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GOP out of touch on women’s health issues, Obama says

By Michael A. Memoli, Tribune Washington Bureau –

WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama on Friday castigated the Republican Party for what he said were dated views on women’s health issues, saying the recent debate over contraceptives was “like being in a time machine.”

Speaking at a women’s conference organized by his campaign, Obama called the issue “illuminating.”

“Republicans in Congress were going so far as to say an employer should be able to have a say in the health care decisions of its female employees,” Obama said. “I’m always puzzled by this — this is a party that says it prides itself on being rabidly anti-regulation. These are folks who claim to believe in freedom from government interference and meddling. But it doesn’t seem to bother them when it comes to a woman’s health.”

Obama also pointed to the efforts in state legislatures to place new restrictions on abortion, singling out Virginia’s attempt, ultimately unsuccessful, to require an invasive ultrasound before a woman could have the procedure. He paraphrased the Republican governor of Pennsylvania, who said a woman who didn’t like the procedure could “close your eyes.”

“It’s appalling. It’s offensive. It’s out of touch,” he said. “Women across America aren’t closing their eyes. As long as I’m president, I won’t either. The days of male politicians controlling the health care decisions of our wives and our mothers and our daughters and our sisters — that needs to come to an end.”

Polling has shown a significant gender gap in the presidential race, with Obama opening a healthy lead among women while Mitt Romney is favored by male voters.

The speech Friday, one of the first for Obama in a campaign setting that wasn’t a fundraiser, seemed an effort to reinforce that advantage. He also touted his accomplishments — including the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, the first law he signed, and the health care reform law that expanded access to preventive screenings and included a provision to require equity in coverage for male and female consumers.

Obama also played up the role of strong women in his own life, from his mother to his life at the White House today with his wife and daughters.

“It is always a pleasure to be surrounded by so many talented, accomplished women. It makes me feel right at home,” he joked at the start of his remarks.

Obama never mentioned Romney by name, but alluded to his praise for the House Republican budget.

“When you talk about how marvelous your party’s economic plan is, when you break down the numbers, what you’re really saying is you want to pass massive new tax cuts for millionaires and billionaires paid for them by gutting programs that, among other things, support low-income women and children and pregnant mothers and student aid for disproportion — that disproportionately helps young women,” he said.

“When you say we should get rid of Planned Parenthood, you’re not just talking about restricting a woman’s ability to make her own health care decisions; you’re talking about denying the preventive care like cancer screenings that millions of women rely on.

“And when something like the Violence Against Women Act is actually up for debate, then we know that something’s gone haywire,” he added.

Obama is holding his first public campaign rallies on May 5, in Ohio and Virginia.

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