Obama vs. Romney 101: 5 differences on women's issues

President Obama won the women’s vote four years ago, and he’ll need to again to win reelection, given Mitt Romney’s strength among male voters. Here are some of the women’s issues on which the candidates differ.

2. Contraception

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    President Obama, accompanied by Sandra Fluke, waves at a campaign stop in Denver on Aug. 8. Fluke is a Georgetown law student who testified before Congress on the issue of contraception and insurance coverage.
    Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP
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Under the health-care reform law, insurance plans are required to cover contraception – including morning-after pills and sterilization – in employee health plans, though the law exempts churches, synagogues, etc. Not exempted are religiously affiliated institutions, such as schools and hospitals.

In response to the uproar, Obama announced that insurers would be required to cover contraceptive services free of charge for employees of such institutions, and thus the institutions themselves would not be paying for such services. But they have filed suit anyway, on the grounds that their First Amendment guarantee of religious freedom is violated.

Romney would sign a repeal of Obama's health-care law, and thus eliminate the guarantees of contraceptive coverage. He prefers to have insurance companies respond to market forces, not government mandates. Romney also supports eliminating federal funding of Planned Parenthood, because some affiliates provide abortions (though not with federal money).

Romney does not oppose the use of birth control. But when he abandoned his support of abortion rights in 2005, that had implications for the birth-control issue. He says he supports a constitutional amendment stating that life begins at conception, and because some forms of birth control – such as intra-uterine devices and morning-after pills – prevent implantation of a fertilized egg, some social conservatives believe they cause early miscarriages and should be banned.

As governor of Massachusetts, Romney did not restrict access to birth control, though in 2005, he vetoed an emergency contraception bill. His explanation: The drug the bill authorized would “terminate life after conception.”

The Romney campaign has declined to comment on the movement to pass state “personhood” amendments, which declare a fertilized human egg to be a legal person. The adoption of such amendments could outlaw some forms of birth control. 

In putting Rep. Paul Ryan – a conservative Catholic – on the GOP ticket, Romney has reinforced his shift to the right on social issues. Congressman Ryan has been involved in the “personhood” movement at the federal level. In 2009, he cosponsored a bill that stated that a fertilized egg has the same rights as a human being.  

Ryan rejects suggestions by the Obama campaign that a Romney administration would restrict access to birth control. “Nobody is proposing to deny birth control to anybody,” Ryan told a CBS affiliate Aug. 22.

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