One of the most-discussed aspects of this week’s debate between President Barack Obama and Republican nominee Mitt Romney is that Romney has apparently shifted his position on contraception. Here is the relevant exchange:

Obama: a major difference in this campaign is that Governor 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. Governor 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. 

RomneyI’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 — and the — and the president’s statement of my policy is completely and totally wrong.

Most people took this as a sign that Romney has moved from opposing to supporting a new federal rule requiring all non-church employers or health insurance providers to cover or else arrange free coverage for preventative health services such as birth control; and from supporting to opposing the failed Blunt Amendment, which would have allowed employers and health insurance providers to exclude any coverage that they deem immoral or contrary to their religious beliefs.

Yet I think a careful reading of Romney’s statement suggests that he has not shifted whatsoever. Romney did not say that employers and health insurance providers should be compelled to cover contraception, or that politicians are wrong to pass legislation protecting them from having to do so. All Romney said was that contraception should be legal and available, and that politicians and employers should not control a woman’s decision to access and use such care. This might sound nicer than Romney’s previous statements on this issue, but it would not mark a shift from his previous position — that contraception should be legal and available, but that no person or organization should be forced to give it out. 

Or am I missing something? Let me know.

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