BOSTON (AP) — Democratic Senate hopeful Elizabeth Warren and Republican Sen. Scott Brown are ramping up their appeals to women as they hope to sway a key voting bloc in the final weeks before Election Day.
Warren met with Georgetown University law student Sandra Fluke, whose fight for insurance access to contraception drew attention this year when Republicans denied her a chance to testify at a congressional hearing.
Fluke said electing Brown could help Republicans, who already control the House, seize control of the Senate, too.
"That's why this election, this race here in Massachusetts, is important beyond Massachusetts," Fluke said Tuesday. "A vote for Scott Brown is a vote for a Republican majority and that's a majority that has not heeded women's concerns over the last few years."
Brown's wife, Gail Huff, defended the Republican incumbent during a separate news conference.
Huff called Warren's criticism of Brown "a scare tactic" and said Brown has always supported abortion rights.
"He's always been pro-choice. I do feel there has been an unfair attack and that's why I feel it is very important to stand up and defend him," said Huff, who appeared in a recent Brown television ad. "I think it was unfair the way the (Warren) campaign has tried to paint him."
Warren, however, said the election is about more than Brown. The Harvard Law professor and consumer advocate said putting control of the Senate in Republican hands will lead to a curbing of women's access to abortion, birth control and other services.
She also pointed to a series of Brown votes including his support for an amendment that would have let employers or health insurers deny coverage for services they say violate their moral or religious beliefs, including birth control. The amendment was defeated.
Brown said he was trying to protect the religious freedoms of Catholics, but Warren said President Barack Obama had already taken action to protect religious institutions.
"The bill that Sen. Brown co-sponsored is not a bill about religious freedom. It was a bill about denying women access to needed health care services," she said. "Sen. Brown can re-describe it however he wants, but that's the bill he co-sponsored and voted for."
Brown rebuffed the criticism.
"Her attack, for example, saying I'm going to deny women contraception — listen, I overrode Gov. Romney ... on contraception," he said. "I believe women should have contraception."
He also defended his support of the amendment criticized by Warren.
"She's actually trying to divide women in this very important issue, and I'm going to make sure that women of faith, Catholics in particular, churches, hospitals, charitable organizations, have the ability to practice their faith," he said.
Neither candidate is Catholic.
While some liberal-leaning religious groups see no problem with Obama's birth control rule, Roman Catholic bishops and conservative-leaning groups have called it an attack on religious freedom. Several Catholic institutions, including the University of Notre Dame, have sued to block the rule.
Brown said he's very proud of his record on women's issues and pointed to his support of the renewal of the federal Violence Against Women Act and his decision to urge top defense officials to let women serve in front line combat. He described himself as "a pro-choice, moderate Republican."
Brown's campaign also sent out a comment from fellow Republican U.S. Sen. Susan Collins of Maine, who called Brown "a tireless advocate for women's rights," saying they worked together to fight proposed cuts to Planned Parenthood.
Both candidates touted new endorsements Tuesday.
Warren picked up the backing of Obama, who said her "passionate advocacy on behalf of consumers led to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau."
"Elizabeth Warren will be a strong, tireless and determined advocate for the people of Massachusetts," Obama said in a written statement.
The union representing Massachusetts State Police troopers and a national organization representing state police officers announced their support for Brown, who won a 2010 special election to succeed the late Edward Kennedy, a Democrat.
The endorsements are the latest in a string for Brown from law enforcement groups. On Friday, Brown received the backing of ten unions representing law enforcement officers.
The race is one of the most closely watched Senate contests in the country.