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Blunt Amendment Fails. Will Romney Go Down With It?

Mitt Romney is stuck in another damaging news cycle over another apparent flip-flop. But, for a change, I’m going to defend him – at least on the flip-flop charge.

During a televised interview in Ohio on Wednesday, Romney took a question about the Blunt amendment. The amendment, which the Senate just voted down moments ago, would have allowed employers to opt out of the requirement to cover contraception – or any medical service – if they have a moral or religious objection. Romney said he opposed the bill, setting off a firestorm on the right and prompting Romney to make very clear, in a subsequent radio interview, that “of course I support the Blunt amendment.” The problem, Romney said, was that he had misunderstood the question during that television interview. You can see both exchanges in the above video, which ThinkProgress put together.

Romney critics, including campaign rival Rick Santorum, were quick to shout "flip-flop." And that would certainly be consistent with Romney’s history on, say, universal health care or the rescue of Chrysler and General Motors. But, in this case, I think Romney’s got a point.

The original question referred to a “ban” on contraception. And while allowing employers to opt out of the birth control requirement will indeed reduce access to birth control, that’s not tantamount to banning it. It’s possible to believe that birth control should be available but also believe the law should not require employers to pay for insurance that covers it.

Of course, Romney has another flip-flop problem. As Igor Volsky of Think Progress points out, Romney “opposed such broad conscience exemptions as governor of Massachusetts. But let's leave that aside. The bigger issue here ought to be the proposal itself – and Romney’s willingness to defend it.

Most Americans believe health insurance should cover birth control. So does the Institute of Medicine, citing evidence of that contraception has considerable medical benefits. That’s why the Administration has decided that contraception should be part of the basic insurance package to which all Americans will soon be entitled.

The Administration has tried to accommodate the objections of religious leaders, by vowing to construct a system in which religious employers do not pay directly for birth control with their own money. But that's not enough for supporters of the Blunt amendment. Remember, that proposal would have allowed an employer to override the insurance requirement altogether, thereby depriving their workers of birth control coverage – or any other coverage –  the employer finds objectionable.

Romney's support for that proposal matters a lot more than whether he committed yet another flip-flop.