The recent controversy over access to birth control has almost done the impossible - eclipsed the long war over abortion.
Of course, birth control has been a target of anti-abortion forces for years, part of an incremental strategy to chip away at abortion access. It's been a somewhat quiet approach, though, and largely state-based.
But since Republicans and social conservatives have brought their attacks on contraception and Planned Parenthood to the national stage, and extended it to insurance coverage, there are signs of a growing backlash. And it's already become election-season fodder.
One photogenic moment has had particular resonance: an all-male panel testifying in front of a Republican-controlled congressional panel on President Barack Obama's health care overhaul requirement that employers' health insurance policies cover contraception.
U.S. Rep. Nancy Pelosi of California said at the time, "Imagine having a panel on women's health and not having any women on the panel. Duh!"
By that afternoon, EMILY's List, the powerful national organization that raises money for women candidates, had sent out an email - with a "contribute" option - calling the committee's panel makeup "outrageous" and urging supporters to "stand up - right now - and say that you will not watch quietly while anti-choice, anti-woman legislators and religious leaders work to dismantle everything we've achieved."
Within a week of the hearing House Democrats raised more than $1.1 million from their "War on Women" campaign. They have also collected more than 900,000 signatures on a petition decrying Republicans' assault on women's rights.
And that was before radio host Rush Limbaugh called law student and birth control advocate Sandra Fluke a "slut," prompting a wave of bad press and a rare apology from Limbaugh. At least 39 companies, nevertheless, pulled their ads from his show.
There have been other damaging moments, as when Rick Santorum backer Foster Friess related on MSNBC how, in his day, women used a Bayer aspirin between their knees for birth control.
State Rep. Chris Taylor (D-Madison) pounced on this statement to call attention to the $104,600 Gov. Scott Walker received from Friess, including a lump sum of $100,000 the day after the recall campaign against the governor was launched.
In early February, Susan G. Komen for the Cure announced that it would no longer fund breast cancer screenings provided by Planned Parenthood. The outrage was so great that the group reversed its decision a few days later. A senior official also resigned over the incident.
News reports from around the country indicate there has indeed been fallout at local Komen affiliates. A Feb. 25 piece on naplesnews.com notes the southwest Florida Race for the Cure team is having trouble raising money and signing up people for an upcoming March race.
"I feel the controversy has adversely affected my opportunity to receive donations and recruit members," said Barbara Taefi, a 24-year breast cancer survivor.
According to Amanda Harrington, a spokeswoman for Planned Parenthood, the national organization gained more than 1.2 million new supporters in the past year, half of whom are under the age of 35.
Another sign that recent events might have served as a wake-up call to men and women who never knew a time when abortion - or contraception, for that matter - was illegal: Planned Parenthood's Facebook page saw a nearly threefold increase in fans, from 100,000 to 270,000, during the same period.
Harrington notes that public opinion on Planned Parenthood has become more favorable as attacks on the group have intensified. A national poll by Quinnipiac University released Feb. 23 found that 60% of 2,605 registered voters oppose cutting federal funding for the group; that's up from 53% in March 2011.
Harrington says she has felt a palpable shift the last two weeks.
"I really feel the energy," she says. "People are upset about government overreaching into women's lives."
What has finally gotten people's attention is the "conflation" of birth control with abortion, says Alta Charo, UW professor of law and bioethics and sometimes adviser to President Obama on stem cell policy and women's reproductive health.
Even though there have been statutory attacks on abortion and contraception for years, the attempts to restrict insurance coverage for birth control caught all but close observers of these issues off guard.
"While abortion had never been normalized," says Charo, "contraception was."
(According to a 2010 report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 99% of sexually active women between the ages of 15 and 44 have used birth control.)
And the continuing firestorm over the Obama administration's requirement of insurance coverage for contraception - even after a compromise was reached regarding religious institutions - has brought the matter to a head.
"People began to see exactly how extreme this culture war had become," says Charo.
Fox News host Chris Wallace broached the political consequences of such a culture war when he asked Republican presidential candidate Santorum, with some skepticism, "Do you really want to be campaigning on contraception in 2012?"
Santorum said it was not about birth control, per se, but religious liberty.
"The issue is whether the government can force you to do things that are against your conscience, and that's what we've been talking about on the road."
And that is how Sue Armacost, political director of Wisconsin Right to Life, frames it as well. Though her group traditionally steers clear of debates over birth control, she says the current controversy over Obama's health care rule comes down to "religious freedom."
"What we are defending here is the right of conscience," she says. "This is a sacred right. It's protected by our Constitution. Churches should be able to define their own teachings and ministries."
Armacost is not at all persuaded by Obama's compromise rule, which guarantees that women get coverage for birth control directly from their insurance carrier if their employers object to contraception on moral grounds.
"The compromise is a bunch of baloney," she says, noting that many ministries are self-insured.
Armacost says there's a larger issue at play.
"If we don't have a strong conscience-clause protection in the U.S., Obama would be free to order insurance companies to cover abortion itself," she says.
Armacost rejects any suggestion that these battles could hurt Republicans at the polls.
"I don't know how anyone could find this to be a negative when you're fighting and arguing for the religious liberty of the people in our nation," she says.
Indeed, the way the issue is framed could be key to the public's perception of Obama's health care rule.
"If it is a war on religion, the bishops win," says Charo. "If it is a war on contraception, the administration wins."