"I don't think bureaucrats in Washington should tell someone whether they can use contraceptives or not," Mitt Romney said in last night's town hall debate, "and I don't believe employers should tell someone whether they have contraceptive care or not. Every woman in America should have access to contraceptives."
That stood in apparent contrast to his earlier promise to abolish the Obamacare contraceptive coverage mandate "on day one" of his presidency — abolishing the mandate would, in essence, mean that employers could tell people whether they had contraceptive care or not, at least under their employee health plans. This statement looked like another move to the center for Romney, and perhaps a concession to Obama, given that the President repeatedly hammered home his support for Planned Parenthood and Romney's plans to defund it.
But that's not how some opponents of the mandate see it. "There is no contradiction between getting rid of the mandate and women having access to contraception, because women already have access to contraception," says Kyle Duncan, general counsel of the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, which has helped mount several legal challenges to the mandate. He argues that women across the country already have access to affordable contraception (before the mandate, copays for birth control ranged from around $15 a month for some pills to hundreds of dollars for a long-acting IUD, plus the cost of a doctor's visit to prescribe them; if employers could opt out of birth control coverage entirely, costs might be higher). He says the employers the Becket Fund represents don't care if their employees use birth control, as long as they don't have to subsidize the cost. Their position: "our employees can do whatever they want, we just don't want to have to pay for it."
Marilyn Musgrave, director of government relations for the anti-abortion group Susan B. Anthony List, says that on contraceptive coverage, "I do not believe that Romney has shifted his position whatsoever." She said Romney's statement in the debate didn't mean he supported requiring companies to cover contraception: he was "really trying to say that the government doesn't need to be involved in these things and neither do businesses." "It's not a shift," she said — "it was really a clarification."
Some in favor of the contraception coverage mandate didn't believe Romney had changed positions either. At last night's debate, Planned Parenthood Action Fund president Cecile Richards, who has taken some time off from her PPAF duties to campaign for Obama, told reporters Romney had misled voters "by saying that he supported women getting access to contraception. He does not." She cited Romney's pledge to overturn the Affordable Care Act (of which the mandate is a part): "that’s the one protection women have now, that they won’t be charged more for insurance, that they won’t be blocked from getting birth control coverage, and that they won’t be blocked from getting insurance because of a preexisting condition. Case closed."
So if Romney was trying to move to the center on contraception, he may not have convinced the right or the left.