Republican Scott Walker, hit with an emotional TV ad portraying him as an extremist on abortion, has responded with a spot that paints Democratic rival Tom Barrett with the opposite side of the same brush.
The Barrett ad featured two parents whose daughter was raped, noting that in opposing abortion Walker does not support exceptions for cases of rape, incest or where the life of the mother is at risk. The ad inserted a hot-button social issue into the governor’s race.
In the response ad, Walker’s wife, Tonette, hits a similar personal note.
"As a mother, I can't imagine learning that my child was assaulted," she says. "But for Tom Barrett to lie about my husband's compassion for victims is just wrong. Scott's been standing up for victims of violence for years."
A narrator finishes the job:
"It's really Tom Barrett who's extreme. Barrett supports taxpayer funding for abortion.
And in Congress Tom Barrett voted to allow abortions through the ninth month, just moments before the baby is born. That's extreme."
Strong words in response to a strong ad.
Let’s get behind them.
The ad cites no specific vote to back up the claim that Barrett backed a measure that allowed the late abortions, but Walker’s campaign said it referred to Barrett’s 1995 vote, while in Congress, against the Partial Birth Abortion Ban Act.
In the highly contested abortion issue, the partial birth abortion debate and the topic of late-term abortions are among the thorniest. Activists on either side agree on little -- not what to call the
procedure involved in partial-birth abortions, now even how many abortions, if any, occur as late as the ninth month.
Before entering this debate, some key background:
In the landmark Roe vs. Wade decision in 1973, the U.S. Supreme Court allowed abortion on demand up until the time of fetal "viability" -- sometime in the second trimester -- or later if the doctor determined it medically necessary to protect the life or health of the mother.
The partial-birth abortion ban -- which passed in 2003, after Barrett had left Congress -- outlawed a controversial abortion method sometimes known as "intact dilation and extraction." It was used in most cases in the second trimester when the fetus had grown too big to be removed by the suction method commonly used in the first trimester.
Public opinion was solidly against the procedure -- Gallup reported in 2003 that a majority of Americans supported the ban, with 68 percent saying it should be illegal. That pattern held back to 1995, according to Gallup. Congress banned it except when necessary to save the life of the mother.
That ban was upheld by the Supreme Court in 2007.
Now, to the language in the Walker ad, which says Barrett voted to "allow abortions through the ninth month, just moments before the baby is born."
It should be noted, the ban in question was not pegged to when an abortion occurs during a pregnancy. It focused on a specific procedure, but left in place other abortion methods.
The two sides disagree about the extent of abortions in the "ninth month," though it’s clear from government statistics that it is uncommon.
In 2006 in Wisconsin, the last year before the ban took effect, 2 percent of abortions (197 of them) occurred after 20 weeks. That is the latest benchmark used. It is not known how many occur at various points after that. Nationally that year, 1.3 percent of abortions were after 20 weeks.
But both sides agree on this: It is the Roe vs. Wade decision -- not the partial-birth ban -- that "allowed" abortions late in a pregnancy, albeit under limited circumstances.
Barrett is solidly in favor of abortion rights and is endorsed by Planned Parenthood, but he clearly was not among the justices participating in the Roe vs. Wade decision.
He has, however, been on both sides of the partial birth issue.
He voted against the ban in 1995, but then changed his position and voted to override President Clinton’s veto. That override effort fell short. In 1997 and 2000, he voted in favor of a ban before flipping again by opposing it in 2002.
The Walker campaign cites Barrett’s 1995 vote, but could have just as easily picked 2002. We will consider that last vote his position.
So, was it a vote to "allow abortions through the ninth month, just moments before the baby is born"?
Under Roe vs. Wade, late-term abortions were already allowed and the ban Barrett opposed does not stop them. The ban focused on a particular abortion method and was not tied to the gestation period of the fetus. Walker’s ad -- which makes no reference to the partial-birth issue -- makes it sound as if Barrett was voting in favor of Roe vs. Wade.
Partial-birth abortions, even by the account of abortion opponents, were mostly limited to second trimester and earlier -- not commonly done in the "moments before the baby is born." While the two sides cannot agree on how common ninth-month abortions were then -- or now -- there is an element of truth to the statement: Barrett twice took a position that arguably blocked a narrowing of abortions, some of which could occur late.
We rate Walker’s claim Barely True.
Editor's note: This statement was rated Barely True when it was published. On July 27, 2011, we changed the name for the rating to Mostly False.