very first among a group of troubling laws and policies that Palin supported as mayor.
The ad ran in Ohio, Wisconsin, Michigan, Minnesota, Colorado, and Missouri. 

Verdict: The charges
leveled against Palin in this ad tend to be more sensationalistic, and
less based on her actual policies as mayor (e.g. she did apparently
once ask a librarian about book banning, but never outright banned books).
The rape kit policy was, however, part of a budget that
Palin explicitly signed off on.  

Planned Parenthood also targeted
the rape kit issue in an ad. The ad mentions not only Palin’s policies
as mayor, but also McCain’s similar votes on the issue in the Senate.
The Planned Parenthood ad is bookended by an interview with a rape survivor,
Gretchen, who says of making victims pay for their kits: "That is
something unthinkable, it scares me to death." The intense first person
interview takes the focus back to the individual women who are affected. 

Verdict: Despite the
emotional tenor of this ad, it comes with a detailed factual citation
both within the ad itself and on the website site, including basic list
of citations and a detailed PDF line-by-line explanation. You can find more information
about the Wasilla rape kit controversy is here

On The Radio — Obama on
Roe, Republicans for Choice

Last month, Obama released
a series of radio ads in swing states that featured a clip of John McCain,
during an interview on Meet The Press, saying he favored a constitutional
amendment banning all abortions. The radio spot is narrated by a nurse,
who says that if that happens, "the lives and health of women will
be put at risk." The radio ad garnered some attention because it seemed
to indicate that the Obama campaign sees choice as a winning
issue among undecided voters, rather than the third rail that many media
figures portray it as. 

Verdict: While it’s
unclear whether McCain would aggressively pursue a constitutional abortion
ban as president, there is absolutely no question that the new Supreme
Court nominations under a McCain presidency would put Roe in serious
jeopardy, as he’s cited
Roberts and Alito

as the model for judges he would pick. 

(You can read the transcript here.)

Meanwhile in Colorado, where
a ballot initiative declaring a fertilized egg a person is causing
serious alarm for women’s rights advocates, a group of Republicans,
The Republican Majority for Choice, has put out a strong radio ad encouraging
voters to vote "No." The spot is a dialogue between a husband and
wife. The husband says: "I want the government focused on the major
issues facing our state and our country – NOT in the middle of our personal
medical choices."  (Transcript here.)

Verdict: The ad provides
a straightforward explanation for what would happen if a fertilized
egg had legal rights: "basic birth control" might be outlawed, and
the state would face many costly lawsuits from families and doctors. 

Catholics Split 

The group has run an ad in crucial swing state markets with Catholic populations.
The ad features a Catholic mother sitting at her kitchen table–the
most popular place in the house this political season–pointing out
that the moniker "pro-life" applies to more than one issue. She
says John McCain’s record on health care and the war is not consistent
with that moniker. 

Verdict: On the site’s
home page ( the group cites McCain’s votes
against SCHIP and his support of the Iraq war as the factual backup
for this ad, as well as mentioning studies that show that the legality
of abortion has little effect on the abortion rate-while health care
and economic issues do affect the abortion rate. 

On the other hand, the group has a viral video (not an ad), that sends the exact
opposite message. Set to stirring music, writing onscreen reminds voters
that "some issues"–over a picture of a fetus–"are more important
than others"–backgrounded by a gas pump. The ad focuses on the importance
of "life and the family"–and images of anti-choice rallies and
gay marriage make it clear what that phrase means.

Verdict: The ad is mostly
abstract and makes no factual claims. But the reality is that voting
primarily on abortion may not have as wide effect on the abortion rate
so much as voting on access to health care, birth control
and sexuality education will. 

The Ugly 

As the race gets dirtier,
a group of anti-choicers are preparing a radio ad that would bring
back the old infanticide rumors against Barack Obama. And this ad, sponsored
by the National Right to Life committee gets personal, engaging Obama
in a he-said, she-said (or a he-lied, she-lied) spat.

Verdict: The timeline of this
issue is thorny and there have been mis-statements on both sides, but
Obama’s position on the "Born Alive" acts was definitively not
extremist, as many on the opposing side allege. Existing law protected infants already; the Senator was acting,
as he has said, to protect Roe and physicians from liability.
For a detailed investigation of both side’s claims, this article by
Eric Zorn in the Chicago Tribune

is about as thorough as possible. 

A ballot initiative in
California that would mandate parental notification for teens seeking abortion plays into parents’ worst fears. The ad features a grimy
actor playing a "child predator"–a man who serially impregnates
teen girls and takes them to get abortions–saying that he likes the
law as it is because it keeps his behavior "secret." The ad is low
quality, but certainly does have a creepy effect. 

Verdict: It’s a deeply
misleading ad. The current law is on the books to protect young girls
who may be suffering abuse at the hands of the adults from whom they would otherwise
be required to gain consent. Opponents of the measure are having
their own YouTube contest to oppose this ballot initiative

Even after the president is
elected, damaging rumors and false assertions about crucial reproductive health issues will
linger thanks to some of these ads, while the facts will do their best
to shine through thanks to the efforts of others.

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