Editor's note: This story has been updated throughout.
BETTENDORF, Iowa — U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz on Monday offered a spirited defense of Republicans on women's health issues, accusing Democrats of creating a phony "war on women" based on claims that his party wants to restrict access to birth control.
"The last I checked, we don't have a rubber shortage in America," the GOP presidential candidate said during a town hall here, responding to a question about the availability of contraception to women who want it.
"Look, when I was in college, we had a machine in the bathroom. You'd put 50 cents in and voila!" added Texas' junior senator, who attended Princeton University and Harvard Law School. "So yes, anyone who wants contraceptives can access them, but it is an utterly made-up, nonsense issue."
Cruz said the suggestion that Republicans want to ban contraceptives is spread by Democrats like former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton because their views on another issue important to women — abortion — are outside the mainstream. Cruz further speculated that Clinton, the frontrunner for the Democratic presidential nomination, has put the issue of birth control front and center because she is unable to run on the economy, health care reform and foreign policy.
"So what do you do?" Cruz asked. "You go, 'Aha! The condom police. I'm going to make up a completely made-up threat and try to scare a bunch of folks that are not paying a lot of attention into thinking someone's going to steal their birth control.'"
Cruz did not spare his fellow Republicans in his rant, accusing them of timidity in the face of Democratic criticism on women's health issues during the 2012 election cycle.
"When the war on women came up, Republicans would curl up in a ball," Cruz said. "They'd say, 'Don't hurt me!' Jiminy Cricket! This is a made-up, nonsense example."
The discussion elicited at times awkward laughter inside a reception hall in this eastern Iowa city. That was especially true when Cruz noted he and his wife, Heidi, have two young girls — and are "very glad we don't have 17."
Democrats pounced on Cruz's comments on contraception, saying his own positions are at odds with his assertion in Bettendorf that he has yet to encounter "anybody, any conservative, who wants to ban contraceptives." Clinton's campaign specifically pointed to his fight to cut off federal funding to Planned Parenthood and his vote to block legislation that would have protected women from being fired for using birth control.
"Ted Cruz’s colorful comments can’t hide his revisionist history on the sustained Republican effort to restrict access to women's health care," Clinton spokeswoman Christina Reynolds said in a statement. "As Cruz tries to police women’s health care decisions and deny a war on women, Hillary Clinton will fight every day to protect them against this seemingly endless Republican assault."
"Ted Cruz was right about one thing," added Kaylie Hanson, the DNC's director of women's media. "Republicans are 'completely puzzled' when it comes to women's health care."
Cruz's remarks on contraception came at the final event of a three-day, 14-stop swing through early voting Iowa.
Disclosure: Planned Parenthood was a corporate sponsor of The Texas Tribune in 2011. A complete list of Tribune donors and sponsors can be viewed here.