Obama and Romney disagree on contraception in second presidential debate

BMJ 2012; 345 doi: (Published 22 October 2012) Cite this as: BMJ 2012;345:e7112
  1. Janice Hopkins Tanne
  1. 1New York

Barack Obama has cast women’s decisions about healthcare issues, such as contraception and abortion, together with equal pay for women as a family and economic issue in the second presidential debate on 16 October.

In an appeal to women voters the president pointed out that he and his sister had been raised by a single mother who had put herself through university and that his grandmother, who had only a high school education, had become vice president of a bank even though she had to train men who were promoted above her.

Mitt Romney countered that as governor of Massachusetts he had told his staff to seek qualified women candidates for office when he was presented only with the names of men.

On health issues Obama said, “Governor Romney feels comfortable having politicians in Washington decide the healthcare choices that women are making. I think that’s a mistake. In my healthcare bill I said insurance companies need to provide contraceptive coverage to everybody who is insured, because this is not just 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.” The president’s Affordable Care Act required that contraception be covered as an essential service by insurance plans.1 Obama has previously said that he supported women’s ability to make their own decisions about abortion.

Romney had previously supported legislation—which failed—that would have allowed employers to decide not to provide contraceptive coverage in health insurance plans if they had moral or religious objections.

In the debate Romney said, “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 can have contraceptive care or not. Every woman in America should have access to contraceptives.”

However, as fact checkers soon pointed out, when Romney was governor of Massachusetts he vetoed legislation that would have required hospitals to provide the emergency contraceptive pill to women who had been raped.

Obama also said that Romney had promised to eliminate funding for the Planned Parenthood Federation. He said, “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 screening. That’s a pocketbook issue for women and families. It makes a difference in terms of how well and effectively women are able to work.

“When we talk about child care and the [tax] credits that we’re providing, that makes a difference in terms of whether they can go out there and earn a living for their family. These are not just women’s issues. These are family issues. These are economic issues. And one of the things that makes us grow as an economy is when everybody participates and women are getting the same fair deal as men are.”

The president said that he wanted the same opportunities for his two daughters as for anybody’s sons, alluding to the fact that Romney has five sons.


Cite this as: BMJ 2012;345:e7112