Checking In On Senate Races to Watch

Emily Douglas

Checking in on hot Senate races with lots at stake for sexual and reproductive health.

A few weeks ago, I
checked in on the House races
in which pro-choice politicians had a chance to oust
elected officials who oppose access to reproductive health care — or in which RH advocates were defending their seats against anti-choice opponents.

Today it’s time to do the same for the Senate. For more background on these Senate races, check out our Election 2008 page.

Alaska

Anchorage Mayor Mark Begich is challenging long-serving Alaskan Senator Ted Stevens. The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee
has spent $1 million airing ads targeting the corruption scandal surrounding
Stevens, but despite the DSCC’s heavy spending
and Stevens’s relative silence, polls show the rivals
as neck-and-neck
. Begich is pro-choice and recently attended a summit hosted by the National Institute for Reproductive Health on initiatives taken by local leaders promoting reproductive health care and access. Ted Stevens calls himself pro-choice, and he has a 75% rating from NARAL Pro-Choice America but has also voted to ban certain abortion procedures,
supports parental notification and opposes comprehensive sex ed.

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Colorado

Current U.S. Rep. Mark Udall and former Rep. Bob Schaffer are facing off in Colorado for retiring Senator
Wayne Allard’s seat. Rep. Mark Udall has
received a 100% ranking from NARAL Pro-Choice America, while former Rep. Bob
Schaffer is opposed to not
only legal abortion but contraception and sex education as well
. Udall has a sizable
lead
, and on Friday, Marc
Ambinder reported
that the National Republican Senatorial Committee plans
to pull out of Colorado,
acknowledging that its funds would be better spent on other races. Udall was recently endorsed by the Denver Post, whose
editors said Udall was the candidate more likely to govern from the center.

Louisiana

Mixed-choice Mary Landreiu (she voted to deny indigenous
women on reservations coverage for abortion access through Indian Health
Services except in cases of rape or incest or to save the woman’s life) is a
two-term Senator defending her seat against anti-choice State Treasurer John N.
Kennedy. Polling
for this Louisiana Senate race shows Mary Landreiu with a significant advantage
over John N. Kennedy, though she
was long considered a vulnerable incumbent
.
Recent hurricanes offered Landreiu an opportunity to showcase
effective leadership for her state.

Maine

While both Maine Senator Susan Collins and challenger Rep.
Tom Allen are pro-choice, Allen recently tried to highlight differences between
himself and the incumbent on the kind of judges they would support, and making the connection to the threat judges can pose to Roe. He told Maine’s News 8, "I
want judges who are wise, not just judges who have done well in school, and I
think that’s the big difference between Susan and me. She’s voted for all but
two of George Bush’s 200 judicial appointees, and I think some people are now
on the Circuit Courts of Appeal who, frankly, are not qualified and are not the
right people to be there. If John McCain is elected and Susan Collins is
re-elected, then Roe v. Wade is gone, and I think it needs to be protected.
What Roe v. Wade did was provide for women in very difficult moral and
emotional situation the ability to make their own decisions, not to have a
decision imposed by any government."

Susan Collins was strong in her support for Roe, but also
suggested that she thought it wasn’t under threat: "I support Roe v. Wade.
I do not believe it will be overturned. It is part of the bedrock law of this
country at this point. It would be an overwhelming act for the Supreme Court to
overturn a decision that has been precedent for as many years as Roe v. Wade
has been. In deciding how to vote on Supreme Court justices, I do not apply a
litmus test because you really have no idea how someone will end up ruling on a
particular case. The record is replete with presidents appointing judges such
as President Bush, the first President Bush appointing Justice Souter, who
turned out to be far more liberal than he’d expected. President Eisenhower
appointed Chief Justice Earl Warren, who wound up being far more liberal than
he expected. So, you really can’t predict."

Recent
polls show
Collins with a significant lead over Allen.

Minnesota

Focus
on the Family mailers
are telling Minnesota
voters that first-term anti-choice Senator Norm Coleman has a "stellar pro-life
and generally pro-family" track record. But October
polls show
Al Franken in the lead. Coleman has received a 0% rating from NARAL Pro-Choice America. In 2006,
Coleman voted
with the interests of the National Right to Life Committee
100% of the
time. While Franken does not mention his stance on reproductive and sexual health and
rights on his web site and there is not much of a paper trail about where he
stands on these issues, he does have the endorsements
of Minnesota
NOW, DFL Feminist Caucus and the Stonewall DFL Caucus.

New Hampshire

Senator John Sununu of New Hampshire has a significant cash-on-hand
advantage, but Jeaneen Shaheen, a former governor, nonetheless has consistently
led in the polls
. Just six years
ago, Sununu easily beat Shaheen, but New Hampshire has turned steadily more purple since then. Sununu is anti-choice and an ally of President Bush along
reproductive rights lines. He has received a 0% rating from NARAL Pro-Choice
America and, over the years, has voted with
the interests
of the National Right to Life Committee almost 100% of the
time. Sununu voted for a bill that would bar Department of Health and Human
Services (HHS) grants to organizations that provide abortions. Shaheen is an advocate for
reproductive and sexual health and rights
. While Shaheen was governor of New Hampshire, the state became only the 10th
in the nation to include sexual orientation in its laws prohibiting
discrimination in housing and employment. Shaheen also repealed laws
that made abortion a felony in her state.

New Mexico

Rep. Tom Udall has a strong
lead
in his race against Rep. Steve Pearce for an open Senate seat in New Mexico (Sen. Pete
Domenici is retiring). Udall and Pearce
are far apart on the economy (Pearce – rebuild the tax base; Udall – fiscal
programs to stimulate the economy), energy (Pearce – offshore drilling; Udall –
alternative energy) and the Iraq
war (Pearce – "whatever it takes" for US victory; Udall – advocates a timeline). They’re also far apart on reproductive health
– Udall, who supports embryonic stem cell research, family planning funding for
organizations abroad, and voted against the Federal Abortion Ban in 2003, has a
100% ranking from NARAL Pro-Choice America and Pearce, who has been endorsed by
the anti-choice Susan B. Anthony List, has a 0% rating.

North Carolina

Kay Hagan has been climbing steadily in the polls, where
support for Elizabeth Dole is faltering.
Hagan
links Dole to President Bush at every turn
, and the accusation seems to be
sticking. Dole voted
to cut off all funding for Planned Parenthood
and was the only female
senator of either party to vote against a resolution affirming Roe v. Wade as
the law of the land. Dole also voted
against
the Equal Pay Bill. Hagan voted to expand health insurance to cover
more North Carolina
children, supports increased penalties for hate crimes, affordable health
insurance for all and will work to expand the Federal Family and Medical Leave Act.

Virginia

Running for Senate in Virginia,
popular former governor Mark Warner, a Democrat, can’t get below 55% in the
polls, reports Huffington
Post
, while his opponent, another former governor, Jim Gilmore, can’t get
above 35%. As governor, Warner opposed a 24-hour
waiting period for women requesting abortions and said he would fight efforts
to chip away at Roe. When he was governor, Gilmore helped pass the 24-hour waiting period for women
requesting an abortion and a parental notification bill. Gilmore also created
the Virginia Abstinence Initiative and ushered through the non-medically termed
"Partial Birth Abortion" ban in his state.

News Politics

Clinton Campaign Announces Tim Kaine as Pick for Vice President

Ally Boguhn

The prospect of Kaine’s selection has been criticized by some progressives due to his stances on issues including abortion as well as bank and trade regulation.

The Clinton campaign announced Friday that Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA) has been selected to join Hillary Clinton’s ticket as her vice presidential candidate.

“I’m thrilled to announce my running mate, @TimKaine, a man who’s devoted his life to fighting for others,” said Clinton in a tweet.

“.@TimKaine is a relentless optimist who believes no problem is unsolvable if you put in the work to solve it,” she added.

The prospect of Kaine’s selection has been criticized by some progressives due to his stances on issues including abortion as well as bank and trade regulation.

Kaine signed two letters this week calling for the regulations on banks to be eased, according to a Wednesday report published by the Huffington Post, thereby ”setting himself up as a figure willing to do battle with the progressive wing of the party.”

Charles Chamberlain, executive director of the progressive political action committee Democracy for America, told the New York Times that Kaine’s selection “could be disastrous for our efforts to defeat Donald Trump in the fall” given the senator’s apparent support of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). Just before Clinton’s campaign made the official announcement that Kaine had been selected, the senator praised the TPP during an interview with the Intercept, though he signaled he had ultimately not decided how he would vote on the matter.

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Kaine’s record on reproductive rights has also generated controversy as news began to circulate that he was being considered to join Clinton’s ticket. Though Kaine recently argued in favor of providing Planned Parenthood with access to funding to fight the Zika virus and signed on as a co-sponsor of the Women’s Health Protection Act—which would prohibit states and the federal government from enacting restrictions on abortion that aren’t applied to comparable medical services—he has also been vocal about his personal opposition to abortion.

In a June interview on NBC’s Meet the Press, Kaine told host Chuck Todd he was “personally” opposed to abortion. He went on, however, to affirm that he still believed “not just as a matter of politics, but even as a matter of morality, that matters about reproduction and intimacy and relationships and contraception are in the personal realm. They’re moral decisions for individuals to make for themselves. And the last thing we need is government intruding into those personal decisions.”

As Rewire has previously reported, though Kaine may have a 100 percent rating for his time in the Senate from Planned Parenthood Action Fund, the campaign website for his 2005 run for governor of Virginia promised he would “work in good faith to reduce abortions” by enforcing Virginia’s “restrictions on abortion and passing an enforceable ban on partial birth abortion that protects the life and health of the mother.”

As governor, Kaine did support some existing restrictions on abortion, including Virginia’s parental consent law and a so-called informed consent law. He also signed a 2009 measure that created “Choose Life” license plates in the state, and gave a percentage of the proceeds to a crisis pregnancy network.

Regardless of Clinton’s vice president pick, the “center of gravity in the Democratic Party has shifted in a bold, populist, progressive direction,” said Stephanie Taylor, co-founder of the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, in an emailed statement. “It’s now more important than ever that Hillary Clinton run an aggressive campaign on core economic ideas like expanding Social Security, debt-free college, Wall Street reform, and yes, stopping the TPP. It’s the best way to unite the Democratic Party, and stop Republicans from winning over swing voters on bread-and-butter issues.”

CORRECTION: A previous version of this article included a typo that misidentified Sen. Tim Kaine as a Republican. We regret this error.

Analysis Politics

The 2016 Republican Platform Is Riddled With Conservative Abortion Myths

Ally Boguhn

Anti-choice activists and leaders have embraced the Republican platform, which relies on a series of falsehoods about reproductive health care.

Republicans voted to ratify their 2016 platform this week, codifying what many deem one of the most extreme platforms ever accepted by the party.

“Platforms are traditionally written by and for the party faithful and largely ignored by everyone else,” wrote the New York Times‘ editorial board Monday. “But this year, the Republicans are putting out an agenda that demands notice.”

“It is as though, rather than trying to reconcile Mr. Trump’s heretical views with conservative orthodoxy, the writers of the platform simply opted to go with the most extreme version of every position,” it continued. “Tailored to Mr. Trump’s impulsive bluster, this document lays bare just how much the G.O.P. is driven by a regressive, extremist inner core.”

Tucked away in the 66-page document accepted by Republicans as their official guide to “the Party’s principles and policies” are countless resolutions that seem to back up the Times‘ assertion that the platform is “the most extreme” ever put forth by the party, including: rolling back marriage equalitydeclaring pornography a “public health crisis”; and codifying the Hyde Amendment to permanently block federal funding for abortion.

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Anti-choice activists and leaders have embraced the platform, which the Susan B. Anthony List deemed the “Most Pro-life Platform Ever” in a press release upon the GOP’s Monday vote at the convention. “The Republican platform has always been strong when it comes to protecting unborn children, their mothers, and the conscience rights of pro-life Americans,” said the organization’s president, Marjorie Dannenfelser, in a statement. “The platform ratified today takes that stand from good to great.”  

Operation Rescue, an organization known for its radical tactics and links to violence, similarly declared the platform a “victory,” noting its inclusion of so-called personhood language, which could ban abortion and many forms of contraception. “We are celebrating today on the streets of Cleveland. We got everything we have asked for in the party platform,” said Troy Newman, president of Operation Rescue, in a statement posted to the group’s website.

But what stands out most in the Republicans’ document is the series of falsehoods and myths relied upon to push their conservative agenda. Here are just a few of the most egregious pieces of misinformation about abortion to be found within the pages of the 2016 platform:

Myth #1: Planned Parenthood Profits From Fetal Tissue Donations

Featured in multiple sections of the Republican platform is the tired and repeatedly debunked claim that Planned Parenthood profits from fetal tissue donations. In the subsection on “protecting human life,” the platform says:

We oppose the use of public funds to perform or promote abortion or to fund organizations, like Planned Parenthood, so long as they provide or refer for elective abortions or sell fetal body parts rather than provide healthcare. We urge all states and Congress to make it a crime to acquire, transfer, or sell fetal tissues from elective abortions for research, and we call on Congress to enact a ban on any sale of fetal body parts. In the meantime, we call on Congress to ban the practice of misleading women on so-called fetal harvesting consent forms, a fact revealed by a 2015 investigation. We will not fund or subsidize healthcare that includes abortion coverage.

Later in the document, under a section titled “Preserving Medicare and Medicaid,” the platform again asserts that abortion providers are selling “the body parts of aborted children”—presumably again referring to the controversy surrounding Planned Parenthood:

We respect the states’ authority and flexibility to exclude abortion providers from federal programs such as Medicaid and other healthcare and family planning programs so long as they continue to perform or refer for elective abortions or sell the body parts of aborted children.

The platform appears to reference the widely discredited videos produced by anti-choice organization Center for Medical Progress (CMP) as part of its smear campaign against Planned Parenthood. The videos were deceptively edited, as Rewire has extensively reported. CMP’s leader David Daleiden is currently under federal indictment for tampering with government documents in connection with obtaining the footage. Republicans have nonetheless steadfastly clung to the group’s claims in an effort to block access to reproductive health care.

Since CMP began releasing its videos last year, 13 state and three congressional inquiries into allegations based on the videos have turned up no evidence of wrongdoing on behalf of Planned Parenthood.

Dawn Laguens, executive vice president of Planned Parenthood Action Fund—which has endorsed Hillary Clinton—called the Republicans’ inclusion of CMP’s allegation in their platform “despicable” in a statement to the Huffington Post. “This isn’t just an attack on Planned Parenthood health centers,” said Laguens. “It’s an attack on the millions of patients who rely on Planned Parenthood each year for basic health care. It’s an attack on the brave doctors and nurses who have been facing down violent rhetoric and threats just to provide people with cancer screenings, birth control, and well-woman exams.”

Myth #2: The Supreme Court Struck Down “Commonsense” Laws About “Basic Health and Safety” in Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt

In the section focusing on the party’s opposition to abortion, the GOP’s platform also reaffirms their commitment to targeted regulation of abortion providers (TRAP) laws. According to the platform:

We salute the many states that now protect women and girls through laws requiring informed consent, parental consent, waiting periods, and clinic regulation. We condemn the Supreme Court’s activist decision in Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt striking down commonsense Texas laws providing for basic health and safety standards in abortion clinics.

The idea that TRAP laws, such as those struck down by the recent Supreme Court decision in Whole Woman’s Health, are solely for protecting women and keeping them safe is just as common among conservatives as it is false. However, as Rewire explained when Paul Ryan agreed with a nearly identical claim last week about Texas’ clinic regulations, “the provisions of the law in question were not about keeping anybody safe”:

As Justice Stephen Breyer noted in the opinion declaring them unconstitutional, “When directly asked at oral argument whether Texas knew of a single instance in which the new requirement would have helped even one woman obtain better treatment, Texas admitted that there was no evidence in the record of such a case.”

All the provisions actually did, according to Breyer on behalf of the Court majority, was put “a substantial obstacle in the path of women seeking a previability abortion,” and “constitute an undue burden on abortion access.”

Myth #3: 20-Week Abortion Bans Are Justified By “Current Medical Research” Suggesting That Is When a Fetus Can Feel Pain

The platform went on to point to Republicans’ Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act, a piece of anti-choice legislation already passed in several states that, if approved in Congress, would create a federal ban on abortion after 20 weeks based on junk science claiming fetuses can feel pain at that point in pregnancy:

Over a dozen states have passed Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Acts prohibiting abortion after twenty weeks, the point at which current medical research shows that unborn babies can feel excruciating pain during abortions, and we call on Congress to enact the federal version.

Major medical groups and experts, however, agree that a fetus has not developed to the point where it can feel pain until the third trimester. According to a 2013 letter from the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, “A rigorous 2005 scientific review of evidence published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) concluded that fetal perception of pain is unlikely before the third trimester,” which begins around the 28th week of pregnancy. A 2010 review of the scientific evidence on the issue conducted by the British Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists similarly found “that the fetus cannot experience pain in any sense prior” to 24 weeks’ gestation.

Doctors who testify otherwise often have a history of anti-choice activism. For example, a letter read aloud during a debate over West Virginia’s ultimately failed 20-week abortion ban was drafted by Dr. Byron Calhoun, who was caught lying about the number of abortion-related complications he saw in Charleston.

Myth #4: Abortion “Endangers the Health and Well-being of Women”

In an apparent effort to criticize the Affordable Care Act for promoting “the notion of abortion as healthcare,” the platform baselessly claimed that abortion “endangers the health and well-being” of those who receive care:

Through Obamacare, the current Administration has promoted the notion of abortion as healthcare. We, however, affirm the dignity of women by protecting the sanctity of human life. Numerous studies have shown that abortion endangers the health and well-being of women, and we stand firmly against it.

Scientific evidence overwhelmingly supports the conclusion that abortion is safe. Research shows that a first-trimester abortion carries less than 0.05 percent risk of major complications, according to the Guttmacher Institute, and “pose[s] virtually no long-term risk of problems such as infertility, ectopic pregnancy, spontaneous abortion (miscarriage) or birth defect, and little or no risk of preterm or low-birth-weight deliveries.”

There is similarly no evidence to back up the GOP’s claim that abortion endangers the well-being of women. A 2008 study from the American Psychological Association’s Task Force on Mental Health and Abortion, an expansive analysis on current research regarding the issue, found that while those who have an abortion may experience a variety of feelings, “no evidence sufficient to support the claim that an observed association between abortion history and mental health was caused by the abortion per se, as opposed to other factors.”

As is the case for many of the anti-abortion myths perpetuated within the platform, many of the so-called experts who claim there is a link between abortion and mental illness are discredited anti-choice activists.

Myth #5: Mifepristone, a Drug Used for Medical Abortions, Is “Dangerous”

Both anti-choice activists and conservative Republicans have been vocal opponents of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA’s) March update to the regulations for mifepristone, a drug also known as Mifeprex and RU-486 that is used in medication abortions. However, in this year’s platform, the GOP goes a step further to claim that both the drug and its general approval by the FDA are “dangerous”:

We believe the FDA’s approval of Mifeprex, a dangerous abortifacient formerly known as RU-486, threatens women’s health, as does the agency’s endorsement of over-the-counter sales of powerful contraceptives without a physician’s recommendation. We support cutting federal and state funding for entities that endanger women’s health by performing abortions in a manner inconsistent with federal or state law.

Studies, however, have overwhelmingly found mifepristone to be safe. In fact, the Association of Reproductive Health Professionals says mifepristone “is safer than acetaminophen,” aspirin, and Viagra. When the FDA conducted a 2011 post-market study of those who have used the drug since it was approved by the agency, they found that more than 1.5 million women in the U.S. had used it to end a pregnancy, only 2,200 of whom had experienced an “adverse event” after.

The platform also appears to reference the FDA’s approval of making emergency contraception such as Plan B available over the counter, claiming that it too is a threat to women’s health. However, studies show that emergency contraception is safe and effective at preventing pregnancy. According to the World Health Organization, side effects are “uncommon and generally mild.”