Colorado, USA (AFP) — US President Barack Obama reopened a culture war battle over contraception yesterday, saying Mitt Romney's Republicans would take women's preventive health care back to the 1950s.
In a direct pitch for the votes of women, who could be crucial in November's election, Obama flew to Colorado to tout his health care law, which mandates coverage for preventive services like mammograms and contraception.
"When it comes to a woman's right to make her own health care choices, they want to take us back to the policies more suited to the 1950s than the 21st Century." Obama said, in a stinging attack on Republicans.
Obama argued that Romney, who has vowed to repeal the historic and controversial health care law, would wipe out several important victories in the struggle for women's health rights.
"The decisions that affect a woman's health, they are not up to politicians, they are not up to insurance companies, they are up to you," he told a raucous rally in Denver.
"You deserve a president who will fight to keep it that way. That's the president I have been. That is the president I will be if I get a second term."
Obama made his pitch in Colorado, a crucial Rocky Mountain swing state, on a day when a new poll by Quinnipiac University found him trailing Romney here, 45 to 50 per cent.
Women, who represent about 53 per cent of the US electorate, backed Obama 56-43 per cent over John McCain in the 2008 election.
A recent New York Times/CBS poll found Obama leading Romney among single women by 29 points, but married women historically lean towards Republican candidates.
So gender gap politics will play a crucial role in the countdown to the November 6 election.
Romney parried Obama's assault by unveiling his "Women for Mitt" coalition, and argued that women were suffering deeply because of the slow economic recovery that he blames on Obama's policies.
His wife, Ann Romney, said women would play a crucial role in determining the next occupant of the White House.
She said her husband "knows how to turn around this economy so that it will better serve the interests of women and families across America."
In Denver, Obama argued that contraception was not merely a social issue, saying that doctors sometimes prescribe birth control to manage various health conditions, and that women should have the right to make their own choices.
"We know the overall cost of care is lower when women have access to contraceptive services," Obama said, arguing 99 percent of women had relied on birth control at some point and many had struggled to afford it.
He also noted the two and three year anniversaries of his Supreme Court picks — female justices Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan — and warned the next president would likely get to make more appointments.
Obama was introduced by law graduate Sandra Fluke, who was caught in a fierce political firestorm earlier this year when she publicly backed the president's plan to require health insurance firms to cover contraception.
"If Mr Romney can't stand up to extreme voices in his own party, then we know he will never stand up for us, and he won't defend the rights that generations of women have fought for," Fluke said.
"We must remember that even though it is 2012, we are still having the debates that we thought were won before I was even born."
The issue of contraception was thrust into the 2012 election campaign early this year after Republicans claimed Obama's provision requiring organisations to offer free contraception on employee health plans was a war on religion.
Obama sought to defuse the row by exempting religious organisations. But he stuck by the principle that all women should have free access to such services, putting the onus on insurance firms to offer women working for religious employers such as Catholic hospitals free birth control coverage.