Romney, Obama tangle on issue of access to contraception

Here and Now

Abortion and healthcare are two particularly thorny issues for Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney.

Once upon a time, the front-runner to be the Republican nominee was both pro-choice and introduced a statewide healthcare plan, dubbed Romneycare, that was the broad outline for President Barack Obama’s health plan. While Romney has changed his stance on abortion and insists his health plan is nothing like Obama’s, those ghosts haunt his campaign.

A controversial ruling by President Obama last month required all employers, including Catholic religious organizations who are fiercely opposed to contraception, to offer birth control for free to employees. Romney criticized Obama for forcing religious organizations to “violate the consciences” but as Governor of Massachusetts in 2005, Romney required all Massachusetts hospitals, including Catholic ones, to provide emergency contraception to rape victims. Some Catholics view the morning-after pill as a form of abortion.

So where does that leave Romney as he seeks to wrap up the Republican nominating contest and then should he win, as he seeks to confront Obama?

Tracy Jan, national political reporter for the Boston Globe, said back in 2005, Romney had already become anti-abortion, but he remained committed to the idea that women, in particular rape victims, should have access to emergency contraception at any hospital.

“He actually said, at that time, that abortion should be illegal except in the cases of rape, incest and when a mother’s life is being threatened,” Jan said. “A month later, when it came down to emergency contraception, he did say in his heart of hearts, he thought it should be accessible to rape victims.”

Obama’s ruling does carve out an exception for houses of worship, church and the like, but it doesn’t grant an exception for religious-affiliated hospitals or universities, in terms of requiring free access to birth control as party of health insurance plans.

“I’ve talked to Catholics who are pro-choice and Catholics who are anti-abortion, and they come on very different sides,” Jan said. Leaders of an association of Jesuit universities, for example, “is against the Obama mandate. (Yet), they support the Affordable Care Act, but they say this specific provision violates religious freedom.”

Other Catholic-affiliated organizations, though, like a six hospital chain in Massachusetts, already provide access to contraceptives as part of their health plans.

Sign up for our daily newsletter

Sign up for The Top of the World, delivered to your inbox every weekday morning.