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Right Turn
Posted at 03:31 PM ET, 02/07/2012

Romney vs. Santorum on contraception

Rick Santorum has leveled one of his harshest attacks on Mitt Romney, accusing him in a Politico op-ed of supporting a bill when he was governor similar to the president’s contraception mandate. He writes:

This is not the first time that elected officials have trounced on the fundamental right to religious freedom. In December 2005, Governor Mitt Romney required all Massachusetts hospitals, including Catholic ones, to provide emergency contraception to rape victims.
He said then that he believed “in his heart of hearts” that receiving these contraceptives - free of charge - trumped employees’ religious consciences. Now, a few years later and running for president, his heart is strategically aligned with religious voters opposing this federal mandate.
The actions of President Obama – as well as the actions of then Governor Romney - raise some questions. From where do we receive our fundamental human rights? Are they given to us by the government--whether that government be State or Federal? Or, as the American Founders insisted, are these rights endowed upon us by a Creator?

The Romney camp issued a flat-out denial. Spokeswoman Andrea Saul put out a statement, which reads: “Governor Romney stands with the Catholic Bishops and all religious organizations in their strenuous objection to this liberty- and conscience-stifling regulation. He is committed to repealing Obamacare entirely. On his first day in office, Mitt Romney will eliminate the Obama administration rule that compels religious institutions to violate the tenets of their own faith. We expect these attacks from President Obama and his liberal friends. But from Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum, it’s a clear indication of desperation from their campaigns.”

According to Romney’s staff, Massachusetts passed a law in 2002 (before Romney became governor) mandating insurance companies provide contraception coverage. They contend that in 2005 Romney proposed eliminating all insurance mandates, including the contraception mandate. Moreover, and most damning to Santorum’s claims if true, Romney’s team argues that he vetoed an Emergency Contraception bill that would have made the Plan B pill available to young girls without prescription and with no age restriction, but the Democratic-controlled legislature overrode Romney’s veto.

David French, a Romney supporter, provides some more detail over at the National Review:

The legislature passed legislation mandating that hospitals — including the state’s Catholic hospitals — administer [emergency contraception]. Governor Romney vetoed that legislation and the next day took to the pages of the Boston Globe to explain his pro-life stance:
“You can’t be a prolife governor in a prochoice state without understanding that there are heartfelt and thoughtful arguments on both sides of the question. Many women considering abortions face terrible pressures, hurts, and fears; we should come to their aid with all the resourcefulness and empathy we can offer. At the same time, the starting point should be the innocence and vulnerability of the child waiting to be born.
In some respects, these convictions have evolved and deepened during my time as governor. In considering the issue of embryo cloning and embryo farming, I saw where the harsh logic of abortion can lead — to the view of innocent new life as nothing more than research material or a commodity to be exploited.”
Unfortunately, however, the legislature overrode his veto (by overwhelming margins). What followed was a dispute over the meaning of two seemingly conflicting state laws: a decades-old law exempting private hospitals from providing contraceptives and the newer law containing no such exemptions. Initially, the Massachusetts Department of Public Health (which was charged with crafting regulations implementing the new EC law) took the position that the new law didn’t supersede the old and that Catholic hospitals could opt out. Two days later, the Romney administration reversed this view, stating the proper legal interpretation was that the new law did, in fact, apply to all hospitals in the state.

A Santorum spokesman did not have a response available but promised to get back to me. I will update this post when I hear back from him.

Based on information that is presently available, Santorum’s assertion that Romney “required” Catholic hospitals to provide contraception seems to overstate the case. If under Massachusetts law the new law did supersede the old, as the Romney administration asserted, should he have violated state law? That doesn’t seem reasonable for the governor who is sworn to uphold the state’s laws.

I’ll leave the Pinnochios to my colleague Glenn Kessler, but it seems there are clearer, firmer grounds on which to attack Romney wading into this sort of morass. Santorum is playing in the big leagues and he has to make every at bat count.

By  |  03:31 PM ET, 02/07/2012

Categories:  2012 campaign

 
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