Scott Brown and Choice: What’s the Real Story?

Kathleen Reeves

Brown’s amendment from 2005 has everything to do with rape victims, and his attitude towards these women has everything to do with the upcoming special election.

Scott Brown, a candidate in the special election for Ted Kennedy’s Senate seat, claimed on Monday that his past opposition to providing EC to rape victims is “irrelevant.”

In 2005, Brown, a Massachusetts state senator, proposed an amendment to an emergency contraception bill that would have allowed doctors or nurses who didn’t like EC to refuse treatment to rape victims. Far from irrelevant, the amendment was shocking then and is shocking now.

Megan Carpentier takes Brown to task brilliantly on Air America, responding, in particular, to his claim that the right to withhold EC is “not about the victim.” In 2005, Brown defended his amendment as follows:

“Through our conversations, I’ve heard, ‘what if somebody has a sincerely held religious conviction about dispensing the emergency contraception medication? What about their rights? How do we address those?’ ’’ Brown said on the Senate floor, according to a State House News Service transcript.

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Brown added that a rape victim would be referred to another facility at no additional cost. “It’s not about the victim."

Carpentier responds:

I am certain that a victim raped in Lee, Massachusetts who endures the 11 mile drive to the hospital in Great Barrington only to be turned away by a Christian emergency room nurse (who objects to emergency contraception she herself doesn’t have to take) wouldn’t mind at all then going to a hospital in Pittsfield (21 miles), Hudson, NY (27 miles) or Westfield (47 miles) in order to get the medical care she needs, as long as it’s a free ride.

Brown’s amendment is important, and we should be talking about it, because the cost of “provider conscience rules” is often overlooked. Brown’s amendment is totally out of line with our values as a society—our conviction that a person who goes through something terrible, like rape, should be cared for as quickly and as compassionately as possible. Anyone who wants to change the way rape victims are cared for is welcome to have a conversation about just that—rape victims, and how they should be treated. To talk about anything else, such as the “rights” of people with “religious convictions,” is to miss the issue in an amendment like this. Any other consideration, to borrow Brown’s phrase, is a red herring.

What was going on in Scott Brown’s head, and what does he believe? As the Globe points out, Brown’s record on choice is inconsistent. In 2007, he voted in favor of a 35-foot no-protester zone around abortion clinics, and he claims to support Roe v. Wade. In the past few years, provider conscience rules have become increasingly trendy among conservatives; perhaps the GOP serpent was whispering in Brown’s ear in 2005. Whatever his motivation, he should be held accountable, and his refusal this week to address the amendment is unwise and unacceptable. Where did Brown get the idea that medical care is about the prejudices of the provider? Would he like to explain how such a philosophy would affect health care in America?

So the question is not, why is Martha Coakley talking about a state Senate amendment from 2005? but rather, how could she not? Particularly when Brown has the gall to assert that refusing a woman medical care has nothing to do with that woman.

Au contraire, Brown’s amendment has everything to do with rape victims, and his attitude towards these women has everything to do with the upcoming special election. Every Massachusetts voter should think about whether he or she would want to be refused a potentially life-changing service after a traumatic experience.

Also pertinent is Brown’s newly-acquired endorsement from the Massachusetts Citizens for Life, who did not back him in 2004. (One wonders if Brown is entirely happy to receive this support.) John Rowe, chairman of MCFL’s federal political action committee, “believes that Brown’s position has evolved”:

 “We always welcome people coming over to our side,’’ he said.

What side is that, exactly, Mr. Brown? Why don’t you fill us in.

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