Democrat Bruce Braley on Thursday attacked Republican Joni Ernst for saying one thing and supporting another when it comes to abortion and contraception during the final Iowa Senate debate.
“Your words have consequences,” Braley told Ernst, saying that her policies contradict her stated support for access to contraception.
The race between Braley and Ernst is neck and neck, according to recent polls, and could determine which party controls the Senate after November’s midterm elections. Reproductive rights have become a flashpoint in the campaign.
The debate moderator asked both candidates several questions about their positions on abortion, contraception, and a “personhood” amendment to the Iowa constitution that Ernst has come under fire for sponsoring.
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The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) has said that “personhood” measures like Ernst’s could result in a ban on all abortion and many common forms of birth control, as well as interfere with in vitro fertilization.
Braley’s campaign has run ads pointing this out and saying that the amendment could ban abortion with no exceptions for rape or incest.
The ads highlight a quote from Ernst earlier this year about how she thinks abortion providers “should be punished if there were a personhood amendment.”
“I do support a woman’s right to accessible, reliable, and safe contraception,” Ernst said during the debate in response to a question about whether she wants to ban any specific form of contraception.
She also said for the first time that she would support an exception for saving a woman’s life if abortion were banned.
When asked if in vitro fertilization (IVF) should be banned, Ernst avoided directly answering the question, but told a story about a friend of hers who has two daughters via IVF.
“I am glad that she is blessed to be a mother,” Ernst said.
Braley said that Ernst can’t say she supports access to contraception if she’s also going to support policies that undermine that access, like the “personhood” amendment or her support for the Supreme Court’s Hobby Lobby decision.
“You can’t say that you protect a woman’s right to contraception and then vote against it on the senate floor,” Braley said. “You can’t say that you want to repeal the Affordable Care Act, which provides free contraceptive services to women, and increase their costs by $600. And you can’t say you support that right and then say it’s OK for employers to interfere with it.”
Ernst, on the subject of repealing the ACA, was secretly recorded last year telling supporters, “Once we start with those benefits in January, how are we going to get people off of those?”
Ernst attacked Braley on his supposed support for “partial birth abortions.” Braley said he opposes all “late-term” abortions that are not necessary to save the life or health of the mother.
He avoided specifying a cutoff date for what “late-term” is, claiming that “it’s a term that has a specific legal meaning because of existing law.” Medical authorities disagree over this definition, however.
Ernst also claimed that Braley’s ads about her “personhood” bill were “rated false” by the Washington Post’s fact-checker. The Post’s Glenn Kessler didn’t actually find Braley’s ad false, but said it used the word “would” when it really should have used “could.”
Kessler also noted that Ernst “strains some credulity” when she claims that her amendment was “simply a statement that I support life.” In fact, the law is designed to pave the way for anti-choice legislation and could even work as an abortion ban on its own, although the effect of such a ban would be uncertain as long as the Supreme Court upholds a woman’s right to choose.
“Personhood” amendments have long been an anti-choice strategy to attempt to overturn Roe v. Wade and criminalize abortion.
Ernst is slightly ahead of Braley in the polls 15 days from Election Day.