The issue is potentially advantageous for Romney, a Mormon who once held moderate positions on abortion and gay marriage, because it allows him to align himself with the social conservatives who have resisted his candidacy. (Both Gingrich and Democrats, however, have called Romney a hypocrite on the birth-control issue. As governor of Massachusetts, he enforced a rule requiring Catholic hospitals to provide emergency contraception to rape victims, after the Legislature overrode his veto of the measure.)…

The relationship of religion and politics could influence the outcome of the 2012 election in battleground states with large Catholic communities, including Iowa, Michigan, Missouri, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin, Green added. “The real problem for the Obama administration would be if the [birth-control] issue moved some of those less religious Catholics,” Green said. “The issue might also move the regular Mass-attending Catholics to vote even more Republican.”

But if Democrats win the message war and frame the issue as a matter of public policy that involves women’s health and access to contraception, Republicans may find themselves on the losing side of the argument. In a survey by the Public Religion Research Institute, 52 percent of Catholic voters agreed that employee health plans should cover birth control. The Obama administration is also touting a Guttmacher Institute study that found 98 percent of Catholic women have used birth control.