Republicans losing on birth control, poll finds

Posted March 14, 2012, at 10:05 p.m.

WASHINGTON — Americans overwhelmingly regard the debate over President Barack Obama’s policy on employer-provided contraceptive coverage as a matter of women’s health, not religious freedom, rejecting Republicans’ rationale for opposing the rule. More than three-quarters say the topic shouldn’t even be a part of the political debate.

More than six in 10 respondents to a Bloomberg National Poll — including almost 70 percent of women — say the issue involves health care and access to birth control, according to the survey taken March 8-11.

That conflicts with Republican presidential candidates Rick Santorum and Mitt Romney, who say Obama is violating religious freedom by requiring employers — including those with religious objections to birth control — to provide a way for women to obtain contraceptive coverage as part of their insurance plans.

The results suggest the Republican candidates’ focus on contraception is out of sync with the U.S. public. Seventy-seven percent of poll respondents say birth control shouldn’t be a topic of the political debate, while 20 percent say it should.

“These candidates are talking to a relatively small subset even among Republicans,” said J. Ann Selzer, of Des Moines, Iowa-based Selzer & Co., who conducted the telephone poll of 1,002 respondents. “They may have the feeling, and their polls may be showing them, that this is a way in and this is a wedge issue within the party, but this does not dovetail with the views of the majority in the U.S.”

More than half of those interviewed also say radio host Rush Limbaugh, who called a female law student testifying publicly in favor of birth-control coverage a “slut” and “prostitute,” should be fired based solely on those comments.

Republicans are more likely than respondents generally to see the controversy over contraception as an issue of religious liberty, with 54 percent viewing it that way, compared with 42 percent who say it was a matter of health-care access.

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