GOP Rivals Pounce on Romney's 'Assault on Religion' Line

JOHNSTOWN, Colo. - Mitt Romney's Republican rivals pounced today on his accusations that President Obama has an "assault on religion" by forcing Catholic institutions to provide contraceptives and abortion services, suggesting it was a hypocritical statement.

Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum charged that Romney  made the same demands on Catholic facilities when he was the governor of Massachusetts and implemented his health care plan.

Romney kept up his attack on Obama's policies and Romney spokeswoman Andrea Saul dismissed the remarks by Gingrich and Santorum.

"We expect these attacks from President Obama and his liberal friends. But from Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum, it's a clear indication of desperation from their campaigns," said Saul.

In an oped today posted on Politico's website, Santorum wrote of Romney, "He said then that he believed 'in his heart of hearts' that receiving these contraceptives - free of charge - trumped employees' religious consciences. Now, a few years later and running for president, his heart is strategically aligned with religious voters opposing this federal mandate."

On the stump in Ohio, Gingrich also went after Romney.  "There's been a lot of talk about the Obama administration's attack on the Catholic church," said Gingrich. "Well the fact is Gov. Romney insisted that Catholic hospitals give out abortion pills against their religious belief when he was governor. So you have a very similar pattern again. Over and over you get the same pattern."

Mitt Romney continued his criticism of the Obama administration's mandate to require institutions - including those with church-affiliations - to provide contraception under their health care plans.

"Governor Romney stands with the Catholic Bishops and all religious organizations in their strenuous objection to this liberty- and conscience-stifling regulation," Saul said. "He is committed to repealing Obamacare entirely. On his first day in office, Mitt Romney will eliminate the Obama administration rule that compels religious institutions to violate the tenets of their own faith."

Romney kept up the assault on Obama at RV America Inc., where idle recreational vehicles sat outside, snow covered in the parking lot, waiting to be purchased.

"Remarkably, under this president's administration, there is an assault on religion, an assault on the conviction and the religious beliefs of members of our society," he said.

Romney said there have been several things the president has done that he finds "extraordinary," including his suggestions that the government, and not the church, should "be able to determine who their ministers were and who qualifies for the ministerial exception from certain laws."

Romney was referencing the case from earlier this year involving a religious school teacher who the Obama administration argued had a protected status because she had a disability. The Supreme Court later ruled that a religious school - and not the government - "must be free to choose those who will guide it on its way."

"It tells you something about the agenda of this administration," said Romney.

"And then a real blow, and particularly to our friends in the Catholic faith, which just in the last several days the administration has said that under Obamacare, that religious organizations… have to provide for free contraceptives and free 'morning-after' pills, abortive pills for all of their employees, in violation of the religious conscience of those organizations," he said.

Romney was referring to the decision by the Obama administration that would require employers at institutions, even those affiliated with a church, to include coverage for birth control and emergency contraceptives. The plan was pushed forward in January and is set to go into effect in August.

The issue was brought up again when leaders in Catholic churches across America read letters from the church's leadership on Sunday, Jan. 29, condemning the administration's policy.

"This kind of assault on religion will end if I'm president of the United States," said Romney.