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Originally published Tuesday, October 23, 2012 at 6:21 PM

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Truth Needle: DelBene's attack on Koster overstates the case

Truth Needle: A Suzan DelBene ad attacking her Republican opponent, John Koster, overstates Koster's position on birth control.

Seattle Times staff reporter

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The claim: Democratic congressional candidate Suzan DelBene has a new television ad that says of her opponent, Republican John Koster: "His radical policies could ban some kinds of birth control."

Our finding: Mostly false.

In nearly two decades of public office, Koster has said very little about birth control.

"I have never said I wanted to ban any kind of birth control, period," Koster said. That includes IUDs and Plan B.

In the past, however, he has supported an anti-abortion constitutional amendment that could have made some kinds of birth control illegal, depending on interpretation.

The DelBene campaign points to a campaign fundraising letter from Koster's first congressional run in 2000. In it, he pledged his support for the human life amendment, a proposed constitutional amendment that, in some iterations, would protect life "from the moment of fertilization."

That definition is problematic for some forms of birth control, most obviously the IUD, said Dr. Brad Anawalt, professor and vice chair of the University of Washington Department of Medicine.

The IUD usually blocks an egg from becoming fertilized, but if fertilization occurs, the IUD stops it from attaching to the uterine wall.

The Plan B morning-after pill and other types of hormonal birth control like the pill work primarily by stopping ovulation.

When the human life amendment was discussed in the late 1990s, numerous writers and even some proponents acknowledged that it could ban some types of birth control, if taken to its logical extreme.

Koster this week downplayed the human life amendment and his support for it in the 2000 fundraising letter.

"I don't know if I'd sign that again, knowing what I know today," Koster said.

As recently as August, Koster said he backed the Republican platform that calls for outlawing abortion. That platform also includes support for a human life amendment, and depending on how it would be written, it may limit certain kinds of birth control.

Koster's positions on social issues are front-and-center in the close race for Washington's new swing district, which runs from Redmond to the Canadian border.

His website advertises that he has a "100% pro-life voting record."

The same DelBene ad that mentions contraceptives also highlights Koster's position on abortion, accurately describing his opposition to it in nearly all cases, including rape, incest and the health of the mother. Koster does make an exception if the mother's life is in danger.

Democrat-funded ads attacking Koster for his beliefs have misstated that exception.

Koster says the social debate is "a distraction" and not important to voters.

But a new KING 5 SurveyUSA poll shows social issues are most important to 25 percent of voters in the 1st District, second only to the economy. And 47 percent of likely voters said they thought DelBene better reflects their position on social issues, compared to 39 percent for Koster.

DelBene told KING "Up Front" host Robert Mak last week that Koster's positions about women's health are "an issue of this campaign."

"There's legislation that's been proposed many times restricting women's rights to make their own health-care decisions, and he has said he would support those pieces of legislation," she said. "He would absolutely be in a position where he would be trying to change the law and take away women's rights."

It's true that Koster once supported an amendment that, in its practical application, might have banned some types of birth control. But Koster's support was focused on abortion, not birth control, and he says he wouldn't ban birth control. Because of that we find DelBene's claim mostly false.

Emily Heffter: 206-464-8246 or eheffter@seattletimes.com. On Twitter @EmilyHeffter.

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