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Michelle Obama Courts Women After Contraception Rule

Feb. 21 (Bloomberg) -- Michelle Obama is being billed as the featured attraction in house parties her husband’s re-election campaign is organizing around the country tomorrow to try to boost his support among women.

The first lady is to appear via conference call at the “Women for Obama” gatherings, President Barack Obama’s re-election campaign said in an e-mail sent to supporters last night.

Michelle Obama, serving as honorary chairwoman of Women for Obama, will “deliver a message just for us about the progress we’re making together and the work ahead in the months to come,” according to the e-mail, which said that “hearing from the First Lady is sure to get us fired up.”

The house parties are an example of the more visible role Michelle Obama is taking in her husband’s re-election campaign. She spoke at Democratic Party fundraisers in Los Angeles on Jan. 31 and Feb. 1 while in California for appearances on “The Tonight Show with Jay Leno” and Ellen DeGeneres’ show to promote her “Let’s Move” anti-obesity program.

The house parties also follow the Obama administration’s rule to provide women who work for religion-affiliated hospitals and universities access to free contraception through their health insurance.

Accomplishments for Women

The e-mail mentions access to contraception without a co-pay among the administration’s accomplishments for women, in addition to the president’s signing of the “Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act” and the 2010 health-care overhaul that includes mammogram coverage and a restriction on charging women higher premiums than men.

Roman Catholic bishops and Republican lawmakers and presidential candidates have opposed the contraception rule, while women’s advocacy groups have embraced it.

Obama has said he didn’t intend for the rule to be used as a wedge issue in the campaign, while NARAL Pro-Choice America, an organization that defends abortion rights, has been airing radio ads in the battleground states of Colorado, Florida, Virginia and Wisconsin, promoting the policy as an example of Obama’s commitment to women.

Church Leaders’ Concerns

A Feb. 10 compromise Obama offered that would force health insurers, and not church-affiliated charities, to pay for contraceptives for employees of those institutions has shifted the debate away from a religious-freedom argument that carried more political risks for the president. Some church leaders still have concerns because their facilities are self-insured, which could mean they would have to pay the costs.

At the Jan. 31 fundraiser in Los Angeles, Michelle Obama promoted expanded coverage for women in the health-care law, without mentioning contraception coverage explicitly.

She said that in the face of efforts to repeal the broader law, “we have to ask ourselves: Are we going to stand by and let that happen, or are we going to stand up to those insurance companies? Are we going to let them refuse to cover things like cancer screenings, prenatal care; things that save money, but more importantly, save lives?”

To contact the reporter on this story: Margaret Talev in Washington at mtalev@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Steven Komarow at skomarow1@bloomberg.net

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