Republican gubernatorial candidate Charlie Baker, under fire for comments on a recent Supreme Court ruling restricting insurance coverage for contraception, said Friday morning he would set aside $300,000 as governor to cover women affected by the decision.
“I have always, and will as governor, support women’s right to access comprehensive health care,” Baker said, in a statement.
Baker touched off the controversy Wednesday when he told reporters his personal view of the Supreme Court’s Hobby Lobby ruling “doesn’t matter” because it would not have any impact on Massachusetts.
“What I care about is Massachusetts and, for Massachusetts, it doesn’t change a thing, which is great,” he said.
The 5-4 decision allows closely held, often family-owned, companies to deny contraceptive coverage on religious grounds.
All three Democratic candidates for governor pounced on Baker’s “doesn’t matter” line, suggesting he is out of touch with women.
Some of the Democrats’ attacks took his comments out of context. But Baker did not get into a spat. Instead, he beat a hasty retreat, saying Thursday that he “misspoke” about the Hobby Lobby decision.
Baker acknowledged the ruling could affect a small number of women in Massachusetts, and he pledged to cover them through the Department of Public Health if elected governor.
On Friday morning he fleshed out that proposal, saying he would add a $300,000 line item to the department’s budget.
His campaign said it is unlikely the state would need to expend the full amount, given the relatively small number of women most expect to be impacted.
Baker, in his statement, urged his opponents, Governor Deval Patrick and lawmakers to back the idea. “Effective leadership requires an ability and willingness to move beyond the politics and focus on constructive solutions to strengthen our commonwealth and support its people,” he said.
Democratic gubernatorial candidate Steve Grossman said, if he were governor, he would be working with experts and legislators to find a way to cover every woman in the state before the legislative session comes to an end July 31. He said proposals like Baker’s are among those he would consider. But then he took a shot at the Republican.
“Charlie Baker is in to heavy-duty damage control, trying hard to regain support from Massachusetts women he lost earlier this week,” he said. “My advice to you Charlie: Take the weekend off and regroup.”
Democratic frontrunner Martha Coakley did not have any immediate reaction to Baker’s proposal. But she said last week she would work to require any company doing business with the state to offer contraceptive coverage to its employees. She also said she was looking at ways for the state to make coverage available to affected women.
Leigh Appleby, a spokesman for the third Democratic candidate, Donald Berwick, said, “Don is glad to see that Charlie has come to realize how wrong his statement was.” He said Berwick would push for a single-payer health care system, taking the decision about what to cover out of private employers’ hands.
Women voters have played a pivotal role in recent Massachusetts elections. Baker lost the women’s vote by 24 points in the 2010 gubernatorial race, according to a post-election poll.