(CNSNews.com) - At Wednesday's CNN-hosted debate in Arizona, former Mass. Gov. Mitt Romney firmly denied requiring Catholic hospitals to provide emergency contraception to rape victims, a statement that drew skepticism from one of his rivals.
"No, absolutely not. Of course not," Romney responded to the question. "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," he insisted.
But as CNSNews.com has reported, Romney -- in his third year as governor of Massachusetts -- decided that Catholic hospitals would be required, under his interpretation of a new state law, to give rape victims a drug that can induce abortions. In announcing the decision, Romney said in his personal view, "it's the right thing for hospitals to provide information and access to emergency contraception to anyone who is a victim of rape."
But at Wednesday's debate, Romney noted that the health care plan he instituted in Massachusetts "says people don't have to have coverage for contraceptives or other type of medical devices which are contrary to their religious teachings. Churches also don't have to provide that to entities which are either the church themselves or entities they control. So we have provisions that make sure that something of that nature does not occur."
Romney's denial drew skepticism from former House Speaker Newt Gingrich.
"Well, the reports we got were quite clear that the (Mass.) public health department 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 the newspaper reports that came out."
Gingrich also raised a larger point: "When you have government as the central provider of services, you inevitably move towards tyranny, because the government has the power of force. (Applause) 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."
Rep. Ron Paul said there's no difference between the morning-after pill and birth control pills: "They're all basically the same, hormonally."
Paul then attacked former Sen. Rick Santorum for voting for Planned Parenthood funding, saying it's the same as voting for birth control pills: "And you literally, because funds are fungible, you literally vote for abortions because Planned Parenthood gets the money -- 'Oh, I'll buy birth control pills,' but then they have the money left over to do the abortion."
Santorum said he opposes Title X (Planned Parenthood) funding -- "but it's included in a large appropriation bill that includes a whole host of other things, including the funding for the National Institutes of Health, the funding for Health and Human Services and a whole bunch of other departments. It's a multi-billion-dollar bill." He was booed for his response.
Later, Santorum explained he had voted for an appropriations bill that included items he didn't like: As president, he insisted, "I will not sign any appropriation bill that funds Planned Parenthood."