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It’s clear that Scott Walker’s views on abortion will get intensified scrutiny now that he has joined the crowded Republican presidential field.
In 2014, during the final weeks of the campaign before he won re-election as governor, Walker was attacked in a TV ad by a national political action committee that works to elect Democratic women who support abortion rights.
And weeks before his White House run announcement on July 13, 2015, Walker was targeted twice: once in a TV ad by the nation’s oldest abortion rights advocacy group and once on a TV talk show by U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin.
Baldwin, a Wisconsin Democrat, used her June 3, 2015 interview on MSNBC to cast Walker as out of step with other Republicans on abortion. After host Chris Hayes suggested that Walker’s support for a law banning abortion after 20 weeks was mainstream among Republicans, Baldwin agreed.
But she drew a contrast, stating:
"Yes, but if you look at the history of those who have been elected president, Scott Walker's views are clearly more extreme than any Republican president in recent times -- much more extreme than President George W. Bush with regard to the issues of having exemptions that deal with the health and the life of the mother, and the issues of exemptions for rape victims and incest."
On abortion, is Walker to the right of any recent Republican president?
Some statements about Walker and abortion have missed the mark, including the two we mentioned.
The TV ad by EMILY’s List shortly before Walker defeated Democrat Mary Burke in 2014 claimed Walker was "forcing some women to undergo a transvaginal probe to get an abortion." We rated it Half True. A law Walker signed says women can choose either a transvaginal or transabdominal ultrasound, though in certain cases a transvaginal probe may be medically necessary.
The TV ad by NARAL Pro-Choice America, which aired in June 2015 in Iowa and New Hampshire, claimed Walker had said that "forcing women facing abortion to get invasive ultrasounds was 'just a cool thing.’ " That was rated Mostly False. The "cool" reference wasn’t to forcing some women to get vaginal ultrasounds, but rather to the ultrasound technology that produces images from the womb.
Nevertheless, there is no question that for decades -- going back to before his time as governor and as a state lawmaker -- Walker has been staunchly anti-abortion.
Baldwin’s office didn’t respond to our requests for information to back her claim, and Walker’s campaign didn’t weigh in, either. But we can compare Walker’s public positions on abortion to those of recent GOP presidents.
NARAL, Planned Parenthood
We asked NARAL Pro-Choice America, formerly known as the National Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League, and the Planned Parenthood Federation of America about how they rate politicians on abortion rights.
The groups told us they don’t produce ratings on a continuum. They put politicians into broad categories -- not on a scale that would rank one as more extreme, to use Baldwin’s term, than another.
NARAL gave Walker and 13 other Republican presidential contenders a grade of F, for Fail. The group points to Walker’s votes in the Legislature and measures he has signed into law as governor restricting access to abortion services.
Planned Parenthood rates the Republican and Democratic 2016 contenders more broadly, on access to abortion, affordable birth control and family planning. Like most of the other GOP hopefuls, Walker was given a red X on each measure, rather than a green checkmark.
Planned Parenthood notes that besides wanting to ban abortion even in cases of rape and incest, Walker tried to repeal a law requiring insurance companies to cover prescription birth control and defunded Planned Parenthood, which is something Walker himself highlights in his campaign speeches.
The website of the National Right to Life Committee, meanwhile, highlights the records of President Barack Obama and his four most recent predecessors, dating back to the late Ronald Reagan, but doesn’t do any ratings.
So let’s look more closely at Walker and the three most recent GOP presidents, dating back to Reagan.
Walker vs. Bushes, Reagan
Walker’s basic position is clear. In 2010, a week before he was elected to his first term as governor, we rated True a claim that Walker wants to make abortion illegal even in cases of rape, incest or to protect the life of the mother. He acknowledged that was his position.
As Matt Sande of Pro-Life Wisconsin told us, since then, Walker has not contradicted that position in words or actions.
In fact, Walker has underscored his support for banning abortion without exceptions commonly accepted by other abortion opponents.
In March 2015, Walker released an "open letter on life," which began by noting that he had "earned a 100 percent rating with pro-life groups in Wisconsin."
And in June 2015, Walker pledged to sign legislation to ban abortions in Wisconsin after 20 weeks -- with no exceptions for cases of rape or incest. That measure was passed by the Legislature the next month and is awaiting Walker’s signature.
No recent Republican president has gone so far in opposing exceptions.
As president, George H.W. Bush (1989-’93) and George W. Bush (2001-’09) both supported allowing abortions in cases of rape or incest, or to protect the life of the mother.
The elder Bush said in 1992 he said: "My own position on abortion is well-known and remains unchanged. I oppose abortion in all cases except rape or incest or where the life of the mother is at stake."
The younger Bush declared in 2006: ''My position has always been three exceptions: rape, incest and the life of the mother."
Meanwhile, Reagan (1981-’89), an idol of Walker’s, was closer to Walker’s position. He didn’t support an exception for rape or incest, but did support one to protect the life of the mother. In 1987, he promoted a bill with a provision that "no funds appropriated by Congress shall be used to perform abortions, except where the life of the mother would be endangered if the fetus were carried to term."
Baldwin said Walker's views on abortion are more restrictive "than any Republican president in recent times."
Walker supports outlawing abortion in all circumstances. The three most recent GOP presidents each supported exceptions, such as allowing abortion to protect the life of the mother.
We rate Baldwin’s statement True.
MSNBC, U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin interview (quote at 7:00), June 3, 2015
Interview, NARAL Pro-Choice America senior campaign director Aniello Alioto, July 9, 2015
Email interview, Planned Parenthood Federation of America Media Relations & Communications Campaigns specialist Lauren Cross, July 9, 2015
NARAL Pro-Choice America, OwnIt2016.com
Planned Parenthood Federation of America, WomenAreWatching.org
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, "Fitzgerald: Scott Walker would sign abortion bill without exemptions," June 23, 2015
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, "Walker would sign abortion bill with no rape, incest exception," June 1, 2015
Philadelphia Daily News, "Senate OKs abortion bill; Bush plans veto," Oct. 20, 1989
Associated Press, "Abortion foes get boost from high court," March 1, 2006
New York Times, "Bush, in Iowa, clarifies stand on legal abortions," Oct. 7, 1987
New York Times, "Feminists attack Reagan administration plan to curb aid for abortion," March 26, 1981
New York Times, "The 2000 campaign: Abortion," Nov. 5, 2000
Scott Walker campaign, "open letter on life," March 3, 2015
Interview, Pro-Life Wisconsin director of legislative affairs Matt Sande, July 10, 2015
Email interview, Purdue University political science professor Bert Rockman, July 10, 2015
Email interview, Francis Marion University presidential historian Scott Kaufman
The Rhetorical Presidency of George H. W. Bush, page 167
Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States: Ronald Reagan, 1987, page 898
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