BOSTON -- U.S. Sen. Scott Brown is pointing to his mother's history of abusive relationships with men as he pushes for renewal of a domestic violence law that has met with opposition from some fellow Republicans over proposed expansions of its protections.
In recent days, Brown has released a radio ad and taken to the floor of the Senate to call for the renewal of the Violence Against Women Act. On Friday, the Massachusetts Republican and his sister plan to hold a news conference in Framingham, Mass., after touring a shelter.
Brown said he takes his support for the bill personally, describing himself as a victim of domestic violence.
"As a child I watched as my mother was beaten by abusive stepfathers. And I did what I could to protect my mom and sister, but as a young boy there was only so much I could do," Brown said Wednesday in comments delivered before the Senate.
"I remember vividly being a 6-year-old boy going to protect my mom and getting beaten on until the police came and it's something that still lives with me," he added.
Democrats say Brown's public support for the domestic violence law is in part an effort to distract women voters from his earlier support of an amendment that could have allowed employers to limit birth control coverage.
While the law has been widely supported by lawmakers of both parties since it was first signed in 1994, some Republicans in the Democrat-controlled Senate have objected to the expanded version of the law.
That version includes new provisions that would include protections for gay and transgender victims, allow illegal immigrants who have been victims of abuse to claim temporary visas and give tribes authority to prosecute non-Indians who commit violence against American Indian women.
Some Republicans say Democrats are trying to make it harder for them to back the expanded version of the law to add fuel to the argument that the GOP is engaged in a "war on women."
Democrats have already pointed to attempts by GOP lawmakers to reverse President Barack Obama's directive that health insurers pay for the cost of birth control pills or devices even if they object on moral or religious grounds.
Brown, who also supported a Senate amendment that would have given employers wide latitude to deny contraceptive coverage, said renewing the Violence Against Women Act has traditionally been "a glimmer of hope for an otherwise contentious and overly partisan atmosphere."
"I have been deeply troubled this year that this year's reauthorization has become once again partisan," Brown said. "There's no reason for it. There's excuse for it."
Brown's critics have suggested his public support for the extension of the domestic violence law is in part an effort to gain back any ground he may have lost with women voters for his backing of the so-called Blunt amendment, sponsored by Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo.
The amendment, which was defeated, would have let employers or health insurers deny coverage for services they say violate their moral or religious beliefs, including birth control.
Massachusetts Democratic Party activists on Thursday accused Brown of "trying to erase his support of the Blunt-Brown Amendment by highlighting his support for other legislation."
Brown defended the Blunt amendment, which he co-sponsored, saying it was intended to prevent the federal government from compelling individuals, including Catholics, from going against their religious beliefs.
Brown's chief Democratic opponent – consumer advocate and Harvard professor Elizabeth Warren – opposed the amendment, saying it would have allowed employers or insurers to claim a vague moral conviction to deny contraception or any other health care coverage.
Women voters, particularly those not enrolled in either political party, are critical to the success of any statewide candidate in Massachusetts. Both Brown and Warren have been playing up issues that might help sway women voters.
Warren has positioned herself as a defender of women's health care, while Brown has urged top defense officials to let women serve in front line combat.
"As a U.S. Senator, Elizabeth will be a leader working not only to renew the Violence Against Women Act with its strong protections ... but also to ensure women have access to the health care they need," Warren campaign press secretary Alethea Harney said Thursday.
The debate over the domestic violence law not only gives Brown a chance to make a more personal connection with women voters, but it also lets him again cast himself as a bipartisan bridge-builder.
Brown has embraced the role, highlighting areas where he agrees with Obama and issues where he's split with fellow Republicans. That independent streak is seen as critical for Brown's re-election in a state where Democrats dominate the congressional delegation.
Brown won the praise of Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California, who thanked him for voicing his support of the domestic violence bill.
"I believe this bill will be before us shortly and Sen. Brown, we will count on your vote," she said Wednesday.
Brown is facing a tough re-election campaign to keep the Senate seat formerly held by the late Sen. Edward Kennedy until his death in 2009 from brain cancer. Brown won a special election to fill the seat in 2010.
Recent polls show a tight contest between Brown and Warren, both of whom have been stockpiled millions of dollars for what could turn out to be the costliest Senate race in Massachusetts history.