Yvonne Abraham

Brown’s failure

By Yvonne Abraham
Globe Columnist / January 14, 2010

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I don’t know what’s worse: that Scott Brown tried to weaken a law guaranteeing emergency contraception to rape victims, or that he now claims he can’t remember doing it. Or maybe it’s that, now that he’s running for US Senate, he’s dragging his daughters into the controversy to protect himself.

Such compelling options! Let’s take them in order, shall we?

In 2005, state lawmakers proposed a law requiring hospital workers to offer rape victims emergency contraception, and Brown supported it. But he also wrote an amendment that would have gutted the bill. His measure would have allowed any health care worker to opt out of the new law based on his or her beliefs. If that happened, the victim would then have to get emergency birth control from someone else at the hospital or go to another facility entirely.

Imagine this for a minute. You have just been brutally assaulted, and you’re traumatized. You’ve worked up the courage to go to the hospital. You’re terrified the animal who did this to you has gotten you pregnant. But the nurse who is seeing you happens to believe you should bear your rapist’s child. Now, on top of dealing with the horror of this crime, you have to work to get the care the law says you’re entitled to. Maybe you get lucky and you’re at a big hospital, and somebody else is available to give you the pill. Maybe it’s the middle of the night, and nobody else is available. Now what do you do? Start again at another hospital? What if the other hospital is miles away?

Brown’s amendment would have added to rape victims’ trauma and made a mockery of the emergency contraception law. But don’t take my word for it. Here’s what members of his own party said about his amendment back then, before voting to defeat it.

“I can’t believe what we’re doing to this bill,’’ said then-minority leader Brian Lees, who called it, “a poison pill amendment. . . . I can’t believe that you’re going to say [this] to your constituents who’ve been through a traumatic experience.’’

Senator Richard Tisei said: “I can’t recall another instance where we’ve basically said, ‘This is the law, and it’s OK not to follow it.’ . . . It doesn’t make any sense.’’

Now, you’d think a state senator would remember being publicly reamed by members of his own party, right? Or recall his own shaky defense of his proposal, which he said he put forward “just for conversation.’’

Nope. On Tuesday night, When Janet Wu of WCVB-TV asked him if he’d sponsored the amendment, Brown said: “I have to check. I don’t know. It was so long ago.’’

That beggars belief. Then again, Brown does seem to have had problems with his memory lately, denouncing national measures on the environment and health care that he supported as a state legislator, going back and forth on climate change. His opponent, Attorney General Martha Coakley, could use some memory exercises, too, especially where the death penalty is concerned. But Brown’s uncertainty over his 2005 amendment takes the cake.

When Coakley raised this subject during Monday night’s debate, Brown hid behind his daughters. He’d never deny them the care they needed if they got raped, he said. Then, on Tuesday, he sent them down to the Parker House to face reporters for him. Nobody at the press conference would answer questions about the amendment. “My dad would always stand up for the rights and needs of rape victims,’’ said Ayla Brown.

He wouldn’t. And he didn’t. His measure put the rights of health workers above those of victims. And now, even though it’s a matter of public record, the man who would be our next US senator refuses to acknowledge he took that position, let alone defend it.

And that’s the worst thing of all.

Yvonne Abraham is a Globe columnist. She can be reached at