Analysis Maternity and Birthing

The Parent Gap: Many Challengers of Birth Control Benefit Don’t Offer Parental Leave Either

Sofia Resnick

Many of the employers suing the federal government over the Affordable Care Act’s contraceptive benefit, including Wheaton College in Illinois, fail to offer employees robust parental leave coverage, an analysis by Rewire shows.

Read more of our coverage on challenges to the Affordable Care Act’s birth control benefit here.

After giving birth to her third child last fall, biblical studies professor Amy Peeler took a financial hit in order to stay home with her newborn for nine weeks. Peeler, who is married, teaches the New Testament at Wheaton College in Illinois, one of the religious nonprofits suing the federal government to avoid providing their employees with insurance coverage of certain birth control methods.

Having joined Wheaton’s faculty in 2012, Peeler had not accrued enough sick leave to spend as much time as she wanted with her new baby. Currently, the evangelical college’s policy is for employees to use accrued sick leave hours and short-term disability leave (at a reduced wage rate) to pay for the bulk of their parental leave, said Wheaton’s media relations director LaTonya Taylor, who also noted that Wheaton reimburses faculty up to $10,500 of eligible adoption-related expenses.

Peeler told Rewire that, in the end, she had enough sick time saved up to cover three weeks of her leave; the university granted her three weeks of paid leave so she wouldn’t have to return in the middle of the semester; and she received three more weeks of disability leave at 60 percent of her normal salary. None of these accommodations, however, amounts to a true paid parental leave policy, an entitlement that would apply equally to all employees.

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“I felt very supported by the administration and my fellow colleagues,” Peeler said in a phone interview, about her pregnancy. “But I wish it hadn’t been the case that my family and I had to take a financial hit already in a time when you have lots of expenses with a new baby.”

Many of the employers currently suing the federal government over the Affordable Care Act’s contraceptive benefit fail to offer employees robust parental leave coverage, an analysis by Rewire shows.

Some of these organizations claim to oppose certain contraceptives on the false grounds that they cause abortions. Yet despite their stated commitment to protecting and fostering new life, many of these employers offer only the minimum federally mandated unpaid time off to employees, making it difficult for many families to have children without missing at least a few paychecks.

Wheaton College’s lawsuit against the birth control benefit is among about 100 other cases involving corporations and nonprofits, according to the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, a nonprofit law firm representing many of the litigants. In late June, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of plaintiffs Hobby Lobby Stores and Conestoga Wood Specialties, deciding the closely held corporations do not have to comply with the birth control benefit due to their sincerely held—but scientifically unsupported—religious beliefs that emergency contraception and intrauterine devices (IUDs) can cause abortions. The remaining lawsuits are pending.

These entities do not offer paid parental leave, according to research by Rewire. Each has been granted an injunction delaying enforcement of the Affordable Care Act’s birth control benefit. Under federal law, employees of these companies may take up to three months of unpaid leave, and can also use their accumulated sick or vacation leave.

About 70 cases have been granted injunctions, meaning employers do not have to comply with the health law requirement while their cases are being litigated. While the majority of plaintiffs involved in these cases did not respond to inquiries into their parental leave policies, Rewire was able to identify the policies of 15 nonprofit plaintiffs, which essentially offer only the federally required unpaid parental leave for employees with newborns (the federal policy is gender-neutral), which in some cases may be supplemented by employees’ unused sick or vacation days. (See sidebar, at left.)

To be sure, paid parental leave in this country is rare. The United States joins a small group of smaller nations—such as Suriname and Papua New Guinea—that do not provide government-funded support for paid parental leave or require employers to offer paid leave following the birth or adoption of a child. And only about 11 percent of Americans who work for private employers are offered paid parental leave, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The federal government does require—through the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA)—that employers with more than 50 employees offer up to 12 weeks of unpaid family leave for the birth or adoption of a child. But the employee has to have worked for the company for at least a year and has to have clocked at least 1,250 hours within the last 12 consecutive months. And, as Peeler noted, those without paid leave are losing their paychecks at just the time they are facing greatly increased expenses.

Data show that families benefit financially from paid parental leave and children experience health benefits from having their mothers home for a period following childbirth. In her 2011 Journal of Health Economics article on the effects of unpaid maternity leave on children’s birth and infant outcomes in the United States, economist Maya Rossin-Slater found that “maternity leave led to small increases in birth weight, decreases in the likelihood of a premature birth, and substantial decreases in infant mortality for children of college-educated and married mothers, who were most able to take advantage of unpaid leave.”

But of course, not every family can afford for its sole or co-breadwinner to go without pay for several weeks. Evidence shows unpaid family leave can lead to financial struggle. According to a 2012 report prepared for the U.S. Department of Labor, among those who received partial or no pay while taking FMLA leave in 2012, about a third reported borrowing money, 37 percent reported delaying paying their bills, and about 15 percent reported going on public assistance. (In addition to caring for a new baby or for pregnancy-related reasons, qualified reasons for FMLA leave include caring for oneself or for a sick parent, child, or spouse; caring for sick service members; or for reasons related to a military service member’s deployment.)

Currently only three states—California, New Jersey, and Rhode Island—provide government-supported paid parental leave; thus, the data on its effects on families in the United States are limited. But in a 2013 National Bureau of Economic Research working paper, economists Charles L. Baum and Christopher J. Ruhm argued that California’s policy of six weeks of parental leave at 55 percent of the usual pay—enacted in 2004—shows positive effects on labor outcomes (the state already had an existing disability insurance program that gives mothers access to paid leave following the birth of a child). Baum and Ruhm found that paid leave increased mothers’ employment and wages in the long-term, and had “positive effects … on hours and weeks of work during their child’s second year of life and possibly also on wages.”

Though paid parental leave in the United States is rare, there is a debate going on at Wheaton College over whether the lack of guaranteed paid maternity leave is consistent with the school’s pro-family stance. As with many of the other litigants, Wheaton College is a Christian institution that opposes abortion, as well as certain forms of contraception that it believes are “abortion-causing drugs,” despite evidence that these drugs do not cause abortions. (Wheaton claims to cover some contraceptives in its employee health plans but does not specify which ones.)

It was this stance that drove Wheaton urban studies and politics professor Noah Toly to write Wheaton President Philip Ryken last September, calling out what he saw as a “performative contradiction,” between what Wheaton claims is a pro-family, “pro-life” position, and a policy that makes it difficult for female faculty members both to have children while seeking tenure and excelling in their careers, as reported by the Wheaton Record in October 2013.

“We should offer a fully paid semester of leave,” Toly told the Wheaton Record at the time. “That would put our money where our mouth is concerning family-friendliness and our pro-life position.”

To that end, a small faculty committee has been working with the Wheaton administration toward developing a paid maternity leave policy for faculty. (Peeler told Rewire that many on the committee also recognize the need for a formal paternity-leave policy, but that might not be addressed at this time.) Jillian Lederhouse, who chairs the committee as well as Wheaton’s education department, said the administration contracted with the Education Advisory Board to collect data on parental leave benefits among a wide range of liberal arts colleges. She said the committee is working to present a draft policy proposal to the administration by the end of this semester.

“[T]he college has been looking into this for quite some time, and we seem to be nearing a resolution that should result in an enhanced childbirth leave policy for faculty women,” Lederhouse said in an email. “Both the faculty and administration have recognized the need to improve in this area.”

Peeler said she thinks Wheaton’s stated values should translate to “more supportive” parental leave policies, but she also pointed out that improving its maternity leave policy is essential to improving its gender gap problem within the faculty, which is currently 65 percent men and 35 percent women, according to its current faculty list.

“I’ve heard this in meetings that they would like more of a gender balance on the faculty,” she said, explaining that “in evangelical circles they’re usually skewed male. Typically evangelicals are a bit more conservative, and so women maybe would stay home.”

An improved maternity leave policy would bring Wheaton in line with other organizations that oppose the birth control benefit, and which Rewire has identified as offering more comprehensive, paid parental leave policies. These include Belmont Abbey College in Belmont, North Carolina (which has not yet been granted an injunction), which offers paid leave for mothers but not fathers, outside of sick and vacation days; Dordt College in Sioux Center, Iowa; and the Catholic Archdiocese of St. Louis, which offers employees (or their spouses) 20 days of paid leave following the birth or adoption of a child, after one year of employment. Notably, the Archdiocese explains that this leave policy is “supportive of the Church’s Respect-Life position.”

But even if parental leave policies were improved for many of these organizations, Americans at large lack access to even unpaid maternity leave. Hobby Lobby appears to be among many corporations that offer employees little beyond what is mandated under federal law.

As former Hobby Lobby employee Felicia Allen told Rewire last month, her understanding is that the arts-and-crafts chain only offers unpaid FMLA leave following the birth of a child. However, after only working for five months as a part-time cashier at a Hobby Lobby store in Flowood, Mississippi, a nine-months’ pregnant Allen did not qualify for any leave. She said she was initially reassured she could keep her job after having her baby, but was later told by a supervisor she would be terminated. Allen sued Hobby Lobby for pregnancy discrimination, but her case was dismissed, as she had signed a binding arbitration agreement when she was hired.

Neither Hobby Lobby nor its fellow Supreme Court victor and wood furniture manufacturer Conestoga Wood Specialties responded to requests for information on their parental leave policies.

As the challenges to the contraceptive mandate rage on, it remains to be seen what will come of numerous corporations, universities, and nonprofits potentially making it difficult for employees to access expensive but effective birth control methods and whether that will lead them to enhance their parental leave policies.

Writing for the legal blog Law360 shortly after the Supreme Court’s Burwell v. Hobby Lobby ruling, Dallas attorney Alana Ackels questioned what the fallout of the decision would look like.

“How could failure to provide coverage of these contraceptive methods turn into higher long-term costs for the employer in terms of maternity leave, prenatal care, and postnatal care?” Ackels wrote. “For the employers in Burnwell [sic], the issue was not cost, it was religious beliefs. However, as other employers consider whether to deny health care coverage of certain contraceptives for religious reasons, they should not lose sight of the long-term financial consequences those short-term decisions may have.”

 

Clarification: A prior version of this story stated that Wheaton College “opposes contraception and abortion.” The story has since been clarified to reflect the fact that Wheaton does not object to all forms of contraception, but rather to specific forms that it erroneously claims cause abortion.

Commentary Law and Policy

Here’s What You Need to Know About Your Birth Control Access Post-Supreme Court Ruling

Bridgette Dunlap

Yes, the Zubik v. Burwell case challenged the Affordable Care Act's contraceptive coverage mandate. But that shouldn't stop you from getting your reproductive health needs met—without a co-payment.

In May, the Supreme Court issued a sort of non-decision in Zubik v. Burwell, the consolidated case challenging the Affordable Care Act’s mandate that employers provide contraceptive coverage. The ruling leaves some very important legal questions unanswered, but it is imperative that criticism of the Court for “punting” or leaving women in “limbo” not obscure the practical reality: that the vast majority of people with insurance are currently entitled to contraception without a co-payment—that includes people, for the most part, who work for religiously affiliated organizations.

Two years ago, hyperbole in response to the Court’s decision in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby—that, for example, the Court had ruled your boss can block your birth control—led too many people to believe the contraceptive coverage requirement was struck down. It wasn’t. The Zubik decision provides a good opportunity to make sure that is understood.

If people think they don’t have birth control coverage, they won’t use it. And if they don’t know what coverage is legally required, they won’t know when their plans are not in compliance with the law and overcharging them for contraceptives or other covered services, perhaps unintentionally. The point of the contraceptive coverage rule is to make it as easy as possible to access contraceptives—studies show seemingly small obstacles prevent consistent use of the most effective contraceptives. Eliminating financial barriers isn’t enough if informational ones undermine the goal.

The most important thing to know is that most health plans are currently required to cover reproductive health services without a co-payment, including:

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  • One version of every kind of FDA-approved contraception—that is, only the generic or the brand-name version of the contraceptive could be covered, but at least one must be. So you shouldn’t be paying a co-payment whether you use the pill, the patch, the shot, or want long-acting reversible contraception (LARC) like an IUD, which is more expensive, but most effective.
  • Screening for HIV and high-risk strains of HPV
  • An annual well-woman visit
  • Breastfeeding counseling and supplies like pumps

There are exceptions, but most plans should be covering these services without a co-payment. Don’t assume that because you work for Hobby Lobby or Notre Dame—or any other religiously affiliated employer—that you don’t currently have coverage.

The original contraceptive coverage rule had an “exemption” for church-type groups (on the somewhat dubious theory that such groups primarily employ individuals who would share their employers’ objection to contraception). When other kinds of organizations, which had religious affiliations but didn’t primarily employ individuals of that same religion, objected to providing contraceptive coverage, the Obama administration came up with a plan to accommodate them while still making sure women get contraceptive coverage.

This “accommodation” is a workaround that transfers the responsibility to provide contraceptive coverage from the employer to the insurance company. After the employer fills out a form noting it objects to providing contraception, the insurance company must reach out to the employee and provide separate coverage that the objecting organization doesn’t pay for or arrange.

This accommodation was originally available only to nonprofit organizations. But dozens of for-profits, like Hobby Lobby, sued under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA)—arguing that their owners were religious people whose beliefs were also burdened by the company having to provide coverage.

The Hobby Lobby decision did not say your boss’s religious belief trumps your right to a quality health plan. What the Court did was point to the existence of the accommodation for nonprofits as proof that the government could achieve its goals of ensuring coverage of contraception through a workaround already in place to give greater protection to objectors. Basically, the Court told the government to give the for-profits the same treatment as the nonprofits.

The Hobby Lobby decision states explicitly that the effect of this on women should be “precisely zero.” The Obama administration subsequently amended the contraceptive regulations, making coverage available to employees of companies like Hobby Lobby available through the accommodation. Hobby Lobby added some headaches for administrators and patients, but it did not eliminate the contraceptive coverage rule.

Next, however, the nonprofits went on to argue to the Supreme Court and the public that the accommodation the Court had seemed to bless in Hobby Lobby also violated RFRA—because having to fill out a form, which notified the government that they objected to contraceptive coverage and identifying their insurers, would substantially burden their religious beliefs.

Following oral arguments in Zubik, the eight-member Supreme Court issued a highly unusual order: It asked the parties to respond to its proposed modification of the accommodation, in which the government would not require objecting nonprofits to self-certify that they oppose contraception nor to identify their insurers. The government would take an organization’s decision to contract for a health plan that does not cover contraception to be notice of a religious objection and go ahead with requiring the insurer to provide it instead.

The petitioners’ response to the Court’s proposed solution was “Yes, but…” They said the Court’s plan would be fine so long as the employee had to opt into the coverage, use a separate insurance card, and jump through various other hoops—defeating the goal of providing “seamless” contraceptive coverage through the accommodation.

When the Court issued its decision in Zubik, it ignored the “but.” It characterized the parties as being in agreement and sent the cases back to the lower courts to work out the compromise.

The Court told the government it could consider itself on notice of the petitioners’ objections and move forward with getting separate contraceptive coverage to the petitioners’ employees, through the accommodation process, but without the self-certification form. How the government will change the accommodation process, and whether it will satisfy the petitioners, are open questions. The case could end up back at the Supreme Court if the petitioners won’t compromise and one of the lower courts rules for them again. But for prospective patients, the main takeaway is that the Court ruled the government can move forward now with requiring petitioners’ insurers to provide the coverage that the petitioners won’t.

So—if your plan isn’t grandfathered, and you don’t work for a church or an organization that has sued the government, your insurance should be covering birth control without a co-payment. (If your plan is grandfathered and your employer makes a change to that plan, then those formerly grandfathered plans would be subject to the same contraceptive coverage requirements.) If you do work for one of the nonprofit petitioners, the government should be making contraceptive coverage available even before the litigation is resolved. And in some cases, employees of the petitioners already have coverage. Notre Dame, for example, initially accepted the accommodation before being pressured by off-campus contraception opponents to sue, so its insurer is currently providing Notre Dame students and employees coverage.

Don’t despair about the Supreme Court’s gutting access to contraception. Assume that you have coverage. The National Women’s Law Center has great resources here for finding out if your plan is required to cover contraception and how to address it with your insurance plan if it isn’t in compliance, and a hotline to call if you need help. The fact that equitable coverage of women’s health care is the new status quo is a very big deal that can be lost in the news about the unprecedented litigation campaign to block access to birth control and attacks on Obamacare more generally. Seriously, tell your friends.

Analysis Politics

New Hampshire Sen. Kelly Ayotte’s Record on Women’s Health at Center of Heated Race

Ally Boguhn

Sen. Kelly Ayotte's defenders have made claims about her commitment to "strengthening women's health" through action on various measures; reproductive rights advocates point out, however, that most of these measures would have done more harm than good.

The tight race between incumbent Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-NH) and challenger Gov. Maggie Hassan (D) could help determine which party takes control of the U.S. Senate after the November elections. In recent months, a key point of contention has emerged among Ayotte’s supporters and critics: the senator’s record on reproductive rights and women’s health.

Planned Parenthood Votes released an ad in April claiming Ayotte is “bad for New Hampshire women,” signaling the continuation of the heated narrative in the lead-up to the election. Ayotte’s defenders have responded to the accusations with claims of her commitment to “strengthening women’s health” through action on various measures; reproductive rights advocates point out, however, that most of these measures would have done more harm than good.

“For months, Senator Kelly Ayotte has followed party bosses, refusing to fill the Supreme Court vacancy. And for years, Ayotte has waited for an opportunity to push for someone to end access to safe, legal abortion and overturn Roe v. Wade,” claims the Planned Parenthood Votes ad, before playing an August 2010 clip of Ayotte advocating for the Supreme Court to overturn Roe. “For New Hampshire women, the consequences of letting Kelly Ayotte play politics with the Constitution could last a lifetime.”

The $400,000 ad buy, slated to run on broadcast and cable in New Hampshire, has been Planned Parenthood Votes’ first on-air ad targeting a Senate race in the 2016 election cycle. The organization, a national independent expenditure political committee, is criticizing Ayotte for claiming to protect women but failing to protect reproductive rights, also drawing on her pledge to obstruct filling the vacant Supreme Court seat in the aftermath of Justice Antonin Scalia’s death.

“Kelly Ayotte may try to paint herself as pro-woman, but her record tells a very different story. Every chance she’s gotten she’s voted to ‘defund’ Planned Parenthood and cut women off from essential health care like birth control and breast and cervical cancer screenings,” said Deirdre Schifeling, executive director of Planned Parenthood Votes, in a statement on the organization’s new ad. “She has been advocating for years to ban women’s access to safe, legal abortion, and it’s clear she now sees her chance in the Supreme Court process. Kelly Ayotte is refusing to do her job, and abdicating her constitutional duty, in order to push an extreme agenda that no one in New Hampshire wants.”

Ayotte’s campaign manager, Jon Kohan, meanwhile, defended the senator’s record on women’s health and rights in a press release. He wrote, “Kelly’s long record of standing up for New Hampshire women and families is clear, and she cares deeply about ensuring all women have access to health services.” The release included a bulleted list providing examples of Ayotte’s work “strengthening women’s health care,” “supporting working women,” and “protecting domestic or sexual assault victims.”

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The claims may be familiar to those following the New Hampshire race. After Hassan announced her candidacy in October, for example, One Nation, an issue-advocacy organization that does not need to disclose where their funding comes from and is affiliated with Karl Rove’s American Crossroads super PAC, pushed a 17-day, $1.4 million ad campaign touting Ayotte’s record on women’s health.

Hassan, on the other hand, has the support of organizations such as EMILY’s List, whose stated mission is to help elect pro-choice women into office. After endorsing the governor in the Senate race, the group added Ayotte to its “On Notice” list for “voting for anti-woman legislation and standing in the way of policies that give working families a fair shot.”

But with both sides of the race simultaneously claiming opposing positions on whether Ayotte has been good for women and reproductive rights, what is the truth?

Ayotte has made no secret of her desire to defund Planned Parenthood, and she “has shown support for defunding the organization or opposition to continued funding in at least six votes,” according to PolitiFact, though some of those votes were procedural. Though she famously chided Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) for attempting to shut down the government over his crusade to strip the reproductive health provider of money in the wake of anti-choice front group Center for Medical Progress’ deceptively edited videos, it was because she didn’t view his methods as a winning strategy for accomplishing that goal—not because she didn’t believe in the cause.

In a letter to Cruz, Ayotte told the Republican presidential candidate that she too is “deeply disturbed by” CMP’s videos and doesn’t believe Planned Parenthood should have federal funding.”This callous disregard for the dignity of human life is heinous, and I do not believe taxpayer dollars should be used to fund a private organization that performs hundreds of thousands of abortions each year and harvests the body parts of unborn children,” wrote Ayotte. She went on to ask what Cruz’s “strategy to succeed in actually defunding Planned Parenthood” really was, given that their mutual efforts to redirect the organization’s funding to other clinics had failed.

Planned Parenthood does not use its federal funding to provide abortions; its fetal tissue donation program has been cleared of wrongdoing in multiple state and federal investigations. And despite claims from conservatives, including Ayotte, that other facilities could provide Planned Parenthood’s patients with health care should the organization lose funding, the Guttmacher Institute found that “credible evidence suggests this is unlikely. In some areas, Planned Parenthood is the sole safety-net provider of contraceptive care.”

“Our analysis shows unequivocally that Planned Parenthood plays a major role in delivering publicly supported contraceptive services and supplies to women who are in need of such care nationwide,” the Guttmacher Institute concluded.

Ayotte has also supported numerous other anti-choice restrictions and legislation, including a 2015 20-week abortion ban based on the medically unfounded claim that fetuses feel pain at this point in pregnancy.

According to NPR, Ayotte has “been a hero to anti-abortion activists since 2005, when as New Hampshire attorney general she defended a parental notification law all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court.” The law required doctors to notify parents of minors seeking an abortion at least 48 hours prior to the procedure, and contained no exceptions for the health of the patient. The Court ultimately ruled against Ayotte, affirming that states may not enact abortion laws that don’t protect women’s health and safety.

National Right to Life found that the New Hampshire senator voted “with” the anti-choice organization in all 14 of the scored votes from 2012 to 2015 it examined.

In 2012, Ayotte co-sponsored the failed “Blunt Amendment,” which would have allowed exemptions from the Affordable Care Act’s birth control benefit for any employers or insurers that had moral objections to providing contraceptive coverage to their employees. And in a 2014 commentary for the Wall Street Journal, Ayotte and Sen. Deb Fischer (R-NE) defended the Supreme Court’s ruling in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby, which grants some employers the right to deny contraceptive coverage to their staff based on the owner’s religious beliefs, falsely claiming that the ruling did “not take away women’s access to birth control.”

Ayotte’s campaign is quick to point to legislation sponsored by the senator that would have allowed over-the-counter contraception as proof that she cares about women’s health. Reproductive health advocates, however, called Ayotte’s Allowing Greater Access to Safe and Effective Contraception Act a “sham” when it was introduced in 2015. Though the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) generally supports over-the-counter birth control, the organization’s president Dr. Mark S. DeFrancesco, said in a statement that Ayotte’s measure “would actually make more women have to pay for their birth control, and for some women, the cost would be prohibitive.”

Paid leave is yet another issue in which Ayotte has put forth legislation in the name of helping women. Ayotte introduced the Family Friendly and Workplace Flexibility Act of 2015 in March of that year, claiming it would “allow greater flexibility for workers who are looking to better balance their work-life demands.” Analysis by ThinkProgress, however, found that the measure “could weaken already weak rules that require workers to be paid extra for working extra hours, thus ensuring that workweeks don’t grow out of control and employees are compensated fairly.”

Earlier in 2015, Ayotte signed on as a co-sponsor of the Working Families Flexibility Act. According to a statement from the National Partnership for Women and Families (NPWF) condemning the legislation, the act claimed to “give hourly workers more flexibility and time with their loved ones by allowing them to choose paid time off, rather than time-and-a-half wages, as compensation for working more than 40 hours in one week.” However, the bill did “not promote family friendly or flexible workplaces,” explained the nonprofit organization in a fact sheet. “Instead, it would erode hourly workers’ ability to make ends meet, plan for family time, and have predictability, stability, and true flexibility at work.”

Ayotte’s record on equal pay has been similarly debunked by advocates. One of the policies highlighted by Ayotte’s campaign in the wake of Planned Parenthood Votes’ ad was the senator’s introduction of the Gender Advancement In Pay (GAP) Act in September 2015, which she reintroduced ahead of Equal Pay Day this April. The measure was meant to make clear that “employers must pay men and women equal wages for equal work, without reducing the opportunity for employers to reward merit,” according to a press release from Ayotte’s office upon the initial release of the bill.

Critics argued that Ayotte’s bill was nothing other than an election-year stunt. New Hampshire state Sen. Donna Soucy (D-Manchester) told NH1 News that Ayotte’s move was an attempt to look “for some cover … in an effort to be more in line with” New Hampshire voters, after Ayotte voted against other fair pay measures. However, Soucy said, the legislation didn’t really address the issue of pay equity. “Sen. Ayotte’s bill attempts to create paycheck fairness but doesn’t in fact do so because employers could preclude their employees from discussing what they make with their fellow employees,” claimed Soucy.

Similar arguments were made when Ayotte co-sponsored another equal pay measure, the Workplace Advancement Act, with Sens. Deb Fischer (R-NE), Susan Collins (R-ME), Joni Ernst (R-IA), Thad Cochran (R-MS), and Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV) in April 2015. Though the legislation would ban employers from retaliating against their staff, it failed to garner support from Democrats. According to the National Women’s Law Center, the bill would have done “more harm than good” as it “entirely [ignored] the many loopholes and inadequacies in current equal pay laws and simply [stated] that pay discrimination ‘violates existing law.'”

Their arguments are bolstered by Ayotte’s repeated votes against the federal Paycheck Fairness Act, though as Politifact again pointed out, some of these votes were procedural and not against the bill itself. Ayotte did cast one vote in favor of ending debate on the measure and advancing it; the fact-checking site noted, though, that Ayotte’s office reportedly did so in the ultimately denied hopes of changing the bill.

Had it passed, the legislation would have updated the Equal Pay Act of 1963 to include protections such as prohibiting retaliation against employees who share their salary and strengthening penalties for those who violate the law. Ayotte claims she voted against the measure because it “could reduce the ability of employers to award merit pay for good performance and limit the opportunity for women to have flexible work schedules,” according to a press release on the matter.

Speaking at a town hall event in 2013, Ayotte had previously justified her vote against equal pay legislation by asserting that it “created a lot of additional burdens that would … make it more difficult for job creators to create jobs.” The New Hampshire senator went on to add that there were already laws in place that could help address the issue.

There are, however, some examples of Ayotte supporting and introducing legislation that would help women. In June 2015, Ayotte co-sponsored the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act to protect pregnant people from workplace discrimination. Though the legislation never came to a vote, it would have helped “end … discrimination and promote healthy pregnancies and the economic security of pregnant women and their families,” according to the NPWF. That same year, the New Hampshire senator co-sponsored the Protect Access to Lifesaving Screenings (PALS) Act, bipartisan legislation that would have safeguarded access to free annual mammograms for women ages 40 to 74. Ayotte co-sponsored the bipartisan Campus Accountability and Safety Act in 2014 and 2015, which, according to Democratic New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand’s website, would “protect students and boost accountability and transparency at colleges and universities” when it comes to sexual assault. Ayotte also co-sponsored the Combating Military Sexual Assault Act of 2013 to address the issue in the military.

Overall, Ayotte has signed onto or supported numerous pieces of legislation that at face value seem to promote reproductive health and women’s rights. Further examination shows, however, that—with a few exceptions—they largely failed to hold up to scrutiny. While Ayotte’s campaign alleges that many of her measures would have helped women and families, analysis suggests that her conservative solutions to addressing these issues often would have made the problems worse. This, coupled with the senator’s fierce anti-choice advocacy, will no doubt keep this portion of Ayotte’s record under tight observation as November’s election approaches.