Contraception is hardly a controversial issue for the average U.S. citizen. But, as opponents of President Barack Obama's health care reform law single-out out any portion of the legislation that even has a chance of being overturned, conservative Republicans are claiming a mandate requiring health insurance plans to cover contraceptives is indicative of the president's disdain for religion.

The Republican presidential nominees have jumped on the anti-contraception bandwagon, iching for any opportunity to discredit the president -- and secure votes from the Christian right -- as the GOP primary race continues to drag on. Requiring religious schools and hospitals to provide employees with free access to birth control through their health insurance plans is, according to conservatives and the Roman Catholic Church, an attack on those institutions' religious beliefs.

Morover, the Republican nominees don't seem to mind lambasting a mandate that a majority of Americans actually agree with. Fifty-six percent of Americans support the administration's contraception rule, according to a survey by Public Policy Polling, which found that more than half (53 percent ) of Catholics support the mandate. Another poll from the Public Religion Research Institute determined that Catholics, the group conservatives are running behind to justify their criticism, were more likely to support the Obama mandate than the average American. That's probably because 98 percent of sexually active Catholics already use birth control, according to the Guttmacher Institute -- and that doesn't include the natural family planning method.

It's unsurprising that among the Republican presidential hopefuls, Rick Santorum, purportedly a lifelong Catholic, and Newt Gingrich, who converted to Catholicism at the behest of his third wife, have adamantly insisted the birth control policy is an infringement of religious liberty.

Once Upon a Time, Romney was a Planned Parenthood Supporter

The case for Mitt Romney, the presumed presidential nominee until Santorum's primary sweep on Tuesday, is much more interesting.  Romney, whose political dreams would have been dashed if he had run for governor of Massachusetts on the anti-abortion, contraception-questioning platform he advocates today, has been all over the map when it comes to his position on birth control and women's reproductive rights.

Before he demonized Planned Parenthood as simply an institution that provides abortions, the Romney family donated small sums to the non-profit organization and even attended fundraising events.

Both Mitt and Ann Romney attended a Massachusetts Planned Parenthood fundraiser in 1994, during Romney's unsuccessful bid for the U.S. Senate. According to multiple reports, Ann Romney made a $150 contribution to the organization from the couple's joint checking account that year. As has been widely reported, the donation occurred when Romney was running on a pro-choice platform in an attempt to unseat U.S. Sen. Edward M. Ted Kennedy, the liberal Bay State icon, from his long-held seat.

In 2007, when Romney was disassociating himself from his pro-choice history while launching his 2008 presidential campaign, The Boston Globe published a photo of the candidate at the 1994 Planned Parenthood event that reportedly came from Nicki Nichols Gamble, the former president and chief executive of the Planned Parenthood League of Massachusetts.

In 2002, Romney signed a Planned Parenthood of Massachusetts pledge where he said he supported the Supreme Court's Roe v. Wade decision, advocated contraception education in public schools, and expressed support for expanding access to emergency contraception.

Made No Objection to Identical Contraception Requirement in Massachusetts

When campaigning in Colorado this week, Romney said the health care reform law's birth control mandate uses Obamacare to impose a secular vision on Americans.

However, when Massachusetts enacted a contraceptive equity law requiring insurers to cover all FDA-approved contraceptive methods in 2002 -- the very year he was campaigning for governor -- he was mum on the issue. Like the current regulation, the law exempted churches from the mandate, but required affiliated institutions such as hospitals, universities and nursing homes to provide that coverage for employees.

The Romney of today would have accused the Romney of yester-year of ordering religious organizations to violate their conscience, an accusation the candidate threw at president Obama earlier this week.  In 2005, as governor, Romney required all Massachusetts hospitals, including Catholic institutions, to provide emergency contraception to rape victims, even though some conservative Catholics view the morning-after pill as a form of abortion.

Granted, he initially tried to veto the bill. But, once his veto was overruled by the legislature, he reportedly said that in his heart of hearts he believed people who are subject to rape should have the option of having emergency contraception or emergency contraception education, according to The Boston Globe.

Does Romney Actually Profit from Contraception Sales?

Romney's Goldman Sachs 2002 Exchange Place Fund is invested in multiple pharmaceutical companies that produce birth control pills and emergency contraception, according to an examination of his financial records by the liberal blog Think Progress.

Those companies include Watson Pharmaceuticals, a company that manufacturers the morning-after pills known as Next Choice and Ella -- products Romney has called abortifacients.

The same fund has investments in Johnson & Johnson, which launched the first U.S. prescription birth control product in 1931; Merck, the producer of the NuvaRing, and Pfizer, a manufacturer that recently recalled about a million packs of birth control pills that were not packaged properly.

The Associated Press reports another Romney trust sold almost 900 shares of Teva Pharmaceutical -- the producer of Plan B One-Step -- stock in 2010.

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