Cecile Richards, president of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, said that she was traveling in Texas Tuesday when she read about Mitt Romney's promise to "get rid of" Planned Parenthood in order to cut the deficit.
"I was really stunned to read that Mitt Romney has now said he wants to get rid of Planned Parenthood, because really what that means is he wants to get rid of preventative health care for 3 million folks every year," Richards told reporters on Wednesday.
"It shows an extraordinary lack of understanding of family planning and the budget to say one of the ways he's going save money in this country is by ending birth control and family planning," she added. "The most conservative economist will tell you that family planning saves money. It saves taxpayers money. It's ludicrous to think that Mitt Romney, who is running for president of the United States, thinks we're going to balance the budget by ending birth control access in this country."
Former Massachusetts Gov. Romney has previously expressed his opposition to the federal funding of Planned Parenthood, the nation's largest family planning provider, and his opposition to the Title X federal family planning program, but his comments on Tuesday made it sound like he wanted to axe the provider altogether.
"Of course you get rid of Obamacare, that's the easy one, but there are others," Romney told a reporter in Missouri when asked how to balance the budget. "Planned Parenthood, we're going to get rid of that."
For Romney to now say that he wants to "get rid" of Planned Parenthood seems to contradict his prior positions, when he sought Planned Parenthood's endorsement during his run for governor, attended a fundraiser for the family planning provider and filled out a survey in which he said he supported state-funded abortions for low-income women.
Planned Parenthood has become a lightning rod for political controversy over the fact that some of its clinics provide abortions. But it also provides affordable contraception, STD testing, cancer screenings and maternity care to millions of low-income, uninsured and medically underserved men and women across the country, and all of the federal money it receives go to health services that are not related to abortion.
The Romney campaign quickly clarified the candidate's comment, noting that Romney did not mean to say that he would get rid of the whole organization -- just that he would "have to make some tough decisions about spending."
But Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.) told reporters on Wednesday that she isn't buying that argument.
"If Mitt Romney could get rid of Planned Parenthood, he absolutely would do that," Schakowsky said. "The most he can do, the best he can do, is get rid of federal funding, which will still have a significant effect on women in this country. When he said get rid of it, he meant he would do whatever he could to get rid of it -- I think it's really not a true difference in meaning."
She continued, "Because this is a person who in 2002 sought the endorsement of Planned Parenthood, he's working harder than anyone else to convince them he's more extreme than anyone else when it comes to being against Planned Parenthood."
"He feels like he has further to go in order to persuade voters he's really the conservative candidate."