The Republican presidential candidates denounced the Obama administration’s contraception mandate as an attack on family and religious freedom, which they described as fundamental pillars of society.
“I don’t think we’ve seen in the history of this country the kind of attack on religious conscience, religious freedom, religious tolerance that we’ve seen under Barack Obama,” said former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney.
At a Feb. 22 debate at the Mesa Arts Center in Mesa, Ariz., the candidates condemned a federal mandate that would require employers to offer health-insurance plans that include contraception, sterilization and abortion-inducing drugs, even if doing so violates their consciences.
Although the Obama administration has offered an “accommodation” for religious freedom, the U.S. bishops and many other religious groups are not satisfied with it. The accommodation would require employers to purchase health-care plans from insurance companies that would offer the controversial products and procedures free of charge.
Romney called the mandate “unbelievable” and said that the “accommodation” offered by the administration was “not appropriate” because “obviously the Catholic Church will end up paying” for the coverage it opposes.
“This isn’t an argument about contraceptives,” but, rather, a discussion about whether America will preserve “the foundation of the nation, which is the family,” he said.
Romney criticized the Obama administration’s narrow view of religion and defended his own record of working with religious organizations to ensure that the law allowed them to practice their beliefs freely.
In his remarks, former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum said that there is a need to fix the broader problem: that “the family is fracturing” in America.
“What we’re seeing is a problem in our culture,” he explained.
While campaigning, Santorum has said that he is willing to speak about issues that most other politicians avoid, such as “the dangers of contraception.”
During the debate, he explained that the decline of the American family must be addressed rather than ignored because it is negatively impacting society.
More than 40% of children in America are born out of wedlock, many of them to young parents, he observed. When we have “children being raised by children,” there is a greater risk of poverty, drug abuse and other problems, he said.
He advocated funding for abstinence programs rather than contraception as a means of easing these problems in society.
Former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich and Texas Congressman Ron Paul also weighed in on the debate.
Gingrich said that there was a “legitimate question about the power of the government to impose on religion.”
Paul, a former obstetrician-gynecologist, agreed that moral problems are affecting the culture of America. “It’s the morality of society that we have to deal with,” he said, adding that “the pills can’t be blamed.”
He later claimed during the debate that “the morning-after pill is nothing more than a birth-control pill,” and so “you can’t separate the two.” Paul drew criticism, however, for misrepresenting the morning-after pill, which, unlike contraception, terminates a pregnancy that already exists by preventing a fertilized egg from attaching to the uterus.
The four remaining GOP candidates have all describe themselves as pro-life during their campaigns and have vowed to defund Planned Parenthood.
They have also pledged to defend the religious freedom of Catholics and all Americans in their policies.