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Objection! In Re Santorum, Trial Lawyers Withhold Evidence

Their ad mischaracterizes a quotation from his book and gives a one-sided description of his obstetrical malpractice bill

May 12, 2006

Modified: May 12, 2006

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A TV ad by the Association of Trial Lawyers of America (ATLA) PAC portrays Republican Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania as being "out-of-this-world" on women's issues.

The ad shows him cruising through space and accuses him of saying he "questions why some women work."  In fact, Santorum was defending women who give up careers to care for children.

The ad also says he sponsored a bill that "restricts the rights of women injured by medical errors." The bill was actually an attempt to address soaring malpractice insurance rates for obstetricians and gynecologists, and would have limited awards for non-economic "pain and suffering" to $250,000 per doctor or hospital. Not mentioned in the ad is that the bill also would have capped lawyer's contingency fees.


On May 4 the Association of Trial Lawyers of America PAC launched a television advertisement against Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania.  The ad is titled “World,” and ran until May 7.  It can still be seen on an ATLA PAC sponsored website

 ATLA PAC Ad: "World"

Announcer: More strange activity on Planet Santorum.  First Rick Santorum questions why some women work, saying they're just seeking "social affirmation."
(On Screen Text: Some women work outside the home just because it's "socially affirming.")
Announcer: Now he's sponsoring a bill that restricts the rights of women injured by medical errors...even when they lose their ability to have children.   Santorum's bill puts insurance company profits before the rights of injured women.  The Santorum Agenda?  It's out of this world.
(On Screen: An animation of Santorum in a space suit flying through space.)
Announcer: Paid for by the Association of Trial Lawyers of America Political Action Committee, which is responsible for the content of this advertising.  Not authorized by any candidate or candidate's committee.

"Just...social affirmation?"

The ad says Rick Santorum questions why some women work, saying they’re just seeking social affirmation.  That's a twisted paraphrase from his book, It Takes A Family: Conservativism and the Common Good. Here's the full context:

Santorum: Many women have told me, and surveys have shown, that they find it easier, more "professionally" gratifying, and certainly more socially affirming, to work outside the home than to give up their careers to take care of their children.  Think about that for a moment.  What happened in America so that mothers and fathers who leave their children in the care of someone else – or worse yet, home alone after school between three and six in the afternoon – find themselves more affirmed by society?  Here, we can thank the influence of radical feminism, one of the core philosophies of the village elders.  It’s ironic.  Radical feminists have been making the pitch that justice demands that men and women be given an equal opportunity to make it to the top in the workplace.  But they refuse to acknowledge, much less value as equal, the essential work women have done in being the primary caregivers of the next generation.  It seems to me that justice demands both fair workplace rules and proper respect for work in the home.  

As we read those words, Santorum is defending stay-at-home mothers and saying that society should value them at least as much as mothers who work outside the home. Santorum elaborated on that during a July 2005 interview with Katie Couric on NBC's Today show:

Katie Couric: Some women have to work.
Santorum: Oh, absolutely. In fact, I spend probably a quarter of the book talking about the work that I've done on welfare reform, where, in fact, one things I did is require most women to work. Why? Because if you're a single mom, you don't have any choice. If you are a low-income mother and father, you don't have any choice. What I'm talking about here are--is really society saying to women who, in many cases, do have a choice that they should be affirmed no matter what decision they make.

The Rights of Women?

The ad says Santorum is "sponsoring a bill that restricts the rights of women injured by medical errors...even when they lose their ability to have children." In fact, the "right" that would be restricted by Santorum's bill (S23 ) is the ability to collect damages for so-called "pain and suffering" in a medical malpractice lawsuit regarding obstetrical or gynecological services. The measure aimed to hold down soaring malpractice insurance rates for obstetricians, and was endorsed by the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.

The bill would have limited non-economic damages to $250,000 from any one provider or health-care institution, or a total of $750,000 from multiple defendants.

There would be no limit on the amount of money that could be awarded for actual economic damages, such as lost income or the costs of medical and nursing care.

Santorum's bill also would have limited lawyers' rights to collect contingency fees, which typically can take one-third or more of whatever a court awards. The bill's formula would allow lawyers to collect 40 per cent of the first $50,000 awarded to the plaintiff, but only 15 per cent of anything over $600,000.

The Senate blocked the bill May 8 with only 49 senators voting for cloture and 44 against. Sixty votes were needed to restrict debate and consider the bill.  

-by Emi Kolawole


"Casey Jr.: A Trial Lawyer A Day Keeps the Dr. Away: Casey's Crew of Trial Lawyers Attack Rick Santorum," News Release.  4 May 2006. 

"Healthy Mothers and Healthy Babies Access to Care Act," S. 23.  Proposed May 3, 2006. 

"How S. 23 Discriminates Against Women."  Document.  Public Citizen.  9 May 2006.

Santorum, Rick.  "It Takes a Family: Conservativism and the Common Good," Wilmington, Delaware: ISI Books.  2005. 2nd ed. pg. 95.

The United States Senate.  Roll Call Vote No.  116.