The Week That Was: Birth Control, Santorum's Donors & No Child Left Behind

Five things you need to know about the candidates and campaign issues right now.

The 2012 campaign season is officially upon us, so sometimes it’s hard to keep up on which candidate is ahead, what issue is the topic du jour or what tidbit you need to be ready to talk about over a cocktail. But don’t worry! We’ve done the work for you so you’ll be well-informed for that dinner party get-together or for some water cooler conversation at the office. Here are iVillage’s six stories you need to know about this week:

1. Birth control
The White House announced this week that all employers, with a tiny carve out for churches, synagogues and mosques, would be required to make contraceptives available to women without a co-pay in their employer provided health plans, as with all other prescription drugs. Many conservatives and religious leaders vehemently cried “foul,” claiming that such a requirement violated their First Amendment religious freedom rights if they opposed birth control on religious grounds. To back off the drum beat, the White House says it’s modifying that position. But here's the funny thing: This has been the law since George W. Bush was president, though it’s not been consistently enforced. Where was the outcry then? Plus, it raises the question of whether the President is more worried about a handful of church leaders rather than the vast majority of women voters who want and use birth control?

2. Rick Santorum donors
One of the big election surprises this week was Rick Santorum’s clean sweep of 2012 Republican primary contests in Minnesota, Colorado and Missouri. Though none of them are binding and no convention delegates were awarded, the overwhelming win by Santorum -- and stunning loss for the supposed Republican front-runner Mitt Romney -- gives us a look inside the ambivalence and indecision among many Republican voters. With these wins, Santorum is now raising more money for his campaign – over $1 million this week alone. Plus Santorum now has a wealthy benefactor whose Super PAC has been running ads to boost what seems to be a growing interest in the former Pennsylvania Senator.

3. No Child Left Behind
The idea of improving the education standards in low-performing schools is an admirable one, but the No Child Left Behind effort launched by President George W. Bush didn’t succeed as planned, leaving a lot of rules in place for test scores and school funding without many actual results in improved learning. This week, President Obama announced that the government is easing up on those requirements for ten states in an effort to allow those schools and teachers more flexibility to design their own programs that will improve students’ proficiency in math and reading.

4. Gay marriage
Judges ruled this week in a closely watched case that the California initiative known as Proposition 8, which banned same-sex marriage in the Golden State, was unconstitutional. The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals commented that such a ban serves no purpose other than to “lessen the status and human dignity" of gay Americans, adding that it discriminated against one minority group for unequal treatment. California voters approved the anti-gay marriage initiative in 2008. Don’t be surprised to see this decision headed to the Supreme Court soon, especially as the remaining field of Republican presidential candidates continues to focus on social issues like this in their campaigns. In related news, Washington state's House voted to approve gay marriage this week, following the state's Senate approval last week. The ruling makes Washington the seventh state in the nation to recognize same-sex nuptials, and governor Christine Gregoire is set to sign the legislation on Monday. In more gay marriage news, Massachusetts representative Barney Frank flashed an engagement ring this week and disclosed that his wedding will take place this summer.

5. Michelle Obama: Secret Weapon
The First Lady hit the road this week to promote her ongoing efforts to get Americans into shape with a national Let’s Move! Tour. iVillage’s chief correspondent Kelly Wallace is on the road with Michelle Obama and is reporting back with live blogs and videos. But make no mistake about it -- Michelle might be talking about exercise and healthy eating, but this is clearly a campaign event in support of her husband. While President Obama is back in Washington, D.C. dealing with the religious right, education and the mortgage crisis, his wife is laying the groundwork to be his best secret weapon in his re-election arsenal.

You can read more from iVillage iVote Editor and Correspondent Joanne Bamberger at her blog, PunditMom. Joanne is also the author of Mothers of Intention: How Women and Social Media are Revolutionizing Politics in America, on sale now at Follow her on Twitter at @PunditMom.

WATCH: Santorum's Stance on Prenatal Testing and Abortion: He "Kind of Has a Point"

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