In discussions about tax cuts, workplace inequalities, differences between Romney and George W. Bush and earning votes for re-election, Obama found ways to underscore Romney's pledge to cut federal funding for Planned Parenthood.
"We haven't heard from the governor any specifics, beyond Big Bird and eliminating funding for Planned Parenthood, in terms of how he pays for that," Obama said at Hofstra University in Hempstead, N.Y., regarding Romney's plan for reducing the nation's $16 trillion debt while lowering tax rates.
Planned Parenthood, in the latest statistics available, reported performing 329,445 abortions in 2010 and received $487.4 million in government funds in 2009-10. In this election season, Obama launched a television ad campaign that made his pro-choice views a major theme. No previous Democratic nominee had ever made abortion a major general election theme in TV ads.
The debate, with a town hall format and CNN's Candy Crowley as moderator, included a question about workplace inequalities, specifically regarding women.
In his response, Obama said women increasingly are the breadwinners in the family and therefore need advocacy such as the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, which was the first bill he signed into law.
"This is not just a women's issue. This is a family issue," Obama said. "This is a middle class issue, and that's why we've got to fight for it."
The president noted "there are some other issues that have a bearing on how women succeed in the workplace: for example, their health care."
"A major difference in this campaign is that Gov. Romney feels comfortable having politicians in Washington decide the health care choices that women are making," Obama said. "I think that's a mistake. In my health care bill, I said insurance companies need to provide contraceptive coverage to everybody who is insured, because this is not just a health issue; it's an economic issue for women. It makes a difference. This is money out of that family's pocket."
Romney, Obama said, believes employers should decide whether a woman receives contraception through her insurance coverage. "That's not the kind of advocacy that women need. When Gov. Romney says that we should eliminate funding for Planned Parenthood, there are millions of women all across the country who rely on Planned Parenthood for not just contraceptive care," Obama said. "They rely on it for mammograms, for cervical cancer screenings. That's a pocketbook issue for women and families all across the country.
Romney, in his answer regarding workplace inequality, said Massachusetts when he was governor had more women in senior leadership positions than any other state because of special efforts he made to employ qualified women.
"I recognized that if you're going to have women in the workforce, that sometimes they need to be more flexible. My chief of staff, for instance, had two kids that were still in school," Romney said. "She said, 'I can't be here until 7 or 8 at night. I need to be able to get home at 5 so I can be there for making dinner for my kids and being with them when they get home from school.' So we said, 'Fine, let's have a flexible schedule so you can have hours that work for you.'"
Romney noted that 3.5 million more women live in poverty in the United States now than when Obama became president, and he said a strong economy will help women of all ages.
The president worked in another mention of Planned Parenthood when he was asked what he had done to earn re-election in 2012.
"Gov. Romney has made some commitments as well, and I suspect he'll keep those, too. You know, when members of the Republican Congress say, 'We're going to sign a no tax pledge so that we don't ask a dime from millionaires and billionaires to reduce our deficit so we can still invest in education and helping kids go to college,' he said, 'Me too,'" Obama said.
"When they said, 'We're going to cut Planned Parenthood funding,' he said, 'Me too.' ... That is not the kind of leadership that you need, but you should expect that those are promises he's going to keep," Obama said of Romney.
Another discussion of family arose from a question on gun control. When asked what his administration has done to limit the availability of assault weapons, Obama said more enforcement is needed but also that law enforcement and faith groups should work to "catch violent impulses before they occur."
Romney agreed, saying America needs to change its culture of violence through better schools and through parents.
"We need moms and dads helping raise kids. Wherever possible, the benefit of having two parents in the home -- and that's not always possible; a lot of great single moms, single dads," Romney said. "But ... to tell our kids that before they have babies, they ought to think about getting married to someone -- that's a great idea because if there's a two-parent family, the prospect of living in poverty goes down dramatically. The opportunities that the child will be able to achieve increase dramatically.
"So we can make changes in the way our culture works to help bring people away from violence and give them opportunity and bring them in the American system," Romney said.
In the closing question, the candidates were given an opportunity to clear up misconceptions the American public may have about them based on their opponents' campaigns.
Romney said he cares about 100 percent of the American people and wants everyone to have a bright and prosperous future.
"My passion probably flows from the fact that I believe in God, and I believe we're all children of the same God. I believe we have a responsibility to care for one another," Romney said. "I served as a missionary for my church. I served as a pastor in my congregation for about 10 years. I've sat across the table from people who were out of work and worked with them to try and find new work or to help them through tough times."
Obama's only mention of faith in his answer was about Romney.
"I believe Gov. Romney is a good man. He loves his family, cares about his faith," Obama said.
Erin Roach is assistant editor of Baptist Press. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress), Facebook (Facebook.com/BaptistPress ) and in your email ( baptistpress.com/SubscribeBP.asp).
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