This article is from the New Mexico Independent and is part of RH Reality Check’s ongoing partnership with the Center for Independent Media’s New Journalist Fellowship.
John McCain seems to be having increasing difficulty with the issue of birth control.
At his town hall here in Albuquerque Tuesday, three people wearing t-shirts with the logo of the pro-choice organization NARAL were ejected from the venue, despite having tickets. Originally reported by local media, including the New Mexico Independent, the incident got some attention in the blogosphere by Ben Smith of Politico. Smith spoke with McCain aide, Jeff Sadosky, and was told that the three were told to leave by Albuquerque police and hotel security, because they had originally been seen protesting the event.
Not so, according to Chris Salas, one of the three people ejected. They arrived at the Hotel Albuquerque to see if they could get tickets, he told the Independent. They entered the hotel on the west side, which is also the side of the hotel facing the street and the protesters, and were told they had to leave if they didn’t have tickets. They were not protesters, he said.
They then went to the east side where they saw a McCain campaign volunteer. They inquired about getting tickets and she put them on a waiting list.
Eventually, they were called up and given tickets, and then stood in line to enter the town hall. While waiting in line, a secret service agent noticed them, Salas said, and then he went and spoke to a McCain volunteer. They were then confronted by the Secret Service agent, the McCain campaign volunteer, and hotel security after he had been called. They were told to leave or they would be arrested for trespassing.
Salas told the Independent that the only thing that set them apart from other people in line were the NARAL t-shirts they were wearing.
NARAL attributes the ejection to McCain not wanting to address the issue of birth control:
"So it looks like it’s yet another day when we won’t get a straight answer from the ‘straight talk express’ on where Sen. McCain stands on birth control," NARAL’s executive director Heather Brewer said.
The NMI reported Tuesday that the local McCain campaign said it had nothing to do with turning away the NARAL activists who were clad in NARAL T-shirts. "It wasn’t a campaign issue. It was an open, public event," McCain spokesperson Whitney Cheshire said.
Cheshire reiterated that explanation on Thursday when asked again, in light of a local McCain volunteer being involved in the ejection. It was a "hotel issue, not a campaign issue," she told the Independent.
The Independent put a call into the Hotel Albuquerque asking for a response, but the hotel did not immediately return the call.
But maybe it was a campaign issue if events elsewhere tell us anything.
Salas told the Independent that the primary question they had hoped to ask McCain was directed at his position on requiring that prescription drug insurance plans cover birth control, given the almost universal coverage of Viagra for men, which is a drug oriented toward male sexual health.
This question has received increasing attention since McCain advisor Carly Fiorina first mentioned it early last week at a reporter’s breakfast in Washington D.C. Almost in passing, she speculated that health insurance companies might be sexually biased in their coverage: "…there are many health insurance plans that will cover Viagra but won’t cover birth-control medication. Those women would like a choice."
This comment led to a politically awkward moment between McCain and reporters on his "Straight Talk Express." He was captured on camera hemming and hawing in response to a reporter’s question about whether or not he thinks that’s fair, especially in light of his voting record against bills that would have required coverage of birth control for women.
His comments, which were aired on MSNBC, have received media attention from major media outlets, with ABC News printing the full transcript of his comments, which are clipped in the video:
When asked about Fiorina’s initial comments on Viagra and birth control, McCain said Wednesday, "I certainly do not want to discuss that issue." Appearing speechless, McCain paused for eight seconds before answering, "I don’t know enough about it to give you an informed answer because I don’t recall the vote, I’ve cast thousands of votes in the Senate, but I will respond to you," he said. "It’s a choice — I hadn’t thought much about it but I did hear her [Fiorina's] response, but I hadn’t thought much about it."
ABC News also points out that the national NARAL organization posted the video clip on their blog last week. In fact, it was July 10, five days before the Albuquerque town hall. The website also had posted numerous comments about Fiorina prior to the video.
ABC News goes on to note that "In an attempt to draw attention to McCain’s record on women’s issues at a time when his campaign is heavily courting women voters, Naral e-mailed 30,000 of its most vocal supporters, urging them "to call on McCain to be clear about his anti-choice record."
According to Salas, that was their intention had they been allowed to ask a question during the town hall.
The Washington Independent’s Mike Lillis examined the actual issue in question earlier this week in his article McCain’s Birth Control Dodge.
"The average woman, for example, spends roughly five years of her life being pregnant or trying to get there, and nearly 30 years trying to avoid pregnancy, according to NARAL Pro-Choice America, a reproductive rights group.
"Suzanne Novak, an attorney with the Center for Reproductive Rights, said that existing federal anti-discrimination laws should make it clear that health plans must include birth control.
"In comprehensive health plans, they cover all men’s needs," she said. "But for women, they’ve got this carve-out."
Lillis also points out that McCain voted in both 2003 and 2005 against legislation that would have required insurance plans to include birth control as a covered prescription drug.
According to the New York Times blog The Caucus, McCain has since tried to explain his position, saying he voted against one of the bills because it funded emergency contraceptives.
The Planned Parenthood Action Fund is now launching a national ad campaign featuring the video clip in 30 second spots, to air in battleground states including New Mexico, according to The Caucus:
Planned Parenthood said the ad is being aimed at women voters, and will be broadcast during the season premiere of "Project Runway," on Bravo, Lifetime’s "Army Wives," and "The Oprah Winfrey Show" in some markets. It will air in battleground states, including Colorado, Iowa, Minnesota, New Mexico, Ohio, and Wisconsin, as well as in the Washington, D.C. area.