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Bill Adair
By Bill Adair October 1, 2008

Ad distorts McCain's record on Violence Against Women Act

A new ad from Planned Parenthood makes two charges against Sarah Palin and John McCain. It says Wasilla, Alaska, charged rape victims for forensic exams when Palin was mayor and that, as a senator, McCain "voted to let governments charge rape victims" for forensic exam kits.

We've examined the controversy over the Wasilla rape kit policy in this previous article, so here we'll examine the charge that McCain voted to let governments charge the victims.

The ad begins with a rape victim named Gretchen who says, "I just didn’t think it would happen to me. I was drugged and raped."

The announcer says, "Under Mayor Sarah Palin, women like Gretchen were forced to pay up to $1,200 for the emergency exams used to prosecute their attackers." The screen says "Charged rape victims for exams - Source: CNN, September 22, 2008."  (We reported earlier that Gretchen is from Illinois, not Alaska , and was not subject to the Wasilla policy.)

The announcer continues: "In the Senate, John McCain voted against legislation to protect women from these same heartless policies" while the screen says, "Voted to let governments charge rape victims."

Gretchen then says, "That is something to me that’s unthinkable. It scares me to death."

The screen attributes the McCain allegation to a vote on Aug. 25, 1994, on a crime bill that included the Violence Against Women Act, which itself included a provision that required states to provide free forensic exams for rape victims.

Planned Parenthood's logic: Because McCain opposed that bill, he voted to let governments charge victims for their rape kits.

That's quite a stretch.

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Indeed, McCain voted that day against a conference report on the crime bill, but he opposed it not because of the Violence Against Women provisions, but because it included extra spending that McCain considered unrelated to crime and it had a provision that would have banned so-called assault weapons.

Nine months earlier, McCain had supported the original bill, which included the Violence Against Women Act, when it passed the Senate 95-4. So that alone is a significant contradiction of Planned Parenthood's claim.

Also, McCain has supported the Violence Against Women Act when it has come up for reauthorization.

In 2000, McCain joined a unanimous vote on a crime bill that included the Violence Against Women Act.

In 2005, he praised the law when he introduced a companion bill to provide protections for Indian women. "The 1994 Violence Against Women Act has had a tremendous impact on raising the national awareness of domestic violence and providing communities, including Indian tribes, the resources to respond to the devastating impact of domestic violence," he said.

When we asked Planned Parenthood if it had any other evidence to bolster its claim, spokesman Tait Sye scrounged up a few more: a vote against a 2008 justice spending bill that included all justice programs (McCain opposed it because it had too many earmarks), and a couple of other votes that are not directly related to the rape provision of the Violence Against Women Act.

That's the best they got?

That's the classic kind of cherry-picking we've seen in campaign ads and it is flimsy evidence for the serious charge that McCain opposed the program, especially in light of his clear support at other times.

Planned Parenthood has virtually nothing to back up its charge that McCain voted to let states charge for rape exams. Sure, McCain voted against a larger crime bill in 1994, but that vote was about assault weapons and spending, not the Violence Against Women Act. And McCain has supported the law before then — and twice since.

Planned Parenthood's claim isn't just False, it's ridiculously so, which merits a Pants on Fire.

Our Sources

Government Printing Office, Violence Against Women Act

U.S. Senate, Roll Call Vote on crime bill , Nov. 19, 1993

Congressional Record , Page S4873, May 10, 2005

U.S. Senate, Roll Call vote on human trafficking bill (including Violence Against Women provision), Oct. 11, 2000

U.S. Senate, Roll Call Vote on Justice Spending bill, Oct. 16, 2007

U.S. Senate, Roll Call Vote on the motion to waive the Budget Act with respect to the Gregg point of order against the emergency designation of Biden amendment , Sept. 13, 2005

Sen. John McCain, Statement on Commerce, Justice, Science Appropriations Bill , Oct. 16, 2007


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