Commentary Abortion

Local Colorado TV News Stations Fact Check Ads Attacking Romney’s Anti-Choice Positions

Jason Salzman

Local TV news stations in Colorado, a swing state, are fact checking many of the political ads inundating the airwaves. Two local stations in Denver were mostly right in their recent analyses of ads attacking Mitt Romney's position on a women's right to choose.

If you turn on your TV in Colorado, you’re blasted with political advertisements, and to their credit, and to the surprise of many, Denver’s local TV stations have assigned reporters to fact check a lot of the ads.

Local TV news in America isn’t known for wonky coverage of politics, but the fact checking by the local outlets in Colorado shows that substantive political coverage can be popular. In fact, local TV news reporters say their fact-check stories get top ratings, among political stories aired.

Here’s how two local stations analyzed ads attacking Mitt Romney’s positions on a women’s right to choose.

The two ads, analyzed by Channel 7’s (ABC) Marshall Zelinger and Channel 4 (CBS) Shaud Boyd last month, were slightly different, but they mostly made the same allegations.

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AD: “Mitt Romney opposes requiring insurance coverage for contraception.”

CBS4 Reality Check (scroll down to abortion ad): TRUE

Channel 7 Truth Tracker: TRUE

My take: Both stations got it right.

AD: “Romney supports overturning Roe Vs. Wade.”

CBS4 Reality Check: TRUE

Channel 7 Truth Tracker: TRUE

My take: Both stations got it right.

AD: Romney would cut federal funding for Planned Parenthood

CBS4 Reality Check: TRUE

Channel 7 Truth Tracker: This fact wasn’t included in the ad checked by Channel 7.

My take. Channel 4 got it right.

AD: “Romney backed a bill that outlaws all abortion, even cases of rape and incest.”

CBS4 Reality Check: MISLEADING

Channel 7 Truth Tracker: MISLEADING (but it also found the “even-cases-of rape-and-incest” part to be “MOSTLY UNTRUE”)

My take: First, both Channels 7 and 4 point out that there was not an actual bill. The ad shows a clip of Romney saying he’d back a bill outlawing “all abortions,” if, hypothetically, such a bill came to his desk. That’s not enough to call the statement misleading, more like “MOSTLY TRUE.”

But the addition of the phrase “even cases of rape and incest” makes the statement more complicated. Channel 7 separated out this phrase and deemed it “MOSTLY FALSE,” arguing that even though the hyopothetical bill would have banned “all abortions,” the bill didn’t mention rape and incest specifically.

In addition, both Channels 4 and 7 aired video of Romney saying that he supports abortion in the case of rape and incest.

But Romney told Mike Huckabee just last last year that he “absolutely” would have supported an amendment to the Massachusetts’ consitution defining life as beginning at conception, otherwize known as the zygote or fertilized-egg stage. (Video here at 6:25)

And if you define life as such, like personhood backers do, and you do so in a state constitution, you give legal protections to zygotes created as a result of rape. So it’s fair to conclude that Romney opposes abortion for rape victims, though obviously it’s an Olympic flip from what he’s said elsewhere.

Romney also told Huckabee:

“Would it be wonderful if everybody in the country agreed with you and me that life begins at conception, that there’s a sanctity of life that’s part of a civilized society, and that we’re all going to agree that we’re not going to have legal abortion in the county? That would be great.” (Video here at 8:15)

Against this backdrop of Romney’s own dueling positions, I don’t understand how Channel 7 could conclude that it’s mostly false to say that Romney opposes abortion, even in the case of rape and incest. It could be true or false. Take your pick.

You have to conclude, like Channel 4 did, that Romney’s obviously a flip flopper on abortion. And you certainly can’t say it’s untrue for Obama to tell us Romney opposes all abortion, even in cases of rape and incest.

So Channel 4’s take-away comment, which it calls the “bottom line,” hit the mark:

“The ad says women, a key voting bloc, should be troubled by Mitt Romney’s position on abortion. And they should, because it’s changed so many times. Mitt Romney brought this one on himself.”

News Politics

Colorado Women’s Health Advocates: Republican’s Pro-Choice Claims Shouldn’t Be Trusted

Jason Salzman

Pro-choice advocates say state Sen. Ellen Roberts’ votes in the state legislature this year undermined her claims of supporting abortion rights in Colorado.

Colorado Republican Sen. Ellen Roberts, who says she supports abortion rights but backed a so-called fetal personhood law, told the Durango Herald Monday that she’s considering a 2016 run against pro-choice U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet.

Pro-choice advocates say Roberts’ votes in the state legislature this year undermined her claims of supporting abortion rights in Colorado.

Planned Parenthood Votes Colorado last week included Roberts, who represents the southwestern corner of Colorado around Durango, on the group’s “Colorado Women’s Health Wall of Shame” website.

“In past years, Roberts has voted pro-equality and pro-choice, but had a rocky session on women’s health this year,” states the website, adding that Roberts’ “priorities and values took a significant turn this session, helping her make our list as the Worst of the Western Slope.”

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The website points to Roberts’ sponsorship of failed fetal “personhood” legislation, introduced after a nightmarish attack on a pregnant woman in a Denver suburb. The bill, modeled on legislation pushed by a national anti-choice group, would have given legal standing to zygotes and fetuses, allowing the courts to consider them victims of crimes, including murder.

The bill was defeated in the Democratic-led state house.

“Colorado has a longstanding, mainstream belief that politicians should stay out of our personal, private medical decisions, but given her recent words and actions we don’t think Sen. Roberts can be trusted to stand up for Colorado voters and values on reproductive rights,” Karen Middleton, director of NARAL Pro-Choice Colorado, said to RH Reality Check, citing the unsuccessful personhood push.

Cathy Alderman, spokeswoman for Planned Parenthood Votes Colorado, said supporting fetal “personhood” legislation and being pro-choice are mutually exclusive.

Roberts still considers herself pro-choice.

“It’s disappointing to me when a group decides to divide women from each other,” Roberts told the Durango Herald this week. “When they apply their litmus test, if someone doesn’t pass their litmus test, does that mean I don’t care about women’s health? That’s untenable.”

“I do think it’s important to be vigilant and caring about the advancement of women in society in general,” she added. “But if we want to talk about erosion, I would say it’s eroding credibility to try to insist that everybody is going to think in one monolithic way.”

Planned Parenthood Votes Colorado’s Wall of Shame website also cited Roberts’ 2015 vote for so-called Parent’s Bill of Rights legislation, which would have affirmed parents’ rights to opt out of vaccination requirements. She also sponsored a bill loosening laws against discrimination.

Roberts voted against Colorado’s much-publicized teen pregnancy prevention program, when Democrats attempted a last-minute floor vote to fund it via an amendment to the state budget bill. Colorado’s GOP legislators proved successful in ending the lauded program.

Roberts, in her interview with the Herald, described the prospects of her potential bid as a “longshot,” in part because her previous support for civil unions and pro-choice measures. Republican primary voters in Colorado have a track record of throwing their support behind more ideologically conservative candidates.

State observers say her candidacy could be attractive to establishment Republicans who deem her appealing to general-election voters.

Bennet, who won election to the U.S. Senate in 2014, is regarded as a formidable opponent, in part because of his strong fundraising skills, honed as chair of the powerful Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee.

His seat is nonetheless seen by Republicans as one of their few possible pickups for 2016. Others mentioned as possibly seeking the seat are Rep. Scott Tipton (R-Cortez), Rep. Mike Coffman (D-Aurora), and state Attorney General Cynthia Coffman.

News Violence

Assault on Pregnant Woman Could Lead to Anti-Choice Legislation

Jason Salzman

A brutal attack on a pregnant Colorado woman ignited an effort to pass a fetal-homicide bill, which would allow a fetus to be considered a victim of a crime. Pro-choice activists say Colorado already has laws designed to punish perpetrators of crimes involving fetuses, and they say a new law could undermine a woman’s right to choose.

In response to a horrific crime March 18, during which a pregnant woman’s womb was cut open and her 34-week-old fetus destroyed, the president of Colorado’s state senate is promising to introduce legislation “to provide justice for both victims,” the woman and her fetus.

Pro-choice activists say such a law is unnecessary, and it could be used to restrict abortion rights and undermine the civil rights of pregnant women by subjecting them to bogus criminal investigations, arrests, and convictions based on the legal rights of the fetus.

Media coverage of the assault against Michelle Wilkins, which occurred in the Denver suburb of Longmont, was stoked by Rep. Gordon Klingenschmitt (R-Colorado Springs), a radical anti-choice legislator, who stated during a podcast prayer on March 25 that the brutal attack was a “curse of God upon America for our sin of not protecting innocent children in the womb.”

As the criminal investigation moves forward, Colorado Senate President Bill Cadman, a Republican, says the state needs a fetal-homicide law that will allow a fetus to be considered the victim of a crime.

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“What about the baby?” Cadman said in radio interview March 30. “Why doesn’t a baby in Colorado, or an infant, or whatever you want to definewhy don’t they receive the same protection in Colorado that they do in 38 other states?”

During the radio interview, Cadman, who has not released a draft of his bill, said his legislation would “provide a protection for a woman to do with her body as she desires,” indicating that he apparently intends to protect abortion rights.

Pro-choice advocates say Colorado laws already mandate severe punishments for crimes like the one committed against Wilkins, and even if Cadman’s new law explicitly protects a women’s right to have an abortion, it could still be twisted to punish women who have abortions.

It could also put the civil rights of pregnant women at risk, subjecting them to criminal charges of all sorts.

“There are commentators who look at feticide laws and argue that they can be narrowly tailored and limited to punishment of third parties,” said Lynn Paltrow, director of National Advocates for Pregnant Women. “And so they have argued there shouldn’t be any objection from pro-choice organizations and advocates for women. In theory, they are correct. But our research shows that in the current U.S. political environment, there is no way to put one of these laws in place without it becoming a tool for controlling and punishing pregnant women themselves.”

Paltrow, an attorney, said feticide laws have been used to charge women who suffered stillbirths or had newborns die in multiple states, including California, Georgia, Tennessee, South Carolina, and Utah. A woman who has an abortion can be charged by prosecutors who could define her abortion as something else, Paltrow said.

She pointed to two examples in which prosecutors ignored explicit language in feticide laws stating that women were not supposed to be arrested.

In one 1973 California case, a pregnant woman who shot herself in the abdomen was charged with murder, even though the murder statute, which covered the unlawful killing of a fetus, exempted “act[s] solicited, aided, abetted, or consented to by the mother of the fetus.” After a journey through the courts, the murder charge was replaced with the charge of illegal abortion.

And in Missouri, from 1999 to 2007, 22 women were charged with child endangerment after their newborns tested positive for cocaine.

Prosecutors relied on a state law that made all of Missouri’s laws, including its child endangerment and murder laws, applicable to “unborn children” from the moment of conception. Prosecutors simply disregarded the part of that same law that said nothing in this law’s section shall be interpreted as creating a cause of action against a woman for “failing to properly care for herself.”

These charges were dropped after years of court battles, but some of the women had already pleaded guilty to the charge or others.

Colorado lawmakers passed statutes in 2013 and 2014 that added severe criminal and civil penalties for committing crimes against pregnant women—over and above the punishments for crimes against the woman herself.

In fact, even though prosecutors are not able to file murder charges for the loss of the fetus, other charges against Dynel Lane, who allegedly attacked Wilkins in Colorado last month, could land her in jail for more than 100 years. Lane faces an attempted murder charge for her assault on Wilkins, as well as first degree felony charges under Colorado’s 2013 Crimes Against Pregnant Women Act.

Cadman remains adamant that Colorado requires legal protections for fetuses.

Paltrow counters that there’s no evidence that fetal homicide laws protect women.

“We need to acknowledge a collective horror at this attack and grief for this pregnant women and her loss,” Paltrow told Rewire. “But we need to focus on how to end violence against pregnant women, not how to use violence against women to advance opportunistic legislation that in the end is used to hurt pregnant women.”

Fetal homicide laws in 38 states vary widely. Some define life as beginning at early stages of development, while others specifically exclude abortion and prohibit considering pregnant women as perpetrators of fetal-homicide crimes.

It’s unclear how many of Cadman’s fellow Republicans, particularly “personhood” supporters who opposed Colorado’s existing crimes-against-pregnant-women law, will support the bill if it includes language allegedly protecting a woman’s right to abortion care.

State political observers said passage of Cadman’s bill through the Republican-controlled state senate is highly uncertain, and may depend on the votes of pro-choice Democrats.