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By Jonathan Van Fleet October 10, 2014

Jeanne Shaheen says Scott Brown wanted to force women to look at photos of fetuses before abortions

As the 2014 New Hampshire Senate race veers toward a conclusion, the state’s next senator needs the support of women voters.

Incumbent Jeanne Shaheen underscored that point when she targeted Republican challenger Scott Brown’s record supporting women’s reproductive rights during his tenure as a state senator from Massachusetts. Her aim was to undercut Brown’s assertion that he is a pro-choice politician.

An ad with a female narrator released on Oct. 7 said, "In Massachusetts, Scott Brown pushed for a law to force women considering abortion -- force them -- to look at color photographs of developing fetuses."

The ad, titled "Force," drew a swift response from Brown. He held a press conference the same day the ad was released, calling it a lie and adding that it was "not only insensitive, it is also deeply offensive."

"I have always been a pro-choice, independent Republican and have a strong record of supporting women’s health care," Brown said in Derry, N.H., with his wife Gail by his side.

Brown demanded that Shaheen pull the ad, and the next day he launched his own ad calling Shaheen’s commercial a "smear campaign."

More than ever in this hotly contested Senate race, this seemed like a job for PolitiFact.

For support, the ad, and Shaheen’s campaign, pointed to Massachusetts Senate Bill 979, "An Act Relative to a Woman’s Right to Know," filed in 2005.

While the bill co-sponsored by Brown and Republican Michael R. Knapik eventually failed, it would have given any woman seeking an abortion information and mandated 24 hours to consider the consequences of that decision. (Exceptions would only be given in the case of a medical emergency.)

"The purpose of the Woman's Right to Know Act is to ensure that every woman considering an abortion receives complete information on the procedure, the risks, the status of her unborn child, and her alternatives, and sufficient reflection time, thereby reducing the possibility of serious, lasting, or life threatening consequences of a medical, emotional and psychological nature," the bill states.

Similar laws have been proposed and enacted in other states following a 1992 Supreme Court decision allowing the state of Pennsylvania under its "Abortion Control Act" to require a woman seeking an abortion to give her informed consent prior to the procedure, receive a host of information about abortion and adoption, and wait 24 hours before having an abortion.

The introduction to the Massachusetts bill cites that Supreme Court decision, saying the state "has an important interest in ensuring that women seeking abortions are provided a fully informed choice and a sufficient period of time to reflect on the information provided, ‘to reduce the risk that a woman may elect an abortion, only to discover later, with devastating psychological consequences, that her decision was not fully informed.’ Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pennsylvania v. Casey, 505 U.S. 833, 882 (1992)."

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So how about those photographs of fetuses that women would be "forced" to look at?

Like similar laws proposed and passed elsewhere, the proposed Massachusetts law would have required doctors or their representatives to provide women with lots of information at least 24 hours before an abortion was scheduled, including the names of adoption agencies and contact information for public and private agencies that offer financial and medical support to women throughout a pregnancy and after childbirth.

It also required women to receive descriptions of the "anatomical and physiological characteristics of the unborn child at two week gestational increments from fertilization to full term, including color photographs." If photos were unavailable "realistic drawings" were considered acceptable.

The bill made clear that photos of fetuses must be provided to women seeking abortions, but didn’t stop there.

It also called for descriptions of the different methods of abortion and "the physical, psychological and emotional risks or medical complications commonly associated with each method; a description of the physical, psychological and emotional risks or medical complications of pregnancy and delivery; a description of the support obligations of the father of a child born alive."

Before performing an abortion, the doctor or a representative would have to ask the woman if she had "seen" the information and "provide the woman with an opportunity to contact abortion alternative agencies at this time should she so desire."

In addition, a woman’s signature was required before the abortion was performed to give her consent and "indicate that she has been offered the information described in this section."

Brown says the bill was intended to give adoption a chance and "did not force women to do anything. I would never force women to do anything."

He’s got a point. Nowhere in the bill is the word "force" used. Still, the language of the bill certainly ensures women would be given the information, asks them if they had "seen it," and provided at least 24 hours to review it before having an abortion.

Our ruling

Shaheen’s ad says that "in Massachusetts, Scott Brown pushed for a law to force women considering abortion -- force them -- to look at color photographs of developing fetuses."

The measure backed by Brown nine years ago made sure that women were provided photos of developing fetuses, along with a lot more information. It certainly forced doctors and their representatives to provide this information to women seeking abortions -- except in cases of emergency -- and it ensured women received the information both through verbal questions and a signed consent form.

Brown has a point that the bill wouldn't have "forced" them to look at color photographs -- but it did just about everything else it could possibly do up to that line.

This statement is accurate but needs clarification, so we rate it Mostly True.

Our Sources

Jeanne Shaheen ad, Force, Oct. 7, 2014

Scott Brown Ad, Shaheen's Smear, Oct. 8. 2014

Scott Brown press conference in Derry, N.H. Oct. 7, 2014

Boston Globe, "Ad is offensive, false, Scott Brown tells Jeanne Shaheen," Oct. 7, 2014

WMUR, "Brown calls Shaheen ad 'lies,' 'scare tactics'"

FindLaw, Planned Parenhood of Southeastern PA v. Casey, 505 U.S. 833 (1992) , June 29, 1992

Mass. Clerk of the Senate, text of Mass. Senate Bill 979

Washington Post, The fierce fight over an abortion ad in New Hampshire, Oct. 10, 2014

Jeanne Shaheen, The Facts on Brown’s Anti-Choice Record, Oct. 7, 2014

Email interview with Harrell Kirstein, spokesman for Jeanne Shaheen, Oct. 9, 2014
Email interview with Elizabeth Guyton, spokeswoman for Scott Brown. Oct. 9, 2014 

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More by Jonathan Van Fleet

Jeanne Shaheen says Scott Brown wanted to force women to look at photos of fetuses before abortions

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