Presumptive GOP nominee Mitt Romney's views aren't as extreme — he says that Roe v. Wade should be reversed by a future Supreme Court and that state laws should guide abortion rights. But the debates "raised all of these issues ... that I think a lot of people thought were settled. And it's given the Democratic Party something to pounce on," Carroll said.
Certainly, what may have started as a war of words among the parties and pundits has become much more than that. In Virginia, a newly created political action committee called Women's Strike Force is raising money to defeat politicians who supported that state's anti-abortion proposals. Local groups at places ranging from Harvard University to a Cleveland community center to a synagogue in New York have presented panel discussions delving into how to better fight on behalf of women's issues.
Conservative women, just as fired up, are battling what they see as Democratic pandering that paints all women with the same brush. The conservative group Smart Girl Politics last month launched a "They Don't Speak for Us" campaign that includes a video focusing on unemployment rates and the cost of gas and groceries.
ShePAC, a political action committee working on behalf of conservative women candidates, promises in another ad that "2012 won't be a war on women, it will be a war by women."
In an opinion piece penned for CNN.com after the brouhaha over Democratic consultant Hilary Rosen's comment that Ann Romney "never worked a day in her life," the women co-chairs of ShePAC said "more and more women like Ann Romney are standing up and speaking out. ... Those women aren't victims, they are fierce warriors who fight for their principles."
For better or worse, the debate over gender politics has launched a new national dialogue that reaches beyond the campaign trail and cable networks.
To see it, simply look to Colorado — and a single day in the trenches.
At the Equal Pay Day rally, Wanda Ramey recalled growing up in the '60s — hearing about friends who'd received illegal abortions, seeing firsthand the battle for an Equal Rights Amendment and, later, waging her own battles as a woman in a mostly male work environment.
"Back in the '60s, we fought hard. And we didn't have Facebook. We didn't have the Internet," said Ramey, who supports Obama. "We're older now and we have the time to research, and we're not going to be led around anymore."
As the equal pay protesters dispersed, a man orating about religion soon took to the pavement of the university commons. When marketing major Sasha Luinstra stopped to watch, she remarked that "I should get out there and preach." A male student standing next to her replied: "What are you going to preach about? Makeup?" Luinstra didn't bother responding.
It's those kinds of comments, along with the many different statements about women that she has heard so far this campaign season, that both rile and baffle the 21 year old.
How, for example, can Americans in 2012 still be debating the virtues of stay-at-home moms versus those who work? To Luinstra, it's a non-issue. She recalls her graphic designer mom in tears when she would drop her at day care. Her mother eventually quit and stayed home full time, and instilled in her daughter the idea that "I'm free to make any choice I want."
Luinstra feels the same principle should apply to abortion. She has friends who are now parents but who have also terminated their pregnancies, and said she's grateful those women could choose for themselves what path to take.
Over the summer, she plans to volunteer for Students for Obama. "He backs up my values," she said of the president.
By evening, as a group called 9to5 gathered at a local bar to talk women's wage issues, another 30 or so men and women — members of the Denver chapter of the Coalition for a Conservative Majority — convened at the Hotel VQ for a panel discussion by five Republican women about the so-called war on women.