BOSTON – Massachusetts Sen. Scott Brown said Monday he would not be pressured by the late Sen. Edward Kennedy's family to stop running a radio ad claiming that Kennedy's position was similar to Brown's in the fight over whether employers should be required to provide birth control coverage or other procedures they oppose on religious or moral grounds.
Kennedy's son, former U.S. Rep. Patrick Kennedy, has issued an open letter to the Republican senator asking him to pull the ad claiming that the elder Kennedy supported religious exemptions for employers and health insurers, as Brown does.
Brown said Monday he wouldn't do that. He said he was "confused" by Patrick Kennedy's letter because the Rhode Island Democrat appeared to share the same position as his father on the issue and in 1997 co-sponsored a similar bill when he was in Congress.
"I'm not going to pull the ad," Brown told reporters after attending a business roundtable discussion at Boston City Hall. "(The ad) says that I, like his father, have been fighting for a conscience exemption in health care. That's all the ad says."
Brown said the younger Kennedy appeared to share the same position as the father on the issue.
"He was the co-sponsor of a bill that says the same exact thing ... that based on moral convictions insurers do not have to provide those care and coverages," Brown said.
Patrick Kennedy did not return a message left with a spokesman Monday.
In the radio ad, Brown said he wanted to protect religious liberties by not forcing religious organizations to offer insurance coverage for practices that go against church teachings.
In his letter, Kennedy said his father agreed that health care providers, including doctors and hospitals, should be allowed a conscience exemption from performing any service that conflicted with their faith. But he said his father would have opposed the amendment Brown supports.
That amendment, proposed by Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., would let health plans deny coverage for certain procedures if that coverage "is contrary to the religious beliefs or moral convictions of the sponsor, issuer, or other entity offering the plan."
"My father never would have supported this extreme legislation," Patrick Kennedy wrote. "You are entitled to your own opinions, of course, but I ask that, moving forward, you do not confuse my father's positions with your own."
The White House has called the legislation "dangerous and wrong."
President Barack Obama has offered what he says is a compromise that would allow workers at religious institutions to get free contraception directly from health insurers.
A former aide to Edward Kennedy who was actively involved in writing the 1997 legislation — which did not become law — said it differed significantly from the Blunt amendment and that Kennedy never backed a conscience amendment for insurers. The aide, who requested anonymity because he did not want to appear to be taking sides in a political campaign, said the bill did not specify benefits that must be provided but included language that required doctors to tell patients what care would be in their best interest, even if their insurance would not cover it.
Brown won a 2010 special election for the seat held by Kennedy for nearly a half century until his death. Brown is up for re-election in November and his chief Democratic rival, Harvard Law School professor Elizabeth Warren, met with reporters Monday to again call on Brown to remove the radio ad.
"The family of the late Sen. Kennedy has asked Scott Brown to stop distorting the senator's record on health care coverage, and I think it is shameful that he refuses to do that," Warren said.
Warren said the so-called Blunt amendment would create a hole in health care coverage and could result in women being denied basic health care coverage.
"The conscience exemption in the Blunt amendment says any employer or health insurance company can deny preventative health care to any person for any reason," Warren said.
Warren launched her own radio ad last week in which she said the amendment could threaten women's access not only to contraception but other basic health services such as mammograms and maternity care.
Brown on Monday called such concerns "red herrings."
Warren said she hadn't spoken to Patrick Kennedy directly, but that her campaign had been in touch with former aides to Edward Kennedy who believed Brown was distorting the late senator's position.