President Obama is taking flak from religious institutions and Republican presidential candidates over his decision to make employers, including Catholic universities and hospitals, cover contraception in their employees' health insurance plans. Hoping to avoid a backlash, White House aides are promising to look at ways to make the policy "more palatable" to religious-affiliated institutions. While many pundits claim this controversy will hurt Obama's re-election effort, others aren't so sure. Here, four reasons Obama's birth control mandate might actually help him secure a second term:
1. It exposes Mitt Romney to fresh flip-flopper charges
Romney, Obama's most likely Republican rival in the fall, has blasted Obama's plan as an "assault on religion." But that "wasn't exactly Flipper's position back in 2005," says John Aravosis at America Blog. Back then, a strongly pro-choice Romney was already "demanding that insurance companies cover contraceptives." Team Obama argues that "it's the ultimate hypocrisy that Mitt Romney is hitting the president for the same birth control policy he oversaw and protected as governor" of Massachusetts. A Public Policy Polling survey — commissioned, rather predictably, by Planned Parenthood — found that the issue is a net negative for Romney.
2. Republican candidates are infighting over the issue
Instead of focusing on Obama, Republicans are wounding each other over the contraception mandate. Rick Santorum has used the issue to "level one of his harshest attacks on Mitt Romney," says Jennifer Rubin at The Washington Post. According to Santorum, Romney "trounced on the fundamental right to religious freedom" with similar measures in Massachusetts. Romney's campaign accuses Santorum of twisting the facts. "We expect these attacks from President Obama and his liberal friends," a Romney spokeswoman said. "But from Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum, it's a clear indication of desperation from their campaigns."
3. It could help Obama win over women voters
Team Obama probably has good reason to believe that "any political damage will be limited" if the president says he's "on the side of women's rights," say Kathleen Hennessey and Christi Parsons at the Los Angeles Times. "The Susan G. Komen Foundation can attest to the volatility of family-planning politics," after the public outcry it faced over a plan to cut off funding to Planned Parenthood. "This is a country where voters, and particularly women voters, support affordable access to birth control," says Geoff Garin, a Democratic pollster.
4. And many Catholics actually agree with Obama
While more than 150 Roman Catholic bishops have criticized Obama's birth control mandate, a recent Public Religion Research Institute study found that American Catholics themselves "overwhelmingly support the new rules," says Lauren Fox at U.S. News & World Report. In fact, six in 10 U.S. Catholics support the requirement, making it even more popular among Catholics than in the general population.