WASHINGTON -- Elizabeth Warren has spoken almost exclusively about the economy in her public appearances as she runs for U.S. Senate in Massachusetts. But at private fundraisers, she is opening up more on social issues, including the Obama administration's recent decision to limit access to emergency contraception. At one recent event, several attendees were left with the impression that Warren disagreed with what Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius had done.
On Dec. 9, Warren traveled across the country to Seattle to raise funds with Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.), who is up for reelection in 2012. They held large lunch and dinner events, as well as a more intimate fundraiser organized by Washington Women for Choice, which was attended by several dozen people at a private residence that evening.
The event came just two days after Sebelius took the surprising and unprecedented step of rejecting the Food and Drug Administration's recommendation to give all women access to the emergency contraception pill Plan B One-Step over the counter, without a prescription. Currently, Plan B is available over the counter to women 17 and older, while those younger than 17 need a prescription.
Warren briefly addressed Sebelius' decision at the private fundraiser, leaving two women who spoke to The Huffington Post with the clear impression that she disagreed with it -- a position that she has not discussed publicly.
"She was not happy with it," said Monica Harrington, co-chair of Washington Women for Choice, reiterating that Warren "was very clearly supportive of making Plan B available."
"If Elizabeth Warren were a senator today, I have no doubt she would have joined the other senators who sent the letter to the administration," added Harrington, referring to a letter 14 Democratic senators sent to Sebelius expressing their "disappointment" with the Plan B outcome and asking for the scientific basis behind her decision.
Another woman at the event, a Democratic donor who requested anonymity, said Warren was "absolutely shattered ... by the Plan B decision."
"She made it very clear that this was not in line with our values, and it was ignoring the science. She thought that this was horrifying," she said.
But Valerie Tarico, another co-founder of Washington Women for Choice, was less sure about where Warren stood.
"I don't recall her giving me a clear impression of where she stood, just simply that she couldn't give a context for even offering an explanation and that she had been traveling at the time it came down," she said.
Warren has largely avoided focusing on social issues during her campaign, mostly discussing them during smaller, more intimate gatherings with constituencies interested in the topics.
But on Thursday she shifted, putting out a statement expressing her strong support for gay rights. She specifically noted that it had been a message she had shared mostly during private events.
"I've had the chance to say it in living rooms and school auditoriums, but I'm glad to have the chance to say it here: No one -- no one -- should be discriminated against because of race, color, national origin, sex, disability, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, or religion," she wrote in a post on the blog Blue Mass Group.
The Warren campaign did not return repeated requests for comment on what prompted the shift.
The Seattle event's wealthy, pro-choice attendees were, according to those in attendance, extremely frustrated with the Obama administration's Plan B ruling, and discussed whether it would affect their community's support for the president's reelection campaign. While they all are still planning to vote for Obama, there is a larger question of whether they will donate to him at the levels they did in 2008.
At the event, Harrington told attendees that the Obama campaign had called and asked her for money on the same day Sebelius announced her Plan B decision. In 2008, she had donated the maximum amount for his election.
"I just said, 'Look -- this is a very bad day to call. I'm incredibly angry about this," she said, recounting her conversation to The Huffington Post. "The person on the other end actually handled the call beautifully. He essentially heard me out and said he would relay my message back. That part I felt great about."
She said she still plans on backing Obama in 2012, simply because the alternative options are worse.
"I'm going to support Obama because if you look at the potential candidates from the Republican field, no person who believes in a woman's right to control her own body could possibly make a different choice and feel good about it," she said.
Coincidentally, Tarico received also received a call from the Obama campaign asking for money shortly after the Plan B decision came down.
"I think it was the day after I got the news of the decision," she said. "It felt like some audacity. ... I was like, 'You're kidding me? Right now?' Are you calling me for money or are you calling me for an earful? Because you're going to get the latter."
She said the campaign staffer who had called her tried to tell her about Obama's work to expand women's reproductive rights in the past and that any Republican candidate would be far worse.
"I said, I can't in good conscience take money out of our other charitable giving and invest it in politics unless I think it's going to make the world better. On the current course and trajectory, that is not happening," she said, adding that without a shift in the way Obama making decisions regarding reproductive rights, she and her husband won't be throwing their weight into the campaign.
The Obama campaign declined to comment, instead pointing to the statements Obama and Sebelius made about the decision, in which they expressed concern about the effect that Plan B could have on girls younger than age 13 and said more studies were needed.
Still, that explanation has not satisfied many women's groups, who have come out and sharply criticized Obama.
"I think the women of this country are not disappointed, they're infuriated," said Terry O'Neill, president of the National Organization for Women. "I'm gonna tell you the truth -- we're supporting President Obama as a means to get better alternatives. It's not like we think he's great for women, but we know we need to move in that direction, and frankly in this moment women must be engaged and must be mobilized to vote for the candidate that is a stepping stone toward real equality -- even though there's no candidate that represents that now."