Fact Checker: VTDigger.org and Seven Days team up to analyze campaign rhetoric

Each week in Fact Checker, reporters and editors will evaluate the veracity of statements and rate them on a five-point scale: True, Mostly True, Debatable, Mostly False, and Udder Bull.
Got a claim you want fact-checked? Email [email protected] to reach Anne Galloway (VTDigger) and Andy Bromage (Seven Days).

CLAIM: Republican Lt. Gov. Phil Scott is “against a woman’s right to choose.”

— September 7 fundraising email by Jerry Greenfield, campaign treasurer for Progressive/Democrat Cassandra Gekas

FACTS: Last week, Ben & Jerry’s cofounder Jerry Greenfield served up some reasons to give money to Cassandra Gekas’ campaign for lieutenant governor. Most amounted to attacks on Phil Scott, the Republican incumbent.

In a fundraising email, Greenfield wrote, “Do you want Phil Scott to be Vermont’s next governor? … He is against a woman’s right to choose.”

Phil Scott served 10 years in the state Senate representing Washington County before he won election as lieutenant governor in 2010. He has consistently maintained a pro-choice stance — even when he cosponsored a parental notification bill during the 2003-2004 session that would require health care providers to alert parents before performing abortions on their minor-age daughters.
For the 2010 campaign, Scott completed an issue position survey for Planned Parenthood of Northern New England in which he described himself as “pro-choice but with restrictions.”

“Because of my beliefs, I find it impossible to answer the question in your survey with a simple ‘yes’ or ‘no,’” Scott wrote. “I do support a woman’s right to choose; however, I do not believe it needs to be a ‘blank check’ in order to be effective.”

Scott wrote that he opposes “partial-birth” abortion “because I believe there are many options available to terminate a pregnancy well before that stage of development.” He also said he opposed government funding for abortions because using taxpayer dollars for something many people disagree with is “not an appropriate public policy.”

He wrote that he supports a fetal homicide bill — as long as it’s a “well-written law that carefully defines the circumstances under which a fetal homicide ruling would apply; for example, a car accident caused by a drunk driver in which a fetus was killed.”

The Vermont Right to Life Committee has listed Scott as a “preferred candidate” in past elections because of his support for parental notification. But the pro-life group has stopped short of endorsing him because of his pro-choice views, says executive director Mary Hahn Beerworth.

SCORE: Pro-choice advocates may view restrictions such as those Scott supports as a slippery slope toward outlawing all abortions — and may be rightly concerned about the slow erosion of abortion rights. But putting conditions on abortion such as parental notification for minors is not the same as categorically opposing a woman’s right to choose. It’s an oversimplification — and misleading — to say he is “against” a woman’s right to choose. A more accurate statement from the Gekas campaign might have read, “Phil Scott wants to restrict a woman’s right to choose.” For those reasons, we rate the claim “Mostly False.”

Anne Galloway

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