Mitt Romney appeared to reverse himself Wednesday on whether he supported Republican legislation seeking a "conscience" exemption on employee contraception coverage -- first saying he opposed the measure, then later clarifying he backed it.
The measure in question is known as the Blunt amendment, proposed by Republican Sen. Roy Blunt of Missouri. It would allow any employer to opt out of covering a medical treatment they find morally objectionable, in particular the Obama administration's mandate that Catholic institutions cover contraception for their female employees.
In an interview Wednesday with the Ohio News Network, Romney was asked if he supported Blunt's legislation.
“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 women, husband and wife, I’m not going there," he said.
The Romney campaign now is pushing back against the report, saying the interviewer's question was phrased in a confusing manner – the reporter said the bill “bans” contraception, when in fact it just allows employers to “refuse” providing treatment.
“He’s brought contraception into this campaign,” the interviewer asked, referring to the President Obama. “The issue of birth control, contraception, Blunt-Rubio is being debated, I believe, later this week. It deals with banning or allowing employers to ban providing female contraception. Have you taken a position on it?”
Romney's campaign responded later Wednesday by saying the question was "confusing."
Saul said in a statement. “Governor Romney supports the Blunt Bill because he believes in a conscience exemption in health care for religious institutions and people of faith," Romney spokeswoman Andrea Saul said.
Even so, Romney’s confusion could be seized upon by his GOP rivals to paint him as a habitual flip-flopper. Rick Santorum was the first to pounce, saying that before Romney was against it, he was for it as Massachusetts governor.
"When Mitt Romney had the chance, he forced Massachusetts Catholic hospitals to go against their private beliefs and provide 'morning-after' abortion pills to patients," a campaign spokesperson said. "All the candidates are entitled to make misstatements here and there, but this is a much deeper issue."
Earlier this month when a controversial decision by the Obama administration was unveiled to force all employers - including religious organizations and religiously affiliated businesses – to provide contraception coverage to employees, Romney lambasted the decision, saying, “There’s been an attack launched on religion in this country and on conscience in this country, and if I’m president that will end.”
The Obama administration has since offered an "accommodation," shifting the responsibility for such contraceptive coverage from religious institutions to insurers.
The amendment introduced by Blunt is attached to a transportation bill working its way through Congress.
Senate Democrats are considering shelving Blunt's measure when it comes up Thursday.