(CNN) -- President Barack Obama on Tuesday tried to draw a distinction between himself and GOP challenger Mitt Romney on contraceptives. He boasted that Obama's Affordable Care Act gives insured women free contraception coverage, and said Romney thinks employers should decide whether women can get contraception through insurance.
Obama made the statements at Tuesday's presidential debate in Hempstead, New York. Romney, who has said he wants to repeal the Affordable Care Act and also takes issue with part of the contraceptive coverage rule, countered that Obama misrepresented his stance.
"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. 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. ... Gov. Romney not only opposed it, he suggested that in fact employers should be able to make the decision as to whether or not a woman gets contraception through her insurance coverage."
"I don't believe that bureaucrats in Washington should tell someone whether they can use contraceptives or not, and I don't believe employers should tell someone whether they can have contraceptive care or not. Every woman in America should have access to contraceptives, and the president's statement of my policy is completely and totally wrong."
To make sense of the statements, we should examine what the Affordable Care Act's contraceptives rule does, and what Romney has said he objects to.
The rule initially required most insurance plans to provide free contraception coverage to women. By August 2011, the rule was amended to exempt certain religious employers, such as churches, synagogues and other houses of worship, from offering such coverage.
But other religiously affiliated organizations, including colleges and hospitals, were not exempt, and religious groups objected.
So, in February, the Obama administration announced what it called a compromise in which free contraception coverage still must be offered to employees of religiously affiliated colleges and hospitals, but health insurers -- rather than the employers -- would have to cover the cost.
Churches and other houses of worship retained the full exemption, meaning women who worked there had no guarantee of full contraception coverage.
The requirement went into effect August 1, though the non-exempt religiously affiliated institutions such as colleges and hospitals can have up to August 1, 2013, to comply.
Some conservatives and religious groups, including some affiliated with the Catholic Church, continued to object, saying the rule still infringed on religious liberty and set a dangerous precedent by distinguishing between church and church-affiliated groups for conscience clauses.
Romney has said he would repeal the Affordable Care Act, which includes the contraceptives rule.
He also opposes the contraceptives rule specifically. In August, his campaign released a TV ad accusing Obama of mounting a "war on religion," saying that the health care law forces religious institutions to "go against their faith."
On February 10, the day the Obama administration announced the compromise, Romney said the rule still was "an assault on religious conviction," and suggesting that the insurance companies that would be forced to pay for contraception for employees of religiously affiliated colleges and hospitals could try to pass the cost on to the employers.
Around the same time, Romney said he supported a proposed amendment that would have allowed employers to opt out of providing health care coverage they disagreed with on moral grounds. The proposal, which was killed in the Senate in March, was Senate Republicans' response to the controversy over contraception and religious employers, though it didn't specifically mention contraception. The proposal stated that the health care act imposes requirements that infringe on the rights and conscience of insurers and plan sponsors, and it would have established that an entity refusing coverage on religious or moral grounds is not in violation of the law.
Obama's health care act does require most insurers to provide free contraception coverage to women, as described above. Romney, while not opposing the availability of contraception, opposes the contraception rule, arguing it forces some religious institutions to go against their faith.
CNN's Jason Hanna, Caleb Hellerman and Diane Laposta contributed to this report.