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Abortion, birth control becoming major campaign issues

GOP presidential hopefuls are attacking President Obama's order on contraception and Catholic institutions. But Mitt Romney also faces questions about his past support for abortion rights.

By Staff writer / February 4, 2012

U.S. Capitol Police officers stand guard between abortion rights and anti-abortion supporters at a rally in front of the United States Supreme Court in Washington during the annual March For Life rally Jan. 23, 2012.

Manuel Balce Ceneta/AP

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Whenever abortion becomes a heated political issue, you can be sure that religion is involved. The reverse also is true. Such is the case with the 2012 election season.

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Decisions the Obama administration has made regarding abortion have been targeted by Republican presidential candidates vying for the votes of social conservatives, including evangelical Christians. So too has the administration’s recent move on contraception, some kinds of which are considered by opponents to be a form of abortion.

Newt Gingrich accuses President Obama of waging a “war against religion” – specifically that it has “declared war” on the Roman Catholic Church – for (among other things) requiring Catholic hospitals and universities to provide contraception as part of employee health plans.

The Monitor's Weekly News Quiz for Jan. 27-Feb. 3, 2012

Employees at many of the church’s hospitals and universities are not Roman Catholic, and most Catholic women in the United States disagree with the church’s official opposition to the use of condoms and birth control pills. Nearly 70 percent of Catholic women use sterilization, the birth control pill, or an IUD, the Guttmacher Institute reported last year.

“No one is forcing Catholics to take contraceptives,” writes Keith Soko, associate professor of religious ethics and moral theology at St. Ambrose University in Davenport, Iowa, in a CNN opinion column. “It is a question of access, and hence, of justice.” (Professor Soko describes himself as “a Catholic theologian and lifelong Catholic.”)

But Mitt Romney says the Obama administration’s decision regarding Catholic hospitals and universities and contraception amounts to ordering religious organizations to “violate their conscience.” Priests around the country have read bishops’ letters at mass urging parishioners to object to the administration’s action, some warning that universities and hospitals affiliated with the church might have to close.

But the GOP front-runner’s position on birth control and abortion are a problem for him too.

As CBS’s Political Hotsheet reported last week, in 1994 Romney said "abortion should be safe and legal in this country," and in 2002 he said "I will preserve and protect a woman's right to choose, and am devoted and dedicated to honoring my word in that regard."

Gingrich and Rick Santorum (both of whom are Roman Catholic) have gone after Romney on the issue. A Gingrich campaign spot claims that as governor of Massachusetts Romney “signed government-mandated health care with taxpayer funded abortions.”

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