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Obama slams states for limits on abortions

| Friday, April 26, 2013, 7:09 p.m.
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WASHINGTON, DC - APRIL 26: U.S. President Barack Obama speaks at the Planned Parenthood Gala at the Marriott Wardman Park Hotel on April 26, 2013 in Washington, DC. Obama defended the organization and told delegates that he would block efforts to cut off funding. (Photo by Chris Kleponis-Pool/Getty Images)

WASHINGTON — President Obama vowed on Friday to join Planned Parenthood in fighting against what he says are efforts by states to turn women's health back to the 1950s, before the Supreme Court legalized abortion nationwide in 1973.

“When you read about some of these laws, you want to check the calendar, you want to make sure you're still living in 2013,” Obama told the crowd.

In the past two months, four states — Alabama, Arkansas, Kansas and North Dakota — have adopted some of the most stringent restrictions on abortion in the nation, while Virginia has also imposed new rules on abortion providers by making them comply with hospital-style building standards. Lawmakers in 42 states have introduced legislation this year that would impose some kind of limits on access to abortions.

Obama — the first sitting president to address the group in its nearly 100-year history — took aim at North Dakota's law, which bans abortions as soon as a fetal heartbeat can be detected, at around six weeks.

“A woman may not even know that she's pregnant at six weeks,” he said. As long as Planned Parenthood and other groups have to fight to defend women's reproductive rights, he added later, “you've also got a president who will be right there with you, fighting every step of the way.”

More than a year ago in Mississippi, a “personhood” ballot initiative that would have defined life as beginning at fertilization was defeated by 58 percent of voters in November 2011 — the same election in which staunch abortion opponent Phil Bryant, a Republican, was elected governor. Bryant had campaigned for the initiative.

Abortion opponents are expected to begin a signature-drive to get a similar initiative on the ballot in 2014 or 2015.

“Mississippi's a conservative state, but they wanted to make clear there's nothing conservative about the government injecting itself into decisions best made between a woman and her doctor,” Obama said.

In North Dakota, Republican state Rep. Bette Grande, an abortion opponent from Fargo who introduced the bill banning most abortions based on a fetal heartbeat, said she was happy Obama took notice of her state's stance on the issue.

“He is pointing it out because it's true. We have taken a serious look at the life of a child, and the nation is paying attention to that,” she said. “We are dealing with life in North Dakota and something as basic as a beating heart.”

Laurie Bertram Roberts, Mississippi president of the National Organization for Women, said voters in her state, while conservative, did not misunderstand what “personhood” would have meant for women and families.

“We understand that when you give a fertilized egg the rights of a person, that affects every aspect of pregnancy and reproductive health,” she said.

The Washington Post contributed to this report.

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