Brown's "Conscience Clause" Context

A lot has been made recently in the US Senate race about Scott Brown's 2005 "conscience clause" amendment; Yvonne Abrahams does a nice job on it in today's Boston Globe, Janet Wu hit him the other night on WCVB-TV, and of course Martha Coakley ran an ad mentioning it while showing a cowering rape victim in a stairwell. Brown's daughters, in response, held a press conference and recorded a radio ad defending their father against the charge.

The issue is fairly straightforward. If you were, say, a woman in Brighton who had been raped, and you went to St. Elizabeth's Medical Center -- a Caritas Christi hospital -- and asked for emergency contraception so that you would not become impregnated with the rapist's baby, they would tell you no dice. The state legislature wanted to make the hospital provide the pill. The Catholic Church opposed that mandate. (Abraham, in her otherwise excellent column, suggests that the law was largely about allowing individual practitioners to opt out. While that would have been an effect, the legislative battle was entirely about the state's Catholic hospitals' refusal, as policy, to offer emergency contraception.)

There's a legitimate debate to be had on that issue (not to mention, on whether the refusal to provide the pill is an act of good "conscience"), and that debate was waged among the Democrats controlling the legislature, and the Church lost. So, they needed a Republican to try a Stupak-like attempt to introduce a "conscience clause" amendment to the mandate bill, in hopes that they could pressure enough legislators to win an open up-or-down vote. They got Brown to introduce it.

And frankly, his daughters may very well be correct when they insist that this was not because Brown is a cold-hearted, misogynistic bastard. Instead, it was more likely because he owed a big favor to the cold-hearted, misogynistic Church, which had just played a major role in getting him elected.

In 2004, Brown won a special election to become state senator, despite the state Democrats scheduling the election to coincide with the Presidential primary, when Democrats would be flocking to vote for John Kerry. (As one Democratic operative recently put it to me: "We cheated, and he still beat us.") Brown then won a re-match in November, on the same ballot as Kerry vs. Bush.

There were at least four contributing factors to Brown's victories in 2004. 1) Brown is an outstanding campaigner (a fact the Democrats seem to have forgotten until about a week ago). 2) Brown, a state representative at the time, had a strong voter base compared to his opponent, who did not hold an elected office. 3) That Democrat, Angus McQuilken -- although one of the nicest guys you'll ever meet -- as a candidate is about as inspiring as a low-fat Twinkie. 4) That was the year that Massachusetts allowed men to dress up in tuxedos, put rings on each others' fingers, and smooch.

It may seem odd today, but these were simpler times, and the single dominating issue of importance to suburban voters in 2004 was men in tuxedos wearing rings smooching. (The special election took place between the court's November 2003 same-sex-marriage decision and the May 2004 implementation.) And it was the single dominating issue for the Catholic Church, which got heavily involved in promoting Brown. They preached it from the pulpit, handed out flyers in church, raised money, and sent volunteers to help the campaign.

That was the context when the Church came calling on Brown in 2005, and Brown agreed to introduce the "conscience clause" amendment.

If we take Brown and his daughters at their word, then, the correct inference is not that Brown, as a US Senator, would work against the interests of rape victims. Rather, it would be that Brown, if he wins next Tuesday, would put aside his principles at the behest of those who helped get him elected -- which in this case would be the national right-wingers who are funding him and running ads on his behalf.

| More

 Friends' Activity   Popular 
All Blogs
Follow the Phoenix
  • newsletter
  • twitter
  • facebook
  • youtube
  • rss
Latest Comments
Search Blogs
Talking Politics Archives