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President Barack Obama and Republican candidate Mitt Romney clashed over contraceptives coverage in their second debate, with Romney ultimately declaring, "the president's statement of my policy is completely and totally wrong."
That sounded like a request for some fact-checking.
So, was Obama totally wrong?
The issue emerged in the Oct. 16, 2012, debate at Hofstra University after a question from the audience about how the candidates intended to fix income inequality for women.
Obama touted signing the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, then said:
"Now, there are some other issues that have a bearing on how women succeed in the workplace. For example, their health care. You know a major difference in this campaign is that Gov. 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. Gov. 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."
Romney later responded:
"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 the president's statement of my policy is completely and totally wrong."
It's worth noting that they were talking past each other. Obama was referring to whether an employer should dictate whether employees’ insurance covers contraceptives. Romney sidestepped the issue about insurance coverage and said he opposes a different concept — whether employers can tell someone whether they can have contraceptive care.
For this fact-check, we’re asking whether Romney has suggested that "employers should be able to make the decision as to whether or not a woman gets contraception through her insurance coverage."
The Blunt amendment
Obama’s support for his claim centers on something called the Blunt amendment.
Early this year, congressional Republicans made a big push to roll back a provision by Health and Human Services under Obama’s health care law that requires most employers to provide birth control coverage without any out-of-pocket costs, with a limited exception for certain religious institutions.
In the Senate, Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., sponsored an amendment that would exempt employers from providing any service that went against their "beliefs or moral convictions." At the time, the issue put the Obama administration on the defensive and the president himself appeared at the White House briefing room to explain a work-around for religious affiliated hospitals, universities and the like.
A few weeks later, with a vote on the Blunt amendment pending, Romney was asked where he stood. He told a Boston radio interviewer "Of course I support the Blunt amendment."
CNSnews.com, a conservative news service, put the question directly to the Romney campaign.
"Will Mitt Romney, on day one, rescind this mandate in its entirety — as the Catholic Church has urged the current administration to do — so that individuals, employers and insurers who have a ‘moral or religious objection to contraception or sterilization’ will not be forced to violate the tenets of their own faith or act against their consciences?"
Romney campaign spokesman Ryan Williams responded: "Yes. Gov. Romney would rescind the mandate in its entirety."
In April, Romney reiterated his opposition to the rule at a meeting of the National Rifle Association. He said, "As president, I will abolish it."
So the Obama campaign argues if Romney supports an employer’s ability to decline to provide a service that goes against "beliefs or moral convictions," that means he supports employers making "the decision as to whether or not a woman gets contraception through her insurance coverage."
We asked the Romney campaign to explain his objection to Obama’s claim. Here's a statement from spokeswoman Andrea Saul:
"Gov. Romney’s statement speaks for itself. He does not believe that bureaucrats in Washington or employers should tell a woman whether she can use contraceptives, and no policy that he has proposed or supported would do so. To the contrary, he has repeatedly made clear that he believes all women should have access to contraception and make such personal choices themselves. The disagreement between the governor and President Obama on this issue is over whether the federal government should impose a nationwide insurance mandate for contraception. The president wants bureaucrats to make that decision for all Americans, even where it violates their religious liberty. Gov. Romney does not."
The statement acknowledges that Romney opposes a nationwide mandate for contraception coverage. In the absence of a federal mandate, that would sometimes leave the decision to employers whether to offer coverage for birth control.
(Before Obamacare, some 27 states already required such coverage, though we’re not sure how many had religious exceptions.)
Obama said Romney "suggested" that "employers should be able to make the decision as to whether or not a woman gets contraception through her insurance coverage."
Romney says he doesn’t believe bureaucrats or employers should make the call whether a woman can use contraceptives. But his support for the Blunt amendment endorses the approach that employers should be able to make the decision about whether contraception is covered by employees’ insurance. We rate Obama’s claim True.
CQ Transcriptswire, "President Barack Obama And Former Gov. Mitt Romney Participate in a Candidates Debate, Hofstra University, Hempstead, New York," Oct. 16, 2012 (subscription only)
Email interview with Kara Carscaden, Obama campaign, Oct. 17, 2012
Email interview with Robert Terra, Romney campaign, Oct. 17, 2012
PolitiFact, "Obama: Mitt Romney refused to say whether he supports Lilly Ledbetter Act," Oct. 16, 2012
PolitiFact, "Barack Obama says Mitt Romney opposes contraception mandate and would cut Planned Parenthood funding," Aug. 8, 2012
PolitiFact, "The health care law, Catholics and birth control," Feb. 10, 2012
PolitiFact, "Newt Gingrich says government would impose 'Obamacare' standards on religious institutions," Jan. 31, 2012
PolitiFact's Obameter, "Insurance companies required to cover preventive care," Sept. 1, 2011
Washington Post, "Obama shifts course on birth control rule to calm Catholic leaders’ outrage," Feb. 10, 2012
Associated Press, "Romney clarifies his position on Blunt amendment," Feb. 29, 2012
CNSNews.com, "Romney says he’ll rescind contraception mandate, not just for religious institutions but everyone," Feb. 3, 2012
Talking Points Memo, "Romney wades back into contraception fight," April 13, 2012
PolitiFact, "There are many health insurance plans that will cover Viagra but won't cover birth-control medication," July 16, 2008
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