The Fact Checker: Does MacGovern oppose abortion, even in cases of rape?

With the 2012 campaign season in full swing, Seven Days has teamed up with VTDigger.org to create a fact-checker feature to test the “truthiness” of claims made by the candidates who want your vote this November. This week’s Fact Checker was written by Paul Heintz.

CLAIM: “NO-CHOICE: At least 15 GOP Senate candidates oppose abortion for rape victims,” Oct. 26 story on Huffington Post, which said Republican U.S. Senate candidate John MacGovern opposes abortion even in cases of rape.

FACTS: Last week, the Huffington Post’s Amanda Terkel sought to determine how many GOP Senate candidates share the view of Missouri’s Todd Akin and Indiana’s Richard Mourdock that abortion should be illegal, even in the case of rape. Terkel originally wrote that 13 held the same view, but subsequent corrections to the story reduced that number to 11.

MacGovern, a Windsor Republican challenging U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), remains on the list.

Terkel did not speak to MacGovern or his campaign. Instead, she refers to an Oct. 25 story by Slate’s William Saletan that, in turn, points to a Vermont Right to Life Committee endorsement of MacGovern, which calls him “fully pro-life.”

Saletan also quotes the first part of an answer MacGovern gave during an Oct. 12 Vermont Public Radio debate when he was asked by Sanders whether “a woman should be forced by the government to give birth to a rapist’s baby against her will.”

“I’ve always in my career and to this day been loyal to the principle of life,” Saletan quotes MacGovern as saying. “I’m pro-life. I’m profoundly pro-life. I’m pro-life to my core.”

But Saletan fails to note the second part of MacGovern’s answer, in which he says, “I would vote for the Hyde amendment … The Hyde Amendment says that people’s tax dollars should not be used to fund abortion. And there is an exception to that, as I recall, for rape, incest and the life of the mother. So that tells you what I would do in public policy.”

Indeed, since 1976 Congress has attached the Hyde Amendment to federal spending bills in order to bar the use of federal funds for abortion.

Since 1977, it has included exceptions for pregnancies resulting from rape or incest, and those that would harm the mother.

MacGovern articulated a similar position in an Oct. 15 debate on Burlington’s Channel 17. And in an emailed statement this week, MacGovern added, “If a bill comes before me that is like the Hyde Amendment, which restricts tax-payer funding of abortions, but includes exceptions for rape, incest and life of the mother, I’ll vote for it.”

SCORE: John MacGovern is unapologetically pro-life. Generally speaking, he opposes abortion. But as the Huffington Post and Slate failed to note, he’s OK with legislative language allowing federal funding for abortion in the case of rape, incest or life of the
mother. One question remains: Would he also be willing to vote for legislation that doesn’t include those exceptions? We asked him, but received no response. So we rate the claim “debatable.”

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  • Jim Christiansen

    Yawn. A side show story. 40 years of legal precedence will not be overturned by 15 white guys, ever.

    How about a real story, like fact checking our actual and pledged federal spending for sustainability, even if/when we raise taxes?


  • Marjorie Power

    Why doesn’t the factcheck address Vermont law which negates the Hyde amendment for Vermont Medicaid recipients and does not limit their access to abortion.

    I guess McMullen is not sufficiently familar with Vermont law to know that fact. I guess he really is still a carpetbagger.

    The real question for the fact check is how McMullen would enforce the rights of Vermont women to access safe legal abortions. Maybe not so much.

    • Hi Marjorie,
      The story is about John MacGovern, not Jack McMullen.