All of us agree the Obama administration’s decision to force religious institutions to cover contraception and abortifacients in insurance policies was to keep his liberal feminist voting bloc happy and further line the pockets of Planned Parenthood. That’s kind of a “duh.”

But Sarah Kliff of the Washington Post pitched a new theory today I found most interesting. Knowing Kliff is a friend to the abortion lobby made her thought that much more intriguing:

But where Shields sees “cataclysmic” fallout, the White House sees something quite different: a chance to widen the reproductive health debate beyond abortion to issues like contraceptives, winning over key demographics of independent voters in the process….

And a lot of this likely isn’t about Catholic voters at all.

Rather, it may well be about the demographics that are most supportive of this particular health reform provision: young voters and women…

Those two demographics are important here for a key reason: they were crucial to Obama’s victory in 2008….

These voters have tended to be difficult for abortion rights supporters to engage on reproductive health issues like abortion. Research from NARAL Pro-Choice America, which I wrote about last weekend, found a significant “intensity gap” there, with abortion rights supporters much less likely to see it as a crucial voting issue than their anti-abortion counterparts.

But when the conversation moves away from abortion to contraceptives – as it has this week – the intensity gap flips: A much larger segment of voters are willing to penalize a legislator who votes to defund family planning.

In other words, abortion proponents acknowledge they are losing the support of youth – and women.

The February 5 piece Kliff linked to also contained helpful information:

Last spring, Cecile Richards’s BlackBerry buzzed with an unexpected text message. It was from her son Daniel, a college student in Pennsylvania. He was heading off to Toledo, having organized a bus trip of friends to attend a rally supporting Planned Parenthood. The message came as Congress was debating ending the group’s nearly $100 million in federal funding.

Richards was surprised: Despite her five years now as president of Planned Parenthood, her son had never been active in abortion politics. To her, Daniel and his friends represented a wave of young supporters whom groups such as hers had long struggled to engage. All it took was a sustained attack on government funding of family planning, waged at the federal and state level, to get them there.

In other words, even the son of Planned Parenthood’s CEO is disengaged on the abortion issue.

Continuing the piece:

“I’ve been at Planned Parenthood for about five years and have spent those years telling people, ‘This is what we do, we see 3 million patients a year,’ and it’s just like the reaction is, ‘Yeah, yeah, yeah,’?” Richards says, reflecting on the congressional funding debate. “In the space of two months, we did more to educate people about who we are and what we do than anything else.”

In other words, as much as Planned Parenthood has tried to have us believe otherwise, its pitch that it is about much more than abortion hadn’t hit home.

Continuing the piece:

In wide-ranging interviews over the past month, heads of a half-dozen major women’s groups echoed Richards’s sentiments. They are frustrated at the restrictions that passed in 2011, but they also recognize that the fight finally got young people involved.

For years, abortion rights advocates have battled an intensity gap: Their supporters don’t feel as strongly about protecting abortion access as antiabortion voters do about restricting it. This has been especially true for younger voters, the Millennials who grew up after the Supreme Court legalized abortion in 1973…. In 2010, a NARAL… survey found that most voters under 30 who opposed abortion rights considered it a “very important” voting issue. Among abortion rights supporters, that proportion was 26%.

“These are people that we haven’t quite crossed their radar screen,” NARAL President Nancy Keenan explained in a recent interview. “They share our values, they’re pro-choice, but the question is: How do we talk to them?”

Keenan’s opponents unexpectedly came up with an answer: Widen the reproductive-health debate to include family planning and contraceptives.

In other words, Millennials (Gen Y) who consider themselves pro-“choice” aren’t passionate while pro-life Millennials are. And the only way the abortion lobby can engage them is to threaten that their gateway to sex without consequences will be taken away.

It’s no wonder the other side is pushing harder than ever to engage the youth culture in sex. The free love mentality is not just a money maker (contraceptives, STD treatment, abortion), it’s an ideology keeper.

The problem for pro-lifers is that the strategy is working. Any thoughts on competing strategies?

[Middle photo via Reuters]

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