- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Conservatives are playing defense on birth control even though the Supreme Court handed them a win in its “Hobby Lobby” ruling last month, as liberal foes highlight what the fallout could mean for women who want free contraception under Obamacare.

Democrats, desperate for an issue to rally their base ahead of November’s elections, are fundraising and campaigning enthusiastically against the ruling, arguing that it limits women’s access to contraception. They’ve already set up a test-vote Wednesday on a bill to overturn last month’s ruling and make for-profit employers have to cover employees’ contraception without any copayment.

Republicans have been slower to settle on a strategy to handle the ruling and defend against Democrats’ attacks, which have included false charges that the employers can prevent people from getting birth control.

On Tuesday, Republican senators announced they’ll try to pass a bill that would study whether certain contraceptives could be sold over the counter and would explicitly state that no employer may bar any employee from getting contraception.

“When people distort the facts, I think it’s important for us to tell the American people the truth,” said Sen. Kelly Ayotte, New Hampshire Republican.

The court, in a 5-4 ruling, said closely held corporations do not have to insure contraceptives if the owners object to doing so on religious grounds, carving out an exception to a Health and Human Services mandate to cover the drugs and procedures under Obamacare.

In the days after the ruling some Republicans shied away from taking a stand on it.

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, the normally blunt-spoken Republican and contender the 2016 presidential nomination, seemed to struggle with the justices’ decision when he told CNBC this month, “Why should I give an opinion as to whether they were right or wrong? At the end of the day, they did what they did.”

And on the campaign trail, the Democratic National Committee this week singled out Charlie Baker, a Republican candidate for Massachusetts governor, for reportedly saying the ruling “doesn’t matter” in his state. The Baker campaign says the quote was taken out of context and ignores his plan to have the state pay for birth control that is not insured by employers who object to the federal contraception mandate.

Democratic operatives say the Hobby Lobby fallout works to their advantage because it dovetails with the party’s push to improve women’s health and economic equality. Analysts said they may have found a lifeline.

“This is a base election. Democrats are at a disadvantage because a vast majority of drop off voters tend to be Democrats,” said Jennifer Duffy, a senior editor at The Cook Political Report. “Hobby Lobby gives them a big message to use to drive women voters to the polls.”

The political fight is playing out in races around the country, including in Colorado, where Sen. Mark Udall, in a tough re-election bid, is co-sponsoring Senate Democrats’ bill to overturn the decision.

Mr. Udall’s Republican opponent, Rep. Cory Gardner, has argued that contraception should be sold over-the-counter. The Udall campaign said that would only work if the government could find a way to make sure women don’t have to pay for it, too.

For their part, GOP operatives say the contraception hubbub is just the latest in a string of Democratic missteps on health care.

“Democratic candidates are flailing, unsure whether to embrace Obamacare or run as far from it as possible, which explains why they mislead and constantly try to scare women,” said Brook Hougesen, a spokeswoman for the National Republican Senatorial Committee.

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