Ohio News Network reporter Jim Heath tweeted that former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney told the network that he “would not vote for [the] Senate bill [that] would allow employers to deny coverage for birth control.”
The Blunt amendment, which is coming to vote on Thursday, would alter the 2010 health care reform law to allow employers to make just that decision. According to the amendment, its purpose it “To amend the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act to protect rights of conscience with regard to requirements for coverage of specific items and services.”
The amendment is largely seen as a response to the administration’s decision to use the law to force Catholic organizations to provide contraceptives — which go against the tenets of the Catholic Church — through their employee health care plans.
According to the Washington Post, the audio Heath recorded features Romney saying, “I’m not for the bill. But, look, the idea of presidential candidates getting into questions about contraception within a relationship between a man and a woman, husband and wife, I’m not going there.”
In a quick Twitter reply, Romney spokesman Andrea Saul tweeted, “Regarding the Blunt bill, the way the question was asked was confusing.”
The Washington Post reports that the recording Heath shared shows that he had said to Romney, “Blunt-Rubio is being debated later this week that deals with allowing employers to ban providing female contraception.”
The Catholic bishops’ cause has become a cause célèbre for conservatives, particularly Republican presidential primary runner-up Rick Santorum, who Romney defeated in the Michigan and Arizona primaries on Tuesday.
In a follow up tweet, Saul wrote, “Mitt Romney supports Blunt Bill because he believes in a conscience exemption in health care for religious institutions & people of faith.”
Though the blogosphere exploded following the report, some conservatives were slow to attack Romney. “It sounds like (and I hope) that it’s a case of him not knowing what the amendment is,” reads the Ace of Spades blog. “The reason I have doubts that he understands what he’s being asked about is that he has been conservative on this whole question of mandates and religious exceptions for conscience — again and again in debates has attacked Obama for this very thing.”
Romney has also made clear that, as president, he would repeal Obama’s health care overhaul.
Florida Republican Sen. Marco Rubio — who was also mentioned by Heath during his question — has put forth a similar amendment. Rubio was very supportive of Romney in his close Florida race with former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, and is seen as being on the short list for potential vice presidential candidates should Romney win the nomination. Rubio’s involvement added fuel to the speculation that Romney indeed did not understand the question.
The Washington Post’s Greg Sargent had a different take, writing before the Romney denial, “Perhaps Romney now feels confident enough in victory in the GOP primary that he’s willing to risk some ire from the base in order to begin his pivot to general election mode in advance of winning the nomination. The primary has exerted pressure on Romney to embrace positions that could alienate swing constituencies, and this one — which would have been risky for him to support — looks like a case where Romney wasn’t willing to take on more baggage. On the other hand, opposing it is also seemingly risky.”
Unless Romney is successful in nixng this controversy quickly, both Santorum and Gingrich will use it to pound him in upcoming primaries.