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As Election Day Approaches, Scott's Stance On Abortion Takes Center Stage

Peter Hirschfeld
Republican candidate for governor Phil Scott waves to evening commuters at a campaign event in South Burlington Wednesday evening.

Vermont’s candidates for governor have spent most of their time on the campaign trail talking about taxes, the budget and the economy. But the issue of abortion may play heavily in the outcome of Tuesday’s vote, thanks to a super PAC started by Planned Parenthood. 

Republican Lt. Gov. Phil Scott says he’s being unfairly portrayed as an enemy of a woman’s right to choose.

Scott, along with his staffers and some dedicated supporters, set up shop on a patch of sidewalk off Route 7 in South Burlington earlier this week for a honk-and-wave with evening commuters.

Scott always figured he’d have reporters tailing him for interviews at this late stage of the gubernatorial race. That they’d find him in busy traffic next to a strip mall to ask about his stance on abortion, he says, is a little more surprising.

“You expect the unexpected, but it certainly wouldn’t have been on my top-12 list,” Scott says.

Thanks to a $420,000 ad campaign by the Planned Parenthood Vermont Action Fund, Phil Scott is suddenly having to defend himself on a topic he assumed he’d be safe on.

“I’m pro-choice,” he says. “I’m a pro-choice, moderate Republican.”

That’s not how Planned Parenthood sees it, according to the ad it began airing last month.

“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,” the ad says.

"I'm pro-choice. I'm a pro-choice, moderate Republican." — Lt. Gov. Phil Scott

Thirteen years ago, Scott co-sponsored legislation that would have required minors to notify their parents before undergoing an abortion. Scott has also voiced support for restrictions on late-term abortions.

“We have a responsibility to speak up for those most likely to be harmed by legislation like this. Their voices are often drowned out by politicians who think they know better,” says Meagan Gallagher, the president and CEO of the super PAC that paid to air the abortion ad.

Democrat Sue Minter opposes any restrictions on choice. And Planned Parenthood isn’t the only one voicing concern about Scott’s views on abortion.

The Vermont Democratic Party held a press conference in the Statehouse earlier this week, where Rachel Benjamin, a senior at the University of Vermont, spoke to reporters.

“Every single human being has the right to say what happens to their body, and should not be having our male-dominated political system making that decision for them,” Benjamin says.

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Scott though says the Planned Parenthood ad, and the Democratic Party’s response, is clearly intended to lead voters to the conclusion that he opposes abortion period. And he isn’t the only one who says Planned Parenthood has willfully distorted his positions for political gain.

In an ad the Scott campaign began airing after the Planned Parenthood spot, Morgan resident Candy Moot tells viewers she’s “outraged and sickened that Planned Parenthood has distorted the position Phil Scott takes today and the position he has always taken.”

As a former board member and volunteer at Planned Parenthood, Moot has some credibility on the abortion issue.

“I’ve been a foster parent for 35 years, I’ve been a guardian ad litum for 35 years. Women’s issues, children’s issues have always been an interest,” Moot says.

Moot says she understands entirely why Planned Parenthood has concerns about Scott’s stance on parental notification.

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“I do have a very strong view on parental notification, and I do not support it, particularly as a foster mom, and I still do a lot of foster parenting,” Moot says. “I know the girls that this often affects.”

But Moot says that doesn’t make it OK for Planned Parenthood to intimate that Scott opposes a woman's right to choose. The Democratic Governors Association has helped fund the Planned Parenthood ads.

“It just takes an issue that’s very dear to my heart, and very dear and important to thousands of Vermont women, and makes it partisan,” Moot says.

The Vermont Democratic Party says Scott and Moot aren’t playing fair with the response ad. And Vermont Democratic Party spokeswoman Christina Amestoy has called on the Scott campaign to withdraw the spot featuring Moot.

"Instead of owning up to this record, Phil Scott has chosen to attack Planned Parenthood." - Democratic Party spokeswoman Christina Amestoy

“Instead of owning up to this record, Phil Scott has chosen to attack Planned Parenthood,” Amestoy says.

It’s a charge Scott rejects.

“I think that’s just ridiculous. I’m not attacking Planned Parenthood,” Scott says. “As I’ve said, after this is over, if I’m successful, I plan to support them, as I did before.”

Scott says he’s proud to be among the minority of Republicans who spoke out in favor Planned Parenthood when figures in the national GOP were calling for it to be defunded. And he says he has no interest at all in pursuing legislation that would impose restrictions on women’s right to choose.

“If I was a Democrat, I don’t think this would be happening, and that’s the unfortunate part,” Scott says.

The issue of abortion also figured prominently in the 2010 race for governor. In that race, Brian Dubie, a pro-life Republican, lost to Democrat Peter Shumlin by about 4,000 votes.

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