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This week Senate Democrats in Washington plan to vote on an amendment by Missouri Republican Roy Blunt, which would allow employers to opt out of providing certain coverage, such as contraception, if it conflicts with their religious beliefs.
This amendment has sparked a heated debate in Massachusetts between Republican Sen. Scott Brown, who supports it, and his leading Democratic challenger, Elizabeth Warren, who doesn't. But the fight has gone beyond the amendment and is now focused on a radio ad Brown is running that compares his position to that of late Sen. Edward Kennedy.
"Like Ted Kennedy before me I support a conscience exemption in health care for Catholics and other people of faith," Brown says in the ad. "I believe it’s possible to provide people with access to health care they want while at the same time protecting the rights of Americans to follow their religious beliefs."
Edward Kennedy's son, former Rep. Patrick Kennedy, of Rhode Island, wrote to Brown in a letter calling the ad "misleading and untrue" and asked Brown to take it off the air.
On Monday, Brown said he would not pull that ad because he feels the claim in the ad is true.
"I have the same position as Sen. Kennedy for a conscience exemption," Brown said. "And ironically after doing a little research last night not only Sen. Kennedy, but [also] Patrick filed the same provision to provide for a conscience exemption for moral conviction for insurers."
Brown is referring to a 1997 bill called the Health Insurance Bill of Rights Act that both Patrick and Edward Kennedy supported. The bill was created to allow doctors or hospitals to opt out of providing abortions, for instance, if they had moral objections.
"It's so inaccurate that it takes your breath away," said Nick Littlefield. Littlefield was Sen. Kennedy's staff director for 10 years and was involved in the 1997 legislation.
"That Sen. Brown continues to distort Sen. Kennedy's record, it's disingenuous, it’s really disgraceful and it's very, very offensive to people who know what his record was," Littlefield said, "which was to expand coverage to poor people."
The Blunt amendment would allow employers and insurance companies to limit coverage if they had a religious objection, something Littlefield says Edward Kennedy would never support.
Patrick Kennedy refused to comment beyond his letter to Brown, but his former chief of staff said that to say Brown and Edward Kennedy hold the same position is “absolutely inaccurate.”
Warren also called on Brown to stop airing his radio ad.
"Patrick Kennedy has written a letter about this, has made it clear he believes [Brown is] distorting the record," Warren said. "I think there are former Kennedy staffers who worked on the bills who are clear that Sen. Brown is distorting Sen. Kennedy’s record and I think it is shameful that Sen. Brown will not honor the wishes of the family."
This program aired on February 28, 2012.
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