Obama slams Republicans over women's rights

President Barack Obama took a jab at his Republican foes over women's rights, saying they always wanted less regulation except when it comes to health issues.

Defending his policies for women, Obama pointed to his signature health reform law, without mentioning that its fate hangs in the balance ahead of a Supreme Court decision due in June.

"Change is the health care reform we passed after a century of trying that finally gives women more power to make their own choices about their health care," Obama said at an event organized by the Women's Leadership Forum, a Democratic group.

"And this year, women will receive new access to recommended preventive care like domestic violence screening and contraception at no additional cost."

This provision of the law sparked controversy when US Catholic bishops protested that mandatory contraception coverage and marriage equality violate Catholics' religious liberty. Republicans seized on the initiative to accuse the Obama administration of waging war on religion.

"This contraception fight in particular was illuminating. It was like being in a time machine," Obama shot back.

"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.

"And 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 women's health."

About 600 people attended Obama's speech, paying $250 each for a seat.

Despite a Supreme Court ruling legalizing abortion in 1973, the subject remains a hot-button issue in the United States, and several states led by Republicans have sought to throw a wrench into the practice.

In a growing number of states, before being allowed to have an abortion, women are compelled to undergo a procedure that lets a medical professional hear the fetus's beating heart and describe details about its development.

Women's rights advocates say the unwanted and controversial medical procedures appear designed to convince them to keep the baby, and usurps from women the right to make a fundamental decision free from government interference.

"Now we've got governors and legislatures across the river in Virginia, up the road in Pennsylvania, all across the country saying that women can't be trusted to make your own decisions," Obama said.

"It's appalling. It's offensive. It's out of touch. And when it comes to what's going on out there, you're not going to close your eyes. Women across America aren't closing their eyes. As long as I'm president, I won't either," he said to applause.

Women, who represent 53 percent of the American electorate, backed Obama by 56 percent during the 2008 presidential elections.

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