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Republican Sean Bielat went face-to-face with Democratic candidate Joseph Kennedy on Oct. 15 at a debate held at Wellesley College and cosponsored by the League of Women Voters. With such a strong female presence, Kennedy wasted little time in attacking his opponent on women’s rights.

"I think this is one of the big areas of difference between me and Sean," he said. "I am a strong supporter of a woman's ability to access safe and confidential health care. I think that is a basic constitutional protection that should be afforded to every woman across the country. Sean, I think, believes that Roe v. Wade should be repealed and left up to the states." He said a Republican-run Congress would turn the clock back on women's rights.

Bielat, however, said that women care about more than just abortion. “I’m pro-life," he said. "I think, though, when I hear 'women’s issues,' I hear something different. I hear issues that matter to us all. How are we going to pay our bills? How are we going to make sure we’re going to have jobs? How are our families going to prosper? How are we going to pay for our kids' education? Those are all women’s issues."

The tone of the debate was mostly civil, though Bielat took a few cracks at Kennedy’s privileged background, including this: "This year I’ve heard a whole lot more about student loans than I did in 2010 when I ran. I know for me and my wife they’re a huge issue. I know, Joe, you had the good fortune of not having to deal with that. But for a lot of us, it’s tough. It’s tough."

Kennedy didn't directly address his family name but said he has spent his career sticking up for the disadvantaged.

"I am very proud of the privilege that I've had to stand up in the courtroom each and every day while I was a prosecutor and defend that domestic violence victim. I'm very proud of the work that I did in helping families getting kicked out of their homes because the landlords weren't paying the mortgage payments to banks. I'm very proud of the work that I did in the Peace Corps," he said.

The candidates are trying to succeed longtime Massachusetts Rep. Barney Frank in a redrawn district. Their final debate is Oct. 24.