Nightly News | February 16, 2012
>>> what happened today in washington. it was not a big volatile issue in politics a month ago, but the way it is tonight, suddenly contraception, reproductive rights , birth control has roared its way forward into a national issue. as both parties have found a way to put it there. today, a congressional hearing about contraception got heated. law makers got angry because of what was missing. our report from capitol hill correspondent kelly o'donnell.
>> reporter: it started on capitol hill .
>> where are the women? when i look at this panel, i don't see one single woman.
>> reporter: this picture set off that anger when only men had a seat at the witness table during a hearing related to contraception.
>> we've been denied the right to have a witness-
>> reporter: politically the left defines this battle as women's right and equality issue.
>> i may at some point be moved to explain biology to my colleagues.
>> reporter: on the right they focus on religious freedom . today's gop-led hearing was prompted by that recent fight with the white house over whether religious-based employers must provide insurance coverage for birth control .
>> no man or women should ever be forced to betray that faith.
>> reporter: the republican chairman invited only faith leaders, not advocates for women's health.
>> imagine having a panel on women's health and they don't have any women on the panel.
>> reporter: on the campaign trail, a major donor for rick santorum , wealthy businessman made a comment today that caught fire. andrea mitchell reports free started off saying the focus should be on economy, not contraception.
>> back in my days, they used bayer aspirin for contraception. the gals put it between their knees and it wasn't that costly.
>> reporter: the social issue divide can cut across gender and generational lines.
>> if the issue continues, it's likely to help the republican party because it could be a way of wooing catholics in the swing states such as pennsylvania and ohio.
>> reporter: while the economy looms largest, pollsters say these deeply personal issues can make an impact. kelly o'donnell, nbc news, washington.