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Romney supports HHS mandate? UPDATED

Contraception coverage came up at the debate last night as part of President Barack Obama's answer to the question about pay equity for women. (There were a lot of surprising turns in response to that question.) Mitt Romney seemed unprepared to talk contraception -- Or maybe this was another planned (and unexplained) pivot to the middle? Regardless, here's what he said:

I don't believe employers should tell someone whether they could have contraceptive care or not. Every woman in America should have access to contraceptives.

To put it in context, here's how Obama characterized his own position in contrast to Romney's:

Now, there are some other issues that have a bearing on how women succeed in the workplace: for example, their health care. (Inaudible) a major difference in this campaign is that Governor Romney feels comfortable having politicians in Washington decide the health care choices that women are making. I think that's a mistake. In my health care bill, I said insurance companies need to provide contraceptive coverage to everybody who is insured, because this is not just a a health issue; it's an economic issue for women. It makes a difference. This is money out of that family's pocket.

Governor Romney not only opposed it; he suggested that, in fact, employers should be able to make the decision as to whether or not a woman gets contraception through her insurance coverage.

What Obama is referring to there is Romney's stated opposition to the HHS mandate and support for the Blunt-Rubio amendment that would allow any employer to refuse to provide contraception coverage. Here's how Romney responded -- and note that he took time out of his answer to the next question, the one about how he's different from George W. Bush, to get this on the record:

I'd just note that I don't believe that bureaucrats in Washington should tell someone whether they can use contraceptives or not, and I don't believe employers should tell someone whether they could have contraceptive care or not. Every woman in America should have access to contraceptives. And—and the—and the president's statement of my policy is completely and totally wrong.

As Sarah Posner has explained over at Religion Dispatches, Romney is defending himself against claims that no one has ever made. And this isn't the first time he's sent mixed messages on the subject of insurance coverage of contraception vs. conscience claims of employers. But he is now on the record in opposition to the bishops and others who protest the HHS contraception mandate on religious-freedom grounds. Will we hear from any bishops about this?

By the way, LifeNews quotes that same paragraph of Romney's response in an article with the headline "Obama promotes HHS mandate during debate, Romney opposes it." I think they better check that transcript again.

UPDATE 10/18: As David Gibson writes at Religion News Service, Romney's supporters in the prolife movement have been showing unusual flexibility in giving him the benefit of the doubt. I'm not persuaded, as I note in comments below. But in evaluating the significance of what Romney said or didn't say on Tuesday, it seems valuable to consider how his own campaign is handling the question: they're changing the subject. Here's Kerry Healey (Romney's lieutenant governor) on MSNBC yesterday, resisting Andrea Mitchell's attempts to pin down the candidate's position:

The question of whether or not we should force someone to give up their religious freedom to provide insurance coverage in some hypothetical situation, is not really the point most, and women out there there are 5.5 million unemployed women in the country.... [Romney] made it clear that he believes in enforcing religious freedom in this regard but he also strongly supports women's access to contraception and any effort to say he doesn't ... The problem here is that we are talking about these peripheral issues. We need to really be talking about employment, jobs, that's what women care about.

It may even be true that most women don't care about the ins and outs of the contraceptive-coverage mandate. But what I take away from all of this is that Romney doesn't care much about those details either.

About the Author

Mollie Wilson O'Reilly is an editor at large and columnist at Commonweal.



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Will we hear from any Catholic bishops regarding what Mitt Romney said during the debate last night about contraception coverage? Your guess is as good as mine.But here's my question: After the Catholic bishops and other Republicans take note of what Romney said about contraception coverage, will Romney back track and take back what he said last night on television and say something different in the near future -- perhaps in the third televised debate? Your guess is as good as mine.

This is why the bishops are so partisan. They have made an issue out of a non issue. What many do not realize is that many Catholics believe that the the health care program mandates that everyone MUST USE their insurance to cover contraceptives rather than have it available. It seems unreal but it is true. If everyone should have access to contraceptives then it should be made available to everyone. So the bishops, who support Romney along with the former Holy See ambassadors, should know that Romney agrees with Obamacare even tho Romney says he does not. Romney will not take back what he said. He will just continue the absurd spin.

Rusty Reno tries to cover Mitt's flank: his colleague at First Things, Anna Williams, remains unsettled: seem nonplused as well.

"Tell me what you want me to say, and I'll tell you what you want to hear."

Apparently, Obama is not interested in any compromise on the HHS mandate, despite many assurances to the contrary from writers here. Obama also managed to praise Planned Parenthood last night.

I thought Mr. Obamas shallow tossing of bc pills out to woo the ladies was lame. It was like, Hey girls, vote for me because I will make sure you can have free birth control pills. And then for him to claim that Planned Parenthood is somehow a cancer screening center was a real whopper. As the largest abortion mill in the country, the majority of Planned Parenthoods income is from performing abortions. PP does not balance its books with mammograms or other cancer screens. Abortions are their bread and butter.

See the Oct. 25 Rolling Stone for an excellent explanation of why Mitt does not need to get specific about anything. "Mitt Romney & The Ghosts of Mormon History," by Mikal Gilmore, p. 62. From that:"When Romney veers from liberal to conservative to moderate stands, what he makes plain is that the world he is in, but not truly part of, is the political world. The shifting is a sleight of hand, like Joseph Smith;s magic, a means to an end. . . . expecting Romney to be accountable to a secular morality is to misunderstand him. That's part of his Mormon hubris, and it's what grants him the right to withhold specifics about both his political vision and his deeper beliefs."---

And then for him to claim that Planned Parenthood is somehow a cancer screening center was a real whopper. Ken,Check your facts. Planned Parenthood does not do mammograms (they make referrals), but they do clinical breast exams and PAP Tests (for cervical cancer):

Planned Parenthood provides nearly 770,000 Pap tests and nearly 750,000 breast exams each year, critical services in detecting cancer.

To say that Planned Parenthood doesn't do cancer screening is the whopper.

There is a difference between believing "[e]very woman in America should have access to contraceptives" and supporting the contraception mandate.

Gerelyn --Interesting. The Mormons have publicly reversed their teaching on membership of African-Americans in the Church of Latter Day Saints and on polygamy. Would that Mitt would be an even better Mormon and tell us when he has actually changed his political beliefs. IF he has changed them, that is.Maybe he isn't a liar, but if he isn't, then he has the most confused mind of any political candidate in my lifetime. I have even wondered at times if the man is prematurely senile. He would be a disaster as President.

"There is a difference between believing '[e]very woman in America should have access to contraceptives' and supporting the contraception mandate."Yes, this was also my assumption about Romney's statement: Your employer doesn't have a right to tell you you can't use birth control ... but he doesn't have to pay for it, either. If you weren't so busy being a victim and a taker, you'd save up to buy it yourself. Maybe on your way home to make dinner.I'm not sure birth control pills are beyond the means of most women; prices range from $20 to $160 per month. I'm not sure this is a whole lot more expensive than condoms and spermicides offered OTC (and I know of no insurance carrier who covers those).But I realize price isn't the issue here.

Yes, as you say, "There is a difference between believing '[e]very woman in America should have access to contraceptives' and supporting the contraceptive mandate."But the Catholic bishops claim that using contraceptives is intrinsically evil. As a result, they are probably not going to pleased with what Mitt Romney said regarding every woman in America having access to contraceptives.

I dont believe employers should tell someone whether they could have contraceptive care or not. Every woman in America should have access to contraceptives.That was a carefully crafted statement. However, since some who opposed the HHS mandate claim that some contraceptives act as abortifacients, it may come back to haunt Rommey. (Now that it is the Halloween season.)

Hi, Mollie, I took Romney's response to amount to, "I'm really not interested in this topic, and there is no upside to my talking about it - make it go away!" But I don't see that it amounts to, "I support the HHS mandate." Can you please connect the dots?FWIW, I thought President Obama's statements as quoted here were also confused - at least, it confuses me. Neither of them seem to line up exactly in defense of nor in opposition to the HHS mandate. And of course, neither of them even come close to touching on the religious liberty question, which is the neuralgic issue.

David: Thanks for the links. That first one is not from Reno but from Matthew Schmitz, and I can see why it's not quite convincing the readers. It's not clear to me that Romney even understood what Obama was referring to in that moment. Perhaps he forgot all about the HHS thing after it got added to his issues-for-Catholics check list (PDF). I'm especially unconvinced by this part of Schmitz's analysis:

The fact that Romney didn't change his position is further reinforced by his last sentence ("And—and the—and the president's statement of my policy is completely and totally wrong."). He rejects Obama's description of his policy—opposition to the mandate—while sticking to the policy itself.

First of all, every time Romney found himself against the wall he blurted that the president had completely mischaracterized his position. The more reluctant he was to actually articulate his position on a given question, the more likely he was to just insist that whatever Obama said was untrue. So I'd be cautious about leaning on that as the reassuring part of the answer. Especially since Obama's description of his policy -- which Schmitz doesn't quote -- was this:

In my health care bill, I said insurance companies need to provide contraceptive coverage to everybody who is insured... Governor Romney not only opposed it; he suggested that, in fact, employers should be able to make the decision as to whether or not a woman gets contraception through her insurance coverage.

If Romney does oppose the HHS mandate and support the Blunt-Rubio amendment, isn't that an entirely accurate description of his position? You can play games with the wording of what Romney said, as Schmitz does, to make it seem like he what he really meant was that employers shouldn't be able to tell you what to do with the contraception you get elsewhere. (Who would disagree with that?) But Obama's wording is precise--his hypothetical employee is getting contraception "through her insurance coverage." Which, Schmitz wants to argue, is something Romney does still think an employer should be able to decide. So, if, as Romney says, Obama's description of his position is "completely and totally wrong," doesn't saying so underline Romney's abandonment of the religious-freedom cause, not his steadfast support?

Maybe Romney was thinking: "It's not my problem, it's Obama's. He's the one being sued."By the way, Romney's tax returns says that he contributes to the Beckett Fund, the group that is leading the lawsuits against the HHS mandate. In fact, he and his wife received their annual Canterbury Award, a few years ago.

Birth control pills are not expensive and neither are condoms. When used electively, they are a lifetyle choice; a woman chooses to use them, or maybe she and her partnet decide she should use them. It is usually best when people pay for their lifestyle choices themselves.I do not see why the pro-bc pill and pro-abortion gangs endlessly want to drag everyone else into their grubby practices by making us pay for it. Is it not enough that we tolerate them doing all that, must all of us be forced to finance it as well?Geez!

Romney: I dont believe employers should tell someone whether they could have contraceptive care or not. Every woman in America should have access to contraceptives.I take this as a clear reference to Obama's reference to the HHS mandate. Romney said last night exactly what he first said when asked about the Republican-backed Blount amendment that would have allowed employers to opt out of providing insurance that covers contraceptives for female employees, i.e., that he thinks it would be wrong for employers to refuse to cover contraceptives. Only later (that day!) did he change his position -- AFTER his campaign explained to him, as it so often has had to do, that what he said was out of sync with Republican thinking this year.Romney has obviously found that he can't say voters want to hear and still follow the party line. All he's ever really wanted is to win the Presidency, and that's what he plans to do, damn the crazy cons who'd been screwing his chances up til now.Simple as that.

I wrote: "Romney has obviously found that he cant say voters want to hear and still follow the party line."That should have read: Romney has obviously found that he can't say WHAT voters want to hear and still follow the party line.(Don't you hate it when you do that?;->)

Ken, birth control pills may or may not be expensive nowadays; I'm well past the age when it matters to me personally. But you don't get them without a prescription, and you don't get a prescription without a visit to a doctor, which does cost money--as do the required periodic follow-up visits.This is of a piece with the voter-fraud-obsessed wiseacres who say, "Hey, ANYONE can get a free photo ID from the state," without acknowledging that you first have to obtain a supporting document (like a birth certificate) that DOESN'T come free. Or, for that matter, that it's not cheap to take off work, find transportation, and sit for hours in a clerk's office to obtain that "free" ID.What I find amusing, and exasperating, is that the bishops and Rush Limbaugh never objected when certain states mandated contraceptive coverage. And no ordinary John and Jane Q. Public seemed to object until the bishops and Rush told them they should. Then all of a sudden, the bishops were saying, "Jump, my son," and tolerating only one response: "How high?"

"...Is it not enough that we tolerate them doing all that,Ken @7:10,You are not tolerating "all that." Why would you, given your beliefs? You are, for now at least, simply powerless to prevent it.

Ken: Birth control pills run over $100 a month without insurance, and they are NOT always elective; a close relative of mine takes them for a serious medical condition. Without them, she would be in excruciating pain several days a month and lose work. That's just one of the facts about hormonal contraceptive medications so many men who've been speaking out on this issue don't get; they're not just for contraception anymore. Physicians use them to treat scores of "female problems," from relatively benign conditions to endometriosis and ovarian cancer. In virtually all cases they are definitely preventive medicine, nothing less. For women, birth control itself isn't the fun topic it apparently is for men...unless you think pregnancy is a walk in the park. There can be very serious health issues involved. As with politicians like Todd Akin spouting ideological positions based on false notions of female physiology, the bishops' stubborn reaction against insurance coverage of bc treatments as preventive medical care for women only serves to discredit them, which is too bad.

Beverly, the cost of birth control pills and HT is all over the board (I looked at costs on on-line prescription places before I posted above to check on prices). But you are right: If you go to the doc specifically to get the scrip, it's going to cost you money.There are surgical options for endometriosis and polycystic ovarian disease besides HT, but these are often invasive and, in some cases require removing the offending organs rendering one unable to bear children. The Church, I believe, does not say that women can't use HT to treat symptoms of these conditions, if the intent isn't to prevent pregnancy. You and I are on the same page in seeing that the problem is that the across-the-board refusal to pay for "contraceptives" indicates that the Church makes no distinction between birth control and legitimate therapy for an illness or disorder. And shows an ignorance about and insensitivity to women's health.

Ken (10/17 7:10 pm) -- "Birth control pills are not expensive" is a meaningless assertion. Whether some material or service is "not expensive" or "too expensive" is a judgment an individual makes based on usable income and expenses of those the income supports. What spendable $ assumptions lead to the "not expensive" above? (As one point of reference, Planned Parenthood (PPFA) says 76% of clients in 2010 had income at or below 150% of the federal poverty level.) Planned Parenthood says that 60% of women clients choosing reversible contraceptive methods in 2010 picked alternatives to Oral ("bc pills"). Does your assertion apply to them equally well? Costs vary, especially when obtaining a contraceptive physically and functionally suitable for an individual is not as simple as having a prescription written. Services provided by PPFA, including cancer screening, are summarized at the link above.

Beverly You are talking about medical use of bc pills as a hormonal medication; I am talking about non-medical use of bc-pills.And a pregnancy/baby is not a disease to be avoided.

Fine Jack if you want to pay for someones bc pills, that is your business, but dont try to pawn the cost of what you want to do off onto me. If you want to go down to your local pharmacy each month and lay some dinero on the pharmacist letting him know you want the money to pay for bc pills, that is you business, but please dont ask/force me to do the same.I am not denying anyone access to bc pills. I simply do not want to pay for them. My wife does not use contraception. If she ever decided she would use bc pills, we would pay for them ourself; we would not bother the world with our choice. If I would not expect my neighbor to pay for them, why in the world should I be forced pay for someone else's wife's bc pills? And why would anyone expect the bishops or any boss to pay for them? Next thing someone will want the boss to pay for viagra :-)If a woman has a real medical need to use bc pills, like Beverly mentioned above, as a hormonal medication to address some female problem, of course it should be covered as any medication is. If however, a woman is simply trying to plan her family or trying to avoid pregnancy altogether, that is her business and she or she and her husband or boyfriend should pay for the pills. Why are women and their men such cheapskates anyway? Why do they want me to pay for their lifestyle choices?

Oops - menat to type ". . . Why are [these] women and their men such cheapskates anyway?"

If Romney's committed to universal access, but doesn't think employers should have to pay, maybe he's proposing a new federal entitlement for contraceptives? I could support that.

It's not that I'm not grateful for your colorful contributions, Ken, but the merits of the HHS mandate have been litigated many times already at dotCommonweal, and the topic here is not whether you oppose it, but whether Romney does. You're on the record.Once again, it seems to me the least you can say about Romney's statement in the debate is that, given the opportunity, he declined to voice any kind of opposition to the HHS mandate on religious-freedom grounds. And a totally accurate accounting of his statements would also have to admit that what he said sounds very much like, if not support for, than acquiesence to the contraceptive mandate -- and if it is wrong to interpret it as a change from Romney's most-recently stated position, then I would like to know in what way President Obama's characterization of Romney's position was "completely and totally wrong."P.S. I updated the post to take note of how the Romney campaign is handling questions.

If the topic were something highly dynamic and hard to predict as Syria/Turkey/etc., Iran/Israel/etc., European economics, or the like, it would be understandable to find flexibility and some indeterminacy in a wise candidate's position in mid-October. The contraception insurance mandate issue has been well defined for quite a while. The most significant fact about Romney in this area is not what he said but that Mollie, Andrea Mitchell, and others are still able to ask such basic questions about a matter of evident national importance which remain unanswered 3 weeks before the election.

Romney has shown two definite characteristics throughout the campaign: when an embarasing question is asked, he changes the subject. When people catch on that in effect he's stonewalling, he just changes his policy without admitting it's changed. Sort of like "as the Church (Romney) has always said . . ."

"Once again, it seems to me the least you can say about Romneys statement in the debate is that, given the opportunity, he declined to voice any kind of opposition to the HHS mandate on religious-freedom grounds."I agree. And it's not the first time he's missed the opportunity. In the interview with Raymond Arroyo a couple of months back that was the subject of a post here, he fouled off, perhaps intentionally, a batting-practice-pitch question whose purpose seemed to be to cue him to say, "If elected, I will overturn the HHS mandate on Day 1".

My take on Romney's position on bc pills was that he supports access to contraceptives, but does not believe that the Government has the right to force employers to cover or pay for them. I viewed his remarks as supporting religious freedom. What is unclear is if this exemption applies to all employers or just religious-based ones (another problem is definitions, read on). The RCC may not have an serious issue with Romney because he is against a mandate while Obama's is clearly for it. Before ObamaCare many states required employers to cover contraceptives. Some provided for an religious exemption but also defined what type of religious organizations were exempt. The RCC disliked the fact that Obama "re-defined" what organizations were considered religious and had a right to such an exemption. This went far beyond many state laws. The issues are:1. Is the HHS mandate and the government's definition of a religious exempt organization constitutional? 2. How do third party payers of self-funded employer plans get paid for paying contraception claims? To date, there is no mechanism that can work and it is replete with legal issues. 3. If religious organizations can be exempt from covering products or services that are against their religious beliefs, then can organizations such as the Jehovah's Witnesses refuse to cover blood transfusions because it is against their teachings?

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