Says Scott Brown "co-sponsored legislation to let employers deny women coverage for birth control."

Jeanne Shaheen on Monday, September 29th, 2014 in a news release

Jeanne Shaheen says Scott Brown backed measure to let employers deny women birth control coverage

Democratic Sen. Jeanne Shaheen and her Republican challenger, Scott Brown, have recently debated birth control and abortion. Here's a fact check of one of Shaheen's claims.

The U.S. Senate race in New Hampshire has been awash in claims about abortion and women’s health issues in recent days. One claim by incumbent Democratic Sen. Jeanne Shaheen caught our eye. Shaheen is facing a challenge from former Republican Sen. Scott Brown.

In a news release from her campaign, Shaheen said:

"I have always supported a woman’s right to choose because I know women should be making health care decisions in consultation with their doctors and their families, not their employer. Scott Brown’s record is clear: When it counts, he doesn’t stand up for women’s reproductive rights and economic security. He co-sponsored legislation to let employers deny women coverage for birth control or even mammograms. New Hampshire women can’t trust Scott Brown, and his record is move evidence that he is wrong for New Hampshire."

We noticed two claims that are related, but distinct enough to analyze separately. First, would the legislation in question have allowed employers deny women coverage for birth control? And would it have allowed employers to deny coverage for mammograms?

We’ll look at the birth control claim here, and mammograms in a separate fact-check. It turns out the two issues differ a good bit.

In a different Shaheen campaign news release, the campaign explained its sourcing by writing, "FACT: Scott Brown both co-sponsored and voted for the Blunt Amendment that would let employers deny women access to a range of healthcare services, including contraception and coverage for mammograms."

The amendment in question was proposed by Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo. It was tabled -- that is, dispensed with -- by a 51-48 vote in which a simple majority was required. Among those who voted "nay" -- that is, those who wanted to keep it under consideration -- was Brown, then representing Massachusetts in the Senate. He also co-sponsored a predecessor measure, S.1467, the Respect for Rights of Conscience Act of 2011.

So Shaheen’s camp is correct that Brown acted in support of this measure. But what did the amendment say? It acted to widen the scope of acceptable actions for opting out of provisions of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act on religious or moral grounds. It focuses on mandates within the law for preventive services, called the "essential health benefits package."

Specifically, the amendment said employers cannot be required to cover "specific items or services" that are "contrary to the religious beliefs or moral convictions of the sponsor, issuer, or other entity offering the plan."

We agree with the Shaheen campaign that the provision is drawn broadly. While it’s not targeted at abortion or birth control per se, it is so expansively written that there’s little doubt it could be invoked on behalf of those who oppose abortion and certain types of birth control.

As we explained in our other fact check, we find no evidence that anyone has expressed a religious or moral objection to mammograms, so we rated that claim Mostly False. But the case that the Blunt Amendment would have affected access to birth control is stronger.

Some opponents of abortion have supported opt-out rights for employers who oppose certain types of birth control that they say work like abortifacients. In fact, this was the issue at the heart of the closely watched 2014 Supreme Court decision in Burwell vs. Hobby Lobby.

In that case, a 5-4 majority ruled that a closely held, private corporation, such as the craft retailer Hobby Lobby, could decline on religious grounds to pay for certain kinds of contraceptives otherwise mandated in employee health coverage by the Affordable Care Act.

The only quibble we have with the phrasing of Shaheen’s claim is that the Blunt Amendment didn’t single out birth control, which is the impression one could easily get from her statement. But since the amendment was written so broadly -- and since birth control has long been at issue for religious or moral reasons -- we don’t see this as a significant problem.

Our ruling

Shaheen said Brown "co-sponsored legislation to let employers deny women coverage for birth control." The amendment, which Brown supported, was written loosely enough to allow a religious-conscience opt-out for birth control -- an issue about which there has been a longstanding policy debate on religious and moral grounds. We rate the claim True.