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Backlash Against Birth Control Mandate Might Aid President

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Anti-abortion groups gather in Washington, D.C., in January to protest the Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion. According to the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, abortion is now less of a galvanizing electoral issue.

A new federal mandate on birth control and the growing outcry against it might actually help President Barack Obama in the upcoming election.

Catholic leaders led by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops are urging their congregations to lobby Congress against the policy, which is part of the health care overhaul that the bishops also opposed.

The mandate announced last month would require religiously affiliated nonprofits, including Catholic universities and hospitals, to cover birth control in employee health care plans. Churches are exempt. Religious groups including the National Association of Evangelicals have rallied around the bishops.

“This is an attack on religious liberty,” Deirdre McQuade, spokeswoman for the bishops, said in an interview.

The Catholic Health Association, which supported Obama during the health care fight, released a statement saying its members “were profoundly disappointed.”

The fierce opposition is galvanizing another base to the policy’s defense, a bloc that could provide Obama with more votes and dollars for his re-election: women’s rights groups and their backers.

In recent days, organizations including Planned Parenthood, NARAL Pro-Choice America and EMILY’s List have rallied around the administration to counter the campaign led by the bishops.

“We need to stand with the White House and our allies,” NARAL President Nancy Keenan said. On Friday, her group sent more than 25,000 messages to the House defending the birth control policy.

The National Organization for Women, despite criticizing the policy for exempting churches, has also stepped up to defend Obama against the attacks. In December, the group blasted the White House for preventing emergency contraceptives from being sold over the counter.

“President Obama is a centrist. I want a president who is a flaming, feminist liberal like me, but he is a steppingstone,” NOW President Terry O’Neill said.

Such support could help the president’s re-election campaign. An incident involving Planned Parenthood last week demonstrated the political influence and money of this voting bloc.

Last week, the breast cancer awareness group Susan G. Komen for the Cure momentarily pulled funding from Planned Parenthood, which, in addition to abortions, provides cancer screenings to low-income women. Komen quickly reversed course after a barrage of criticism from Members of Congress, funders and the general public — but not before Planned Parenthood received more than $650,000 in donations from its defenders.

By taking a firm stance on birth control, Obama could galvanize liberal voters who have criticized him for being too moderate. On Monday, senior administration officials told reporters that access to free contraceptives is not negotiable.

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