- Associated Press - Tuesday, October 23, 2012

The issue:

Whether women have access to abortion services and birth control is a long-standing and divisive issue in politics, and it has flared up from time to time in this campaign despite the candidates’ reticence to dwell on such hot-button topics.


Where they stand:

President Barack Obama supports access to abortion. His health care law requires contraceptives to be available for free for women enrolled in workplace health plans.

Republican Mitt Romney favors limits on abortion, though he previously supported access to it. He says Roe v. Wade _ the Supreme Court ruling establishing abortion rights _ should be reversed, which would allow states to ban abortion. He would end federal aid to Planned Parenthood, a major provider of abortion and contraception, and has criticized mandatory coverage for contraception as a threat to religious liberty when it’s applied to employers, such as Catholic hospitals, that disagree.


Why it matters:

There’s been a lot of heated talk this year by Democrats contending that Republicans are waging a “war on women.” That’s hyperbole, retorts the GOP, but there are indeed stark differences between the two parties over these volatile issues.

Obama’s Affordable Care Act, which Republicans opposed and want to repeal, vastly expands women’s access to copay-free preventive health care, including contraception.

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and many conservative Protestant evangelicals have denounced this contraception mandate, saying it violates religious freedom. The provision generally exempts houses of worship, but faith-affiliated employers would have to comply.

Obama’s campaign has been running ads aimed at female voters, noting that Romney supports overturning Roe v. Wade and has assailed the contraception coverage requirement as a “war on religion.”

Were Romney to be elected, his ability to push through tough federal abortion restrictions would probably be limited unless Republicans gained firm control of both chambers of Congress.

However, the next president _ Obama or Romney _ could have significant influence over the future of abortion policy if vacancies arise on the Supreme Court. For example, if two seats held by liberal justices were vacated and filled by Romney-nominated conservatives, prospects for a reversal of Roe v. Wade would increase.

“That’s bigger than everything else combined, because of the long-term consequences,” said anti-abortion rights activist Charmaine Yoest, president of Americans United for Life.

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