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Fact check: How Democratic ads mislead on four GOP candidates’ abortion stances

By Daniel Dale, CNN

Democrats have spent weeks attacking Republican midterm candidates with television ads about abortion. Some of the ads have been misleading.

Many of the Democratic ads accurately describe their Republican targets’ strict anti-abortion positions. But some others employ slippery phrasing and the power of insinuation to promote the impression that certain Republican candidates have taken more aggressive anti-abortion stands than these candidates actually have.

Some ads try to make it sound like Republicans who support exceptions for rape, incest and the life of the mother are opposed to these exceptions. Other ads try to make it sound like Republicans who have opposed the idea of a federal abortion ban are supportive of a federal ban.

Here’s a look at ads targeting four Republican candidates for the House of Representatives. This is not meant to be an exhaustive list; we haven’t watched all of the numerous abortion ads that have aired around the country.

Esther Joy King, Illinois

An October ad attacking Esther Joy King, the Republican candidate in Illinois’ 17th District, claimed that “Esther Joy King even stands with Republicans who want a national abortion ban with no exceptions for rape or incest.”

While the ad from the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee was correct that King describes herself as “unapologetically pro-life” and that she praised the Supreme Court’s decision overturning Roe v. Wade, the ad didn’t mention that King said back in August that she supports exceptions for rape, incest and the life of the mother. And at a debate the night before the ad was released, King also said she opposes a federal abortion ban.

The DCCC’s phrasing — King “stands with Republicans who want” a national abortion ban with no exceptions for rape or incest — allowed the ad to avoid explicitly claiming that King herself wants a national abortion ban with no exceptions for rape or incest. But the ad did not acknowledge that King has taken a public position against the proposals the ad insinuated that she plans to support.

A lawyer for King’s campaign sent a letter to television stations asking them to stop airing the ad, saying the DCCC was making a “smear” against King by “purposefully distorting” her position. CNN could not determine how each station responded.

DCCC spokesperson Helen Kalla stood by the ad about King and the DCCC’s ads about two other Republican candidates CNN addresses later in this article, Marc Molinaro and April Becker. Kalla argued that Republicans are “desperately trying to mislead voters on their positions.”

Marc Molinaro, New York

A DCCC ad released in mid-September claimed that Marc Molinaro, the Republican candidate in New York’s 19th District, would “stand with politicians who support a nationwide ban on abortion.” Text on the screen said, “MARC MOLINARO,” “POLITICIANS BANNING ABORTION NATIONWIDE,” “EVEN FOR VICTIMS OF RAPE AND INCEST.”

But Molinaro has said he opposes a national abortion ban and supports the rape and incest exceptions.

Molinaro describes himself as “personally pro-life” and generally opposes abortion after 17 weeks. But he said in an August debate that he would not support a nationwide ban, explaining that “I do not believe there is a role for Congress” under the Supreme Court decision overturning Roe v. Wade. (He said there should be “thoughtful limitations” at the state level on late-term abortions.) At another August event, Molinaro said regarding abortion: “I do not support imposing the federal will on states.” And at a third August event, he said, according to WSKG radio, that he supports exceptions for “life of the mother, rape and incest,” including after 17 weeks.

We can’t definitively fact-check what Molinaro would do if elected, and this ad, too, was worded to avoid directly claiming that Molinaro himself wants a nationwide abortion ban with no exceptions for rape and incest. But like the ad against King in Illinois, the ad against Molinaro did not acknowledge that the candidate is on the record opposing these proposals.

A lawyer for Molinaro’s campaign sent a letter to television stations demanding that they stop airing the ad. The letter said it is not true that Molinaro would stand with politicians supporting a nationwide abortion ban, adding that “the ad provides no citation or other support for this false claim.” CNN could not determine how each station responded.

The ad was fact-checked in late September by the Albany Times Union. The Times Union noted that during a 2018 run for New York governor, Molinaro expressed support for the general idea of New York passing state legislation to codify abortion rights if the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade — though he said he doubted the court would do so and also said, as the DCCC ad correctly noted, that he did not support the particular codification bill state legislators were contemplating at the time.

Molinaro campaign manager Will Dawson said in an email to CNN that Democrats are making up “lies” about Molinaro.

April Becker, Nevada

A DCCC ad released in mid-September identified April Becker, the Republican candidate in Nevada’s 3rd District, as one of the Nevada House candidates who “want to join the Republicans in Congress trying to ban abortion nationwide, including Nevada.”

While Becker obviously wants to be part of the Republican caucus in Congress, the ad did not mention that she has repeatedly pledged to vote against any federal abortion ban.

In an interview published five days before the DCCC ad began airing, NBC News quoted Becker saying she would “absolutely not” vote for an abortion ban in the House because she thinks a ban imposed by Congress “would be unconstitutional.” This was not a new position for her. She also said in a July interview with the show Nevada Newsmakers that she thinks a federal abortion ban “would be unconstitutional,” adding that since (in her reading) the Supreme Court said abortion is a matter for the states to decide, “I don’t see how you could in good faith pass a law in Congress that takes that away from the states.” previously fact-checked another abortion-related DCCC ad about Becker.

Meanwhile, an ad released last week by the House Majority PAC, the Democrats’ principal outside-spending entity for House races, features a narrator saying that Becker has been endorsed by “extremists” who would pass a nationwide abortion ban with “no exceptions for rape, incest or the life of the mother.”

But even the DCCC’s research file on Becker notes that Becker herself has publicly expressed support for all three exceptions — and that she did so on her website even during the Republican primary.

“Becker’s website has never changed on this topic,” Jeremy Hughes, general consultant for the Becker campaign, told CNN last week.

The group the House Majority PAC ad cited when it said Becker has been endorsed by anti-abortion “extremists,” Susan B. Anthony Pro-Life America, told CNN last week that it backs various kinds of anti-abortion legislation in various jurisdictions, including the 15-week ban recently proposed by Sen. Lindsey Graham that includes all three exceptions, and that it endorses anti-abortion candidates who support the three exceptions.

The group also backs anti-abortion laws much stricter than Graham’s proposal, including legislation that doesn’t include all three exceptions. But again: Becker does support those exceptions.

George Logan, Connecticut

A House Majority PAC ad released in late September targeted George Logan, the Republican candidate in Connecticut’s 5th District. The ad said that “Washington Republicans are talking about a nationwide ban on abortion, including in Connecticut, and George Logan would help them — voting for Republican leadership who have promised to do just that.”

The ad didn’t mention that Logan himself has repeatedly expressed support for abortion rights and opposition to a national abortion ban.

More than a week prior to the release of the ad, the CT Mirror reported that Logan said: “I don’t support a national ban. I believe it should be up to the states. Right here in Connecticut, we have codified a woman’s right to choose. That’s what I support.” CT Insider reported that Logan said of abortion in a July interview that “I believe it should be safe, legal and most importantly rare”; he added in July that he is “adamantly opposed to late-term abortions” but said later in the interview that he would support even these abortions for medical reasons.

In an October interview with the CT Examiner, Logan said he is in favor of parental notification policies for when minors are seeking abortions. But he also said, “I support a woman’s right to choose, but I believe it should be safe, legal and rare. I do not support late-term abortions out of convenience. I’m not talking about when there’s a medical emergency or those sorts of things.”

Again, we can’t definitively declare what Logan “would” do in office. And once more, this ad was written to avoid explicitly saying that Logan himself wants a nationwide abortion ban. But the ad certainly didn’t acknowledge that Logan has repeatedly said he favors abortion rights in most cases.

House Majority PAC stood by its ads about Logan and Becker. Communications Director CJ Warnke argued in an email to CNN that both candidates are endorsed by anti-abortion extremists and will “wholeheartedly support attempts by Kevin McCarthy and Republican leadership to implement a nationwide abortion ban.”

Liz Kurantowicz, general consultant for the Logan campaign, said in an email that Democrats are trying to take a “one size fits all” approach to the campaign even though “that doesn’t work against George Logan.” She said that “for Democrats, the inconvenient truth remains that George has a longstanding record supporting a woman’s right to choose.”

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