Mitt Romney sparked controversy Wednesday afternoon after he told local reporter Jim Heath in Ohio that he would oppose a bill that would “allow employers to ban providing female contraception.” “I’m not for the bill,” Romney declared. “But look, the idea of presidential candidates getting into questions about contraception, within a relation between a man and a woman, a husband and wife, I’m not going there.” Romney made the comments on the eve of a Senate vote for an amendment offered by Sen. Roy Blunt (R-MO) to permit employers to deny coverage of health services to their employees on the basis of personal moral objections. The measure is the GOP’s response to President Obama’s rule requiring employers to provide contraception and other preventive health services as part of their health insurance plans.
But moments later, the Romney campaign reversed itself, claiming that the candidate was confused by the question and that he does indeed support the rhetoric behind the bill, namely a boss’ right to keep health care services out of the reach of workers based on religious concerns. Romney himself clarified his stance during a radio interview on the Howie Carr Show:
ROMNEY: I didn’t understand his question. Of course I support the Blunt amendment. I thought he was talking about some state law that prevented people from getting contraception. So I simply misunderstood the question and of course I support the Blunt amendment…No, I simply misunderstood what he was talking about. I thought it was some Ohio legislation, where employers were prevented from providing contraceptives, and so I talked about contraceptives and so I really misunderstood the question. Of course Roy Blunt who is my liaison to the Senate is someone I support and of course I support that amendment. I clearly want to have religious exemption from Obamacare…. I really think all Americans should be allowed to get around this religious exemption.
Watch the two moments side by side:
Note that Romney could not bring himself to back the actual intent of the Blunt amendment — empowering employers to deny any health care services that undermine their religious beliefs — but could only justify his support by embracing the GOP’s rhetorical cover story: the claim that Obama’s contraception rule undermines religious liberties and that Blunt seeks to protect them. When Jim Heath unwrapped the faux First Amendment claim and explained the bill for what it actually does (rather than what the GOP claims it would prevent), Romney opposed it. As he explained in the radio interview, he initially came out against the bill because “I thought he was talking about some state law that prevented people from getting contraception.”
But that’s precisely what Blunt would do. Under the measure, an insurer or an employer would be able to claim a moral or religious objection to covering HIV/AIDS screenings, Type 2 Diabetes treatments, cancer tests or anything else they deem inappropriate or the result of an “unhealthy” or “immoral” lifestyle. Similarly, a health plan could refuse to cover mental health care on the grounds that the plan believes that psychiatric problems should be treated with prayer.
Individuals too can opt out of coverage if it is contrary to their religious or moral beliefs, radically undermining “the basic principle of insurance, which involves pooling the risks for all possible medical needs of all enrollees.” As the National Women’s Law Center explains, Blunt’s language is vague enough that “insurers may be able to sell plans that do not cover services required by the new health care law to an entire market because one individual objects, so all consumers in a market lose their right to coverage of the full range of critical health services.” As a result, a man “purchasing an insurance plan offered to women and men could object to maternity coverage, so the plan would not have to cover it, even though such coverage is required as part of the essential health benefits.”
Romney opposed such broad conscience exemptions as governor of Massachusetts and even mandated his health department to issue regulations that required all hospitals — including Catholic institutions — to offer the morning after pill to rape victims. As he told the Boston Herald at the time, “My personal view in my heart of hearts is that people who are subject to rape should have the option of having emergency contraceptives or emergency contraceptive information.”