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Romney Tries To Soften Birth Control Message

President Obama and GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney sparred over birth control, among other things, at the second presidential debate Tuesday in Hempstead, N.Y.
Carolyn Kaster
President Obama and GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney sparred over birth control, among other things, at the second presidential debate Tuesday in Hempstead, N.Y.

GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney has been firmly anti-abortion during this campaign.

But during Tuesday's debate on Long Island, N.Y., Romney charged that President Obama misrepresented his position on birth control. Here's what Obama said, during what began as a discussion of pay equity for women:

"When Gov. Romney says that we should eliminate funding for Planned Parenthood, there are millions of women all across the country who rely on Planned Parenthood for, not just contraceptive care, they rely on it for mammograms, for cervical cancer screenings. That's a pocketbook issue for women and families all across the country."

Romney didn't directly address the Planned Parenthood issue — though he has said repeatedly he wants it defunded. But he did complain about what Obama seemed to be implying.

"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."

Obama has used both birth control and abortion as wedge issues for months, in an effort to woo female voters. And he has been leading with women.

In fact, a new Gallup poll of voters in a dozen swing states found that abortion is the top concern for women, vastly outperforming jobs, health care and the economy.

But it's a balancing act for both candidates because Obama's requirement that most health insurance plans pay for contraceptive coverage is unpopular with the Catholic Church — and so with some Catholic voters in those swing states.

Romney, on the other hand, is strongly with the church and against the birth-control mandate, along with his proposal to defund Planned Parenthood. He actually got in trouble earlier in the spring when he initially suggested he would not support a Senate amendment to overturn the birth control requirement.

But birth control is popular, as is Planned Parenthood, which gets some 40 percent of its funding from federal and state governments.

So now Romney is out with a new ad.

"You know, those ads saying Mitt Romney would ban all abortions and contraception seemed a bit extreme, so I looked into it," says a woman identified as Sarah Minto. "Turns out Romney doesn't oppose contraception at all. In fact, he thinks abortion should be an option in cases of rape, incest, or to save a mother's life."

The ad is not that surprising given that recent polls show a narrowing of the gender gap, with Romney catching up with women.

But women's health groups are not amused.

"This is an ad designed to deceive women," said Planned Parenthood Action Fund Executive Vice President Dawn Laguens. "The Romney team knows that Mitt Romney's real agenda for women's health is deeply unpopular — ending safe and legal abortion, ending Planned Parenthood's preventive care that millions of people rely on, and repealing the Affordable Care Act and the coverage of birth control with no copay."

Romney spokeswoman Andrea Saul denied that there is anything misleading in the ad.

"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," she said in an email. "The President wants bureaucrats to make that decision for all Americans, even where it violates their religious liberty. Governor Romney does not."

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