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Can birth control help Democrats keep the Senate?

Democrats have introduced a legislative fix to Hobby Lobby. It may not become law, but it might help keep their control of the Senate.
A Hobby Lobby store is seen on June 30, 2014 in Plantation, Florida.
A Hobby Lobby store is seen on June 30, 2014 in Plantation, Florida.

In 2012, women’s reproductive rights -- especially birth control access -- helped Democrats keep the Senate. Now, in the wake of the outrage over the Supreme Court’s Hobby Lobby decision last week, they’re betting on a repeat.

On Wednesday, congressional Democrats introduced the “Protect Women’s Health From Corporate Interference Act,” which according to a summary provided to msnbc, “ensures that employers cannot interfere in their employee’s decisions about contraception and other health services.” The bill states that all insurance plans -- including those provided by for-profit corporations -- must cover contraception, though it keeps the exemption for houses of worship and the “accommodation” for religious nonprofits.

The charge is being led by Washington Sen. Patty Murray, who said at the time of the decision that it “sets a dangerous precedent and takes us closer to a time in history when women had no choice and no voice.” She added, “Since the Supreme Court decided it will not protect women’s access to health care, I will.”

No one expects the bill to pass the Republican-controlled House. But what it can do is keep the issue squarely on the national radar all the way until the midterm elections.

The political utility of defending contraception access is something both Murray and the bill’s co-author, Senator Mark Udall of Colorado, have witnessed firsthand. In 2012, Murray led Democrats’ efforts to keep the Senate in part by highlighting Republican attacks on women’s health care.

That year, Republicans introduced the Blunt Amendment, which would allow employers to do roughly what the Court just allowed Hobby Lobby to do -- opt out of insurance coverage according to their religious objections. That bill became a cudgel that helped Democrats win against moderate Republicans in Massachusetts and Connecticut, and to turn out their base in the presidential race. Alaska Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski recanted days later, saying, “I have never had a vote I’ve taken where I have felt that I let down more people that believed in me.” The debatealso set the stage for former Rep. Todd Akin, lambasted for his comments about "legitimate rape," to fail to win reelection in Missouri, and for Richard Mourdock to lose his Senate bid in Indiana.

Meanwhile, Udall is up for a tough reelection in a state where a Personhood amendment -- based on the same pseudoscientific ideology that led Hobby Lobby to object to four forms of birth control -- is not only on the ballot, but which helped his fellow Democratic Senator Michael Bennet win in 2010. (In fact, that was a tale Bennet told on the floor when the Blunt amendment was debated.) Udall’s Republican opponent, Congressman Cory Gardner, recently backed off his active support for Personhood, as did Bennet's opponent in 2010. But it might be too late.

Republicans have so far universally cheered the Hobby Lobby decision -- which they call a victory for religious liberty --  so they’re highly unlikely to support the Murray-Udall bill. But a vote against contraceptive access is exactly the kind of galvanizing attack line for which Democrats are hoping.