Democrats unveiled a slew of female speakers Wednesday for their convention next month, an indication that they will continue to press Republicans on women's issues as GOP leaders furiously try to distance themselves from Missouri Senate candidate W. Todd Akin's recent comments on pregnancy and rape.
Both the White House and the Obama campaign have made women's issues a priority during President Obama's tenure as president and a centerpiece of Mr. Obama's re-election drive. The first bill President Obama signed into law was the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, which makes it easier for women to sue for equal pay. Ms. Ledbetter was one of the 10 female convention speakers announced Wednesday.
Democrats have also accused Republicans of waging a "war on women," pointing to the battle over whether religious employers would have to provide coverage for contraception in their health care plans as a prime example. Sandra Fluke, the Georgetown law student whom talk show host Rush Limbaugh called her a "slut" for supporting the coverage, will also speak at the Democratic gathering in Charlotte, N.C. Republicans have dismissed the "war on women" charge as a bid by Democrats to shift voter attention away from jobs and the stagnant economy.
The Republican platform committee, as it has since 1980, included a plank calling for a constitutional amendment to ban abortion without specifically exempting cases of rape or incest. That does not square with the position of presumptive GOP nominee Mitt Romney, who has said he opposes abortion except in those cases or to save the mother's life.
"This set of issues is not something that Democrats can overplay very easily because it's really hard for anyone to imagine what credible voice would stand up and say, 'You're overplaying it,'" said Quentin Kidd, director of the Wason Center for Public Policy at Christopher Newport University. "The gender gap is there in the polling, and they can continue to press that gap. And they were planning to do it anyway."
In a new NBC/Wall Street Journal poll, 52 percent of respondents said Mr. Obama would be better on "dealing with issues of concern to women," compared to just 24 percent for Mr. Romney.
When Mr. Romney introduced Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin as his running mate, Republicans hoped the conversation could turn squarely to the economy; voters in the same poll, by a 6-point margin, think Mr. Romney would be better at "having good ideas for how to improve the economy."
But Mr. Akin's suggestion earlier this week in an interview that women are less likely to become pregnant in cases of "legitimate rape" — and his refusal to exit the race against Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill despite pressure from scores of prominent Republicans, including Mr. Romney and Mr. Ryan — have added another target for the Democratic attack.
At a New York fundraiser Wednesday, Mr. Obama himself mocked Mr. Akin's membership on the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology, despite having "somehow missed science class."
He also called the remarks an example of Republicans wanting to "fight fights that we thought were settled 20 or 30 years ago."
Mr. Ryan said on his campaign plane Wednesday that he's proud of his pro-life record in the House, which included co-sponsoring a bill banning federal funding for abortions except for "an act of forcible rape or, if a minor, an act of incest."
The final bill, which passed the House in 2011, had different language, however, allowing federal money for abortions "if the pregnancy is the result of an act of rape or incest" or if the mother's life is in jeopardy. The Hyde Amendment, renewed annually by Congress, already bans federal funding for abortions.
But in an interview this week with KDKA in Pittsburgh, Mr. Ryan did not try to parse words. "Rape is rape — period. End of story," he said.
Mr. Ryan also pushed back on the Obama campaign's accusations that the Republican team wants to ban common forms of birth control.
"Nobody is proposing to deny birth control to anybody," Mr. Ryan said. "I don't think [women are] going to take the bait of all these distractions that the president is trying to throw at them."
Republicans will also feature a number of women at their convention next week in Tampa. Mr. Romney's wife, Ann, is scheduled to speak in prime time Monday along with South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, among others. Tuesday evening's schedule includes speaking slots for Sen. Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire, Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin and New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez. Former U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is scheduled to precede Mr. Ryan on Thursday night.
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