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White House casts Republican budget as bad for women

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The White House said on Thursday that budget cuts proposed by congressional Republicans would hurt American women more than men, tailoring criticisms from President Barack Obama to one of his key voting demographics.

Obama, a Democrat, slammed the election-year budget plan that cleared the Republican-controlled House of Representatives this week as "thinly veiled social Darwinism" that would pare down social services including health and retirement assistance.

Senior administration officials said the deficit blueprint that Republicans, including the party's likely 2012 presidential nominee Mitt Romney, would put teachers out of work, take away funds for violence prevention and cut medical care for millions of poor and elderly women.

Republican calls to repeal the Affordable Care Act, Obama's flagship 2010 healthcare restructuring, would make it even harder for women to get prenatal and postnatal care, mammograms and bone density scans as well as nursing home assistance, they told reporters.

"It would be devastating for women," one official said the day before a White House forum on women and the economy.

Another said that one-third of babies born in the United States are now delivered with Medicaid assistance for the poor, and that among Medicare beneficiaries over the age of 85, some 70 percent are women.

Medicare and Medicaid are government-run healthcare programs for the elderly, the poor and the disabled.

"Anything you do to Medicare is going to disproportionately affect women," the official said. "Medicaid disproportionately benefits women at every stage of the life cycle."

Republicans say Obama's spending has put the country on a dangerous fiscal path, and that tighter controls are needed to avoid a crisis from spiral ling health and retirement costs. The budget proposal that passed the House is not expected to clear the Democratic-controlled Senate.

Obama administration officials denied suggestions that Friday's forum was timed to draw attention to Obama's record on women's issues at a time when contraceptive rights have become a major campaign theme.

The administration angered Roman Catholic bishops and other social conservatives when it adopted in February a policy that requires most employers to provide free coverage for women's birth control under the healthcare overhaul.

Although churches and other places of worship are exempt, the rule applies to religiously affiliated hospitals, universities, charities and other institutions. To accommodate their concerns, the administration has called for third-party administrators including insurers to handle contraceptive coverage for self-insured groups.

Obama is keen to secure strong support from women voters for his November 6 re-election bid.

A USA Today/Gallup poll released on Monday showed Obama now holds a wide margin over Romney among women voters in electoral battleground states such as Ohio, Florida and Virginia.

(Reporting By Laura MacInnis; Editing by Paul Simao)

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