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The political fallout from Hobby Lobby begins

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Republicans celebrated yesterday’s Supreme Court decision in the Hobby Lobby case, and Democrats decried it, which was no surprise. A little more curious is that both sides seem to think they’ll reap political benefit from it. And at least some news outlets seem equally confused. Yesterday, Politico put up one story that began, “So much for the Obamacare comeback,” detailing how happy Republicans are that the ruling would give them a boost in the fall by bringing the health-care law back in to the news. But by today, it had another story headlined, “Democrats: Hobby Lobby ruling could boost 2014 hopes.”

It will take time before we know exactly how many women will be affected by this ruling; while there are certainly other companies that would like to restrict their employees’ access to birth control, we don’t know how many would do so, and the administration is preparing a work-around similar to what was granted to religious non-profits, which would enable companies to say they aren’t tainted by the provision of contraceptives but still allow employees to have access. In the meantime, politicians are reacting fast. Hillary Clinton condemned the decision, and most of those thinking about running for president on the Republican side have issued statements of support, with one exception: Chris Christie, famous for being a no-nonsense straight-talker, bobbed and weaved when he was asked about it this morning. “Why should I give an opinion on whether they’re right or wrong?” he asked.

You might respond, because you’re an elected official who might run for higher office, and this is an important issue, that’s why. But Christie’s reluctance is understandable. If you look at polling on the case, a majority of the public has consistently said that private companies ought to be required to provide contraception coverage for their employees — not an overwhelming majority (usually in the 55 percent range), but a majority nonetheless.

Though I haven’t seen any poll that released breakouts by demographics, I’ll bet that the populations that support this decision are the ones firmly in the Republican camp already, particularly older white evangelicals. And if people understand the Republican position as being not so much pro-religious freedom but anti-contraception, GOP efforts to reach out beyond their base could be hampered by all the attention this case is getting.

For most people, it’s remarkable that in 2014 we’re still arguing about whether a woman who uses birth control is a slut worthy of scorn. But we are. GOP pundit Erick Erickson tweeted, “My religion trumps your ‘right’ to employer subsidized consequence free sex.” Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) seemed to agree with a radio host who said contraception is “largely for recreational behavior.”

If Republicans are trying not to seem out of touch but are unaware that tens of millions of women in “traditional” marriages use contraception every day and express the belief that if you’re single and you use contraception there’s something wrong with you (and you should be made to suffer “consequences” for your sin), then that whole “reaching out” thing is going to be even harder than it seems.

The issue is playing out in at least one Senate race, in Colorado, where incumbent Democrat Mark Udall has been hammering his opponent, Cory Gardner, for months over Gardner’s past support of a “personhood” amendment that would outlaw some forms of contraception. When the Hobby Lobby decision was handed down, Udall’s campaign quickly shot out a press release titled, “SCOTUS Follows Gardner’s Lead, Lets Bosses Dictate Birth Control.” Gardner followed with his own statement in which he praised the decision but reiterated his support for making oral contraceptives available over the counter.

Needless to say, that isn’t an idea too many Republicans are going to embrace (though we should give Gardner credit for it). And as long as the loudest GOP voices are from the sex-is-dirty corner, Democrats will be only too happy to talk about the Republican position on contraception.