Massachusetts Senate candidate Elizabeth Warren capitalized on Sen. Scott Brown's (R) spotty voting record on women's issues during their first debate Thursday night, pointing out that the self-described "pro-choice" senator voted against pro-choice Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan and co-sponsored legislation that would allow any employer or insurer to deny women coverage of certain health services, including birth control, for "moral reasons."
Brown responded with an anecdote about having fought to protect his mother from his abusive father since he was a child. "You should stop scaring women, professor," he said. "I've been fighting for women since I was six years old."
Brown said he supports Roe v. Wade, access to birth control and insurance coverage of abortion for victims of rape in the military. He co-sponsored Sen. Roy Blunt's (R-Mo.) controversial legislation to allow employers to deny contraception coverage, he said, because he didn't want to "pit women against their church and their faith."
"I have the same position as Sen. [Ted] Kennedy on providing a conscience exemption that allows Catholics in particular, churches, hospitals, health care facilities, that practice faith ... to have that ability to not provide certain care and coverages."
Brown was referring to a letter Kennedy wrote to Pope Benedict XVI in 2009, in which he said he believes "in a conscience protection for Catholics in the health field." Brown has cited the letter repeatedly in campaign ads and interviews lately as he fights for Kennedy's seat.
Warren fired back that religious freedom is not at stake, because President Obama already put in place conscience exemptions and accommodations for churches and faith-based organizations. The Blunt amendment, she argued, "doesn't say religious and it doesn't say religious exemption. It talks about any vague moral objection ... I don't think that's what Senator Kennedy fought for, and I think it's inappropriate for Senator Brown to characterize Senator Kennedy's work in that way. Senator Kennedy got out there and fought for women's access to full range of health care services, and that's what I want to do as well."
Brown and Warren also sparred over the fact that Brown voted against confirming then-Supreme Court nominee Kagan, who supports abortion rights and is the former dean of the Harvard Law School, where Warren is a professor. Warren said she thinks women should be able to count on Roe v. Wade and that she was "really surprised" when Brown cast his vote.
"I'm sorry I didn't vote for your boss," Brown retorted. "There is a litmus test for me. A judge has to have good judicial character ... and also has to have courtroom or judicial experience."