When it comes to the contraception debate, Democrats and Republicans have dug their trenches and settled in for a long battle. The latest skirmish Thursday morning was an unofficial hearing held by Democratic Steering and Policy Committee to hear testimony in support of the administration’s contraception rule.
Both sides think this is a winning issue for them. Thursday’s hearing featured the testimony of Sandra Fluke, a third year law student at Georgetown University Law Center, a Jesuit university which does not cover contraception in its student health care plan. Democrats had asked that Fluke testify at a House Oversight Committee hearing last week but the committee chairman Rep. Darrell Issa said she was not an “appropriate” or “qualified” witness. The uproar Democrats caused over her exclusion, and the all-male panel that did testify, helped them promote their message that the GOP does not care about women.
In Fluke’s testimony, she told the story of a fellow law school student who required access to the pill in order to deal with a medical condition. Not being able to afford it, because it wasn’t provided on the health care plan, the student wound up losing an ovary.
The fact that Democrats keep returning to the contraception issue means they think Republicans’ objection to Fluke appearing last week has ultimately worked in Democrats’ favor. Fluke’s testimony and the all-male panel she was not allowed to appear on have become a rallying cry — and key fundraising issue — for Democrats. Wednesday night, when Republicans objected to having Congressional cameras film Democrats’ hearing, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee fired off a fundraising email accusing Republicans of censoring them. When the hearing concluded, DCCC sent out another fundraising email from Pelosi, saying “they want to silence us. Let’s take this moment to show that our voices are too powerful to be censored.”
Jess McIntosh, Deputy Communications Director at EMILY’s List, says the response her organization has seen on this issue is “off the charts.” EMILY’s List, which raises money for pro-choice, Democratic women candidates, taped an ad about the panel and sent out an email to supporters about the ad. It raised more than $100,000 in under 24 hours. The DCCC’s email after the hearing was gunning for $1 million.
It seems that Democrats are on to something because polls show women voters moving increasingly into their column over the last few weeks. A Quinnipiac poll released Thursday morning shows a large number of women voters have moved away from Mitt Romney since he began slamming the administration’s contraception rule as an affront to religious liberty. His favorability among women voters has plunged into negative territory in just over a month.
Of course, Republicans have embraced this issue because they, too, think it serves them well politically. By framing the issue as a question of religious liberty, Republicans may be looking at the Catholic vote as is a key swing constituency they can peel off in 2012. Recent polls show 52% of Catholic voters supporting the requirement, though that still leaves a fairly large chunk for the GOP to target. House Republicans are planning a second hearing, this time in the by the House Judiciary Committee, to again discuss the rule as an issue of religious freedom.
Correction as of 6:30pm: An earlier version of this article incorrectly cited polls as showing that 52% of Catholic voters oppose the requirement, when in fact 52% support it. TPM regrets the error.
Pema Levy is a News Writer at TPM covering the 2012 election. Before coming to TPM, Pema was an assistant editor at The American Prospect where she wrote about politics and the economy.