As congressional Republicans sought to defund Planned Parenthood last summer, Vermont Lt. Gov. Phil Scott took a different approach. The Republican gubernatorial candidate asked for a tour of the organization's Burlington Health Center.
"We just sat down and talked about what they do, how they help and the essential services they provide," Scott told Seven Days last December. "I don't think we should be spending our time defunding Planned Parenthood. They do really good work for a lot of people in need."
The goodwill gesture apparently went unnoticed. On Wednesday morning, a super PAC financed by the Planned Parenthood Action Fund and the Democratic Governors Association launched a $132,000 television advertising blitz questioning Scott's support for abortion rights.
"Two very different choices for Vermont's next governor," the ad's narrator says. "Phil Scott supported restrictions on a woman's right to choose. And Vermont Right to Life, which opposes all abortion — even for rape and incest — recommended Phil Scott."
Democratic nominee Sue Minter, the narrator says, is "the better choice" and would be "a governor we can trust."
According to Scott's campaign coordinator, Brittney Wilson, the ad is "dishonest and deceitful."
"Phil supports a woman's right to choose. Period," she said. "Phil's raised two strong, independent daughters and will fight for them and the rights of all women ... Phil has always been pro-choice."
Scott has, indeed, long called himself pro-choice. But he has also supported certain restrictions on abortion. He has, for example, opposed late-term abortions, and sponsored a bill more than a decade ago requiring parental notification for minors seeking the procedure.
In the ad, the Planned Parenthood super PAC cites a September 2012 piece that Seven Days published in collaboration with VTDigger.org fact-checking a claim from Scott's opponent in that year's election that he was "against a woman's right to choose." The two news outlets concluded that the claim was "mostly false" and that it would be more accurate to say that he supported certain restrictions on a woman's right to choose.
Here's what we wrote at the time:
Phil Scott served 10 years in the state Senate representing Washington County before he won election as lieutenant governor in 2010. He has consistently maintained a pro-choice stance — even when he cosponsored a parental notification bill during the 2003-2004 session that would require health care providers to alert parents before performing abortions on their minor-age daughters.
For the 2010 campaign, Scott completed an issue position survey for Planned Parenthood of Northern New England in which he described himself as "pro-choice but with restrictions."
"Because of my beliefs, I find it impossible to answer the question in your survey with a simple 'yes' or 'no,'" Scott wrote. "I do support a woman's right to choose; however, I do not believe it needs to be a 'blank check' in order to be effective."
Scott wrote that he opposes "partial-birth" abortion "because I believe there are many options available to terminate a pregnancy well before that stage of development." He also said he opposed government funding for abortions because using taxpayer dollars for something many people disagree with is "not an appropriate public policy."
He wrote that he supports a fetal homicide bill — as long as it's a "well-written law that carefully defines the circumstances under which a fetal homicide ruling would apply; for example, a car accident caused by a drunk driver in which a fetus was killed."
According to Wilson, Scott's position has not shifted since.
It is true that the VRLC expressed support for Scott during his primary-election contest with retired Wall Street banker Bruce Lisman. The organization sent a mailer to its members over the summer calling on them to back Scott and Republican lieutenant gubernatorial candidate Randy Brock.
"While Phil Scott and Randy Brock are both pro-choice, they are on record as supporting some key pro-life legislative initiatives," the mailer read. "Phil Scott's Republican Primary opponent, Bruce Lisman, does not support ANY pro-life legislation."
It continued: "All of the leading contenders for Governor and Lt. Governor on the Democratic ballot are 100% pro-abortion and 100% pro-assisted suicide."
Creston Lea, who chairs the Planned Parenthood super PAC's board, declined an interview request Wednesday afternoon. But in a written statement, he said that with abortion rights "under unprecedented attack nationally," Vermont needs a governor "who will continue to lead the way."
"Sue Minter has always stood up for safe and legal abortion," Lea said. "She will be a governor who doesn't just support women's health — she will be a proactive leader on expanding access to women's health care."
It's unclear how much the super PAC plans to spend in the final three weeks of the gubernatorial race. According to a campaign finance disclosure filed Wednesday with the Secretary of State's Office, the group raised $151,450 this week to pay for the ad. Of that, $50,000 came from the Planned Parenthood Action Fund and $100,000 from the DGA.