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Were Catholic Hospitals in Massachusetts Forced to Provide Morning-After Pills?

8:05 AM, Feb 24, 2012 • By JEFFREY H. ANDERSON
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During Wednesday night’s Republican debate, moderator John King said, “Governor Romney, both Senator Santorum and Speaker Gingrich have said during your tenure as governor, you required Catholic hospitals to provide emergency contraception to rape victims. And Mr. Speaker, you compared the governor to President Obama, saying he infringed on Catholics’ rights. Governor, did you do that?”

Mitt Romney

Romney replied, “Nope, absolutely not. Of course not. There was no requirement in Massachusetts for the Catholic Church to provide morning-after pills to rape victims. That was entirely voluntary on their part. There was no such requirement.”

Yet a headline in the Boston Globe on December 9, 2005 read, “Romney says no hospitals are exempt from pill law.” The first sentence of the corresponding article read, “Governor Mitt Romney reversed course on the state’s new emergency contraception law yesterday, saying that all hospitals in the state will be obligated to provide the morning-after pill to rape victims.”

Newt Gingrich, who looked puzzled and incredulous as Romney was speaking, replied,

“Well, the reports we got were quite clear that the public health department [of Massachusetts] was prepared to give a waiver to Catholic hospitals about a morning-after abortion pill, and that the governor’s office issued explicit instructions saying that they believed it wasn’t possible under Massachusetts law to give them that waiver.  Now, that was [in] the newspaper reports that came out.  That’s something that both Senator Santorum and I have raised before.”

The Boston Catholic Insider blog (courtesy of Quin Hillyer at the American Spectator) provides a much more detailed account of events, which essentially mirrors Gingrich’s understanding. The core of the account is as follows:

“On December 7, 2005, Romney’s Department of Public Health said that Catholic and other privately-run hospitals could opt out of giving the morning-after pill to rape victims because of religious or moral objections….

“On December 8, 2005 Romney reversed the legal opinion of his own State Department of Public Health, instructing all Catholic hospitals and others to provide the chemical Plan B ‘morning after pill’ to rape victims.”

On December 9, the Boston Globe headline appeared. 

The Globe reported:

“[Governor Romney’s] decision overturns a ruling made public this week by the state Department of Public Health that privately run hospitals could opt out of the requirement if they objected on moral or religious grounds.

“Romney had initially supported that interpretation, but he said yesterday [Thursday] that he had changed direction after his legal counsel, Mark D. Nielsen, concluded Wednesday that the new law supersedes a preexisting statute that says private hospitals cannot be forced to provide abortions or contraception.

“‘And on that basis, I have instructed the Department of Public Health to follow the conclusion of my own legal counsel and to adopt that sounder view,’ Romney said at the State House after signing a bill on capital gains taxes.”

The Globe continued:

“The interpretation that all hospitals must offer the pill could have the greatest impact on Catholic hospitals that do not provide emergency contraception because it violates their religious tenets….

“State Public Health Commissioner Paul Cote Jr. said in an interview Monday that his department felt strongly that the new emergency contraception law did not compel all hospitals to provide the morning-after pill.

“Romney said earlier through communications director…Eric Fehrnstrom that he supported the department’s ruling because it respected ‘the views of healthcare facilities that are guided by moral principles on this issue.’

“Asked yesterday to elaborate on that position, Romney said simply that the law was the law and that the state had to follow it.  The governor characterized his own beliefs about emergency contraception this way:  ‘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.’”

After responding to Romney in the debate, Gingrich made the broader point about the inevitable tension between liberty and centralized government power, saying:

“I want to go a step further, because this makes a point that Ron Paul has been making for a generation and that people need to take very seriously. When you have government as the central provider of services, you inevitably move towards tyranny, because the government has the power of force. You inevitably — and I think this is true whether it’s Romneycare or Obamacare or any other government centralized system — you inevitably move towards the coercion of the state and the state saying, ‘If you don’t do what we, the politicians, have defined, you will be punished either financially or you will be punished in some other way like going to jail.’ And that’s why we are, I think, at an enormous crossroads in this country.”

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