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White House, Romney spar over contraceptive proposal

White House press secretary Jay Carney engaged in a rare back-and-forth with GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney from the podium of his briefing room on Wednesday.

Carney, who hasn’t mentioned Romney by name in almost a month, was asked to comment on the former Massachusetts governor’s condemnation of the Obama administration’s new contraceptive coverage plan, after he slammed it Tuesday as an “an assault on religion.”

Noting that Massachusetts has the same contraceptive requirements and exceptions for churches as the proposed national rule, Carney called Romney an “odd messenger” for criticism. 

“The services that this rule would provide for women around the country are the same that are provided in Massachusetts and were provided under when he was governor, including contraception, including covered with no co-pay or deductible, and a religious exemption for houses of worship and churches and to church-controlled organizations such as parochial schools, but not to universities and hospitals.”

“This is, I think, ironic that Mitt Romney is… criticizing the president for pursuing a policy that's virtually identical to the one that was in place when he was governor of Massachusetts,” Carney said.

Carney has lately avoided criticizing the presumptive Republican frontrunner by name, responding to reporters’ questions about him only in general terms. He last mentioned “Governor Romney” in a briefing on January 12th, when he noted Romney’s opposition to the federal automobile bailout.

But Romney, who has made President Obama his chief target since announcing his presidential bid, shot back immediately at Carney, saying the spokesman should “check his history” and that the Massachusetts law mandating contraceptive coverage was put in place before he was governor and that he “worked very hard to get the legislature to remove all of the mandated coverages, including contraception.” (The White House noted that Carney did not, however, say Romney was responsible for the policies, only pointing out that they existed under his tenure). 

Romney did, in fact, veto a bill in 2005 that sought to expand access to the emergency contraception pill by allowing pharmacists to dispense it without a doctor’s prescription. But the bill became law anyway after a wide statehouse majority overrode the veto.   

Just a few months later, however, Romney’s public health commissioner ruled that Catholic and other privately run hospitals could opt out of the new law, which prompted Romney to say that he believed rape victims should always have access to emergency contraception.

“My personal view, in my heart of hearts, is that people who are subject to rape should have the option of having emergency contraception or emergency contraception information,’’ he said at the time according to the Boston Globe.