Nightly News | February 23, 2012
>> the price of gas isn't the only contentious campaign issue tonight. birth control seems to have become as one headline writer put it today, the third rail of american politics right now and this happened really out of nowhere. in fact, it was a question about birth control that got the biggest audience response at last night's gop debate in arizona. nbc's kelly o'donnell has more on the politics of birth control and womens health.
>> reporter: protests today in richmond, virginia.
>> our bodies! our lives!
>> reporter: a flashpoint in the political fight over government's place in women's health and reproduction. so provocative the mere mention of birth control prompted boos.
>> i don't support that.
>> reporter: at the republican debate.
>> just because i'm talking about it doesn't mean i want a government program to fix it.
>> reporter: and rare applause at a democrats-only staged hearing today. set off by the outraged democrats vented when republicans called only men to testify last week on religious institutions and birth control .
>> we've heard from over 300,000 people saying we want womens' voices to be heard.
>> democrats invited one woman, a georgetown law student to talk about hardships for some women that don't have insurance that covers birth control .
>> without her taking birth control a massive sift the size of a tennis ball had grown on her ovary.
>> reporter: more than 11 million women use birth control , the most common method of contraception. some states restrict abortion and funding for womens health programs. in virginia late today after protefrts and a national spotlight, legislators changed a controversial bill that would have required an invasive procedure before a woman could have an abortion. some republican voters want this debate.
>> social issues should play a very high priority in the campaign.
>> reporter: analysts say these social issues are more likely to help democrats.
>> this issue has given democrats at every level an issue to talk to women voters about and particularly independent women .
>> reporter: making women without party ties the most sought-after voters this year. kelly o'donnell, nbc news, washington.