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Yvonne Abraham

Senator Brown trying to have it both ways

Listen up, abortion rights fans: Scott Brown is on your side!

Fear not, abortion rights foes: Scott Brown is on your side!

Continue reading below

When it comes to choice, the Republican Senator is a little bit country, and a little bit rock ’n’ roll. The problem is, this isn’t the kind of issue where you can make like Donny and Marie.

But don’t tell that to the National Right to Life Committee. Even though Brown has been loudly proclaiming that he favors abortion rights, the antiabortion group gave him a 100 percent rating in his first year as a senator, and an 80 percent rating in his second. And it continues to shower him with paper roses.

Its latest bouquet: A mailer urging abortion opponents to back Brown against Democrat Elizabeth Warren. “Vote like life depends on it … because it does,” it reads.

Why wouldn’t they love a guy who cosponsored the Blunt Amendment? That mess would have allowed employers to deny insurance coverage for birth control — and other treatments, such as in vitro fertilization, or even vaccines — they find objectionable on moral or religious grounds.

Former Boston mayor Ray Flynn says Brown’s “heart is pro-life,” a reasonable conclusion to draw from some things he did as a state senator. He cosponsored a bill that would have required a woman to wait 24 hours before getting an abortion, during which time she would be given pictures showing the development of her fetus (clearly, in an effort to change her mind). Then there was his sponsorship of a measure that would have allowed hospital workers to refuse emergency contraception to rape victims if the workers’ religion frowned upon it.

On the other hand, in the state Senate, Brown voted to maintain buffer zones to keep protesters away from patients at abortion clinics. And in the midst of this close race with Warren, he urged the GOP to remove from its platform a call for constitutional ban on abortion.

Confusing, right?

Brown seems happy to keep it that way. Given the opportunity to distance himself from antiabortion absolutists, he has declined to do so. When Globe reporter Stephanie Ebbert asked about the National Right to Life endorsement Thursday, Brown at first resisted discussing it: “You’ll have to talk to the campaign,” said the man who is the campaign. When she pressed him, Brown said, “I’m going after every single vote and there are good people on all sides of every issue.”

But Brown can’t be everybody’s man on reproductive rights. Satisfy antiabortion folks and you undermine a woman’s right to choose. Choice isn’t about just the right to abortion, but access to it, and Brown has shown he is willing to chip away at that.

Choice isn’t about just abortion, but also contraception, and Brown has had no problem putting up barriers to access there. What his record says is that women should be able to control their own bodies — some of the time.

“When you’re kind-of pro-choice, you’re saying somebody else always gets to judge when women can make medical decisions,” says Megan Amundson, executive director of NARAL Massachusetts.

Both sides believe they know which way Brown will go when it comes to the big one. In the next four years, the Senate will probably vote on a Supreme Court nominee, who could tip the balance if the court reconsiders Roe v. Wade. Anne Fox, president of Massachusetts Citizens for Life, believes Brown will vote to confirm a justice who shares her view that Roe “was not a legitimate decision.”

“We are looking for justices who do not legislate from the bench,” said Fox.

Or maybe, despite immense party pressure, the abortion-rights Brown will appear.

Nobody knows for sure. Which is why nobody who believes in a woman’s right to choose should take the chance.

Yvonne Abraham is a Globe columnist. She can be reached at abraham@globe.com.
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