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Romney joins fight on contraception rules

Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney talks during a campaign rally in Grand Junction, Colorado, February 6, 2012. EMMANUEL DUNAND/AFP/Getty Images

CENTENNIAL, Colo. - With the U.S. economy improving, Mitt Romney is expanding his focus to other areas of attack against President Obama, and on Monday honed in on a social issue - contraception - that he has rarely discussed on the stump.

At a high school in Centennial, a Denver suburb, Romney took aim at recent regulations requiring women's contraceptive services to be covered by insurance policies under the Affordable Care Act. The Catholic Church had sought a broad exemption for the many Catholic institutions in the country to recognize its canonical opposition to artificial birth control. Instead, the Department of Health and Human Services excluded only religious employers that primarily employ members of their own faith communities.

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The exception protects those who work directly for Catholic churches, but not Catholic universities, hospitals or social-service agencies. Catholic bishops are pushing back on the issue, contending with some telling their parishes to "defend the faith" while others say they won't comply with it.

Although the White House has sought to point out that the policy does not require individuals to use or prescribe contraception, Romney charged it was an example of President Obama's war on religious liberty.

"Think what that does to people in faiths that do not share those views; this is a violation of conscience," he said. "We must have a president who is willing to protect America's first right, our right to worship God according to the dictates of our own conscience."

He added, "The Creator gave every human being his rights. I'm just distressed as I watch our president try and infringe upon our rights. The First Amendment of the Constitution provides the right to worship in the way of our own choice."

The Obama campaign swiftly took issue with Romney's remarks, noting that since 2002 -- when Romney became Massachusetts' governor -- the state has required health plans to cover contraception on the same terms as other outpatient services, and offered the same religious exemption as the Obama administration.

"It's the ultimate hypocrisy that Mitt Romney is hitting the president for the same birth control policy he oversaw and protected as governor," Obama's deputy campaign manager, Stephanie Cutter, said in a statement. "The problem for him is that women are on to him. The trust of voters is priceless in elections, and unfortunately for him it can't be bought."

Romney has never used such strong language talking about reproductive issues on the stump, and has generally avoided the topic in public. During a January debate, Romney brushed aside a question about whether he would support a state ban on the sale of contraceptive drugs and devices as a "silly" non-issue.

A Romney aide said the reason the subject was raised Monday because it was part of current events. The aide referenced an editorial in the Washington Examiner earlier in the week, in which he wrote: "My own view is clear. I stand with the Catholic bishops and all religious organizations in their strenuous objection to this liberty- and conscience-stifling regulation."

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