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September 17, 2014

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Heck back in familiar territory fending off attacks that he’s ‘no advocate for women’

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U.S. Rep. Joe Heck, R-Nev., speaks during a Town Hall at Windmill Library in Las Vegas on Tuesday, July 2, 2013.

Here’s a new take on an old tale: Rep. Joe Heck, R-Nev., is anti-woman.

Erin Bilbray, a Democratic candidate running against Heck in Nevada’s 3rd Congressional District, recently alleged in an email that Heck is “no advocate for women’s equality, choice, or health.”

Characterizing Heck’s record as “very anti-choice, very anti-woman” during an interview with the Sun, she offered as evidence several votes Heck has taken during his three years in Congress and while he was serving in the state Senate.

She concluded her email pitch with a question: “Will you please help me beat Rep. Heck and protect women's rights by contributing $5 right now?”

Bilbray, who announced her candidacy this summer, consults for Emerge Nevada, a nonprofit group she founded that helps women get elected to political office. She said she planned to make women’s issues a “huge” part of her campaign.

Meanwhile, staffers with Heck’s re-election campaign who read Bilbray’s email got a sense of deja vu. They’d seen some of these claims before from Democratic candidate John Oceguera, who failed to defeat Heck during last year’s election, and from Rep. Dina Titus, D-Nev., who failed to unseat Heck in 2010 before winning election last year in Nevada’s 1st Congressional District.

“They were fact-checked,” said Mark Ciavola, Heck’s campaign manager. “They were debunked.”

What are the claims, and how truthful are they?

    • Claim No. 1

      “My opponent, Congressman Joe Heck, has voted against the Paycheck Fairness Act.”

      Even a simple claim like whether Heck voted for or against a bill addressing equal pay for women can get complicated. Heck took a procedural vote to not move the bill forward. Ciavola says Democrats requested the vote as a “ploy to use the procedural ‘no’ vote as evidence of opposition to the actual bill.” Bilbray says Republicans never brought the bill up for an actual vote, effectively killing it in the Republican-controlled House of Representatives.

      “It’s splitting hairs,” she said. “Joe Heck is very good about squirming away from what he does, and this is another instance of him squirming and worming around. He voted against this.”

    • Claim No. 2

      “My opponent, Congressman Joe Heck, has voted ... to criminalize abortions for rape victims.”

      Bilbray is referring to a bill that would have banned abortions in the District of Columbia after 20 weeks of pregnancy. Heck voted for the bill, which would’ve allowed exemptions to the ban for women whose pregnancies endangered their lives. The proposal would not have allowed exemptions for women who became pregnant through rape.

      Heck has said in the past that he opposes abortion except for in instances of rape, incest, or to save a pregnant woman’s life. But in July of last year, he did vote for this bill, HR 3803, the District of Columbia Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act.

      Ciavola said, “The reason 3803 did not contain a rape exception is that it is universally accepted that most rape victims do not wait five months to seek care.”

    • Claim No. 3

      “While serving in the State Senate he voted against requiring insurance companies to provide coverage for HPV vaccinations.”

      In April 2007, Heck voted against a bill that would have required insurance companies to cover a vaccine for the human papilloma virus (HPV), a precursor to cervical cancer.

      This vote has dogged Heck for years with allies of both the Titus and Oceguera campaigns using it as an attack.

      At the time, Gardasil was the only HPV vaccine on the market, and the Sun noted last year that even the chairman of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended in 2007 that states not pass laws requiring girls to get vaccinated.

      Past ads using this line to attack Heck received an “F” grade and were called an “eye roll”.

    • Claim No. 4

      “He voted against funding a rape crisis center and a domestic violence prevention program.”

      Heck voted against a bill at the end of the 2007 legislative session in which legislators tried to push funding for special projects. Among the 42 projects included in Senate Bill 579 was $250,000 for a rape crisis center and $200,000 for a nonprofit group’s domestic violence prevention program.

      Heck’s campaign said he voted against the bill because it was introduced only a few hours before the Legislature ended, and he didn’t have time to read the bill.

      Ocegeura attacked Heck for the votes last year.

      “This attack may go down in history as the most debunked yet most reused ad in Nevada political history,” Ciavola said.

      Bilbray, however, said that such claims are still valid.

      “He is very good about giving excuses when he does unpopular things, but the bottom line is he voted against the rape crisis center,” she said.

    • Claim No. 5

      “Rep. Heck supports Republican attempts to repeal women’s access to affordable health care. He has wasted taxpayer dollars by continuing to vote to repeal the Affordable Healthcare Act.”

      Heck has joined House Republicans to vote more than 35 times to repeal Obamacare, which is officially called the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. Heck has said many times that while the law is unworkable, he supports “key consumer protections” in the law, Ciavola said.

      By voting to repeal the law, Democrats can say that Heck opposes any provision of the law, but it’s unclear exactly what provisions Heck would support reinstating should Obamacare be repealed.

    • Claim No. 6

      “He has wasted taxpayer dollars by continuing to vote ... to defund Planned Parenthood."

      Although a vote does not require any direct spending, it is true that Heck has voted to strip the nonprofit group Planned Parenthood of its federal funding.

      “His vote on that bill is consistent with his position that taxpayer funds should not go to pay for abortions,” said Ciavola, who noted that the nationwide reproductive health organization counts abortions among the services it provides.

      Bilbray said Heck’s vote also symbolized a vote to defund Planned Parenthood’s family planning assistance, contraception, HIV counseling, cancer screenings and other medical services.

      Ciavola said Heck would support funding such health programs while opposing the provision of federal dollars to Planned Parenthood’s abortion services.

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