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Kerry affirms support for abortion rights

Charges Bush has made women's lives less secure

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Stay with CNN-USA for reports on President Bush's visit to Minnesota and Sen. John Kerry's campaigning in West Virginia. Tuesday: The Supreme Court is to hear the executive privilege case involving Vice President Dick Cheney and his energy task force.
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Standing before thousands of women, Sen. John Kerry warned Friday that "the rights of women are under assault in this country" and promised that as president he will reverse the course set by the Bush administration -- including abortion policy.

"We will not turn the clock back in this country," the Democratic presidential hopeful told a cheering crowd at the City Museum South Plaza. "George Bush who ran as a passionate conservative, has been willing to play politics with the lives of women. ... And every step of the way, when he has been given a choice, he has made the lives of women less, not more, secure."

Speaking to those in town for the March for Women's Lives -- a rally that is expected to draw tens of thousands to the Mall on Sunday -- Kerry slammed the Bush administration on a host of counts.

He discussed Bush's staunch position against affirmative action, accused him of trying to "gut" Title IX -- which bans discrimination in schools -- and lambasted Attorney General John Ashcroft for seeking access to medical records. Bush's economic plan, Kerry said, has "made it harder for women, particularly, to be able to balance work and family."

The senator from Massachusetts also turned to one of the most contentious issues in the country -- and a central issue that drew the crowd.

"Abortion should be rare, but it should be safe and legal -- and the government should stay out of the bedrooms of America," he said to cheers and applause.

Kerry's comments came on the same day that the Vatican called on priests to deny communion to Roman Catholic politicians who support legalized abortion.(Full story)

Kerry accused Bush of fighting family planning programs that allow for the possibility of abortion, not only in the United States but around the world.

"We are going to have a change of leadership in this country to protect the right of choice," he vowed.

Many women in attendance held signs saying "Pro-Kerry Pro-Choice."

Vice President Dick Cheney delivered a speech earlier this week in Washington in which he outlined the administration's opposition to abortion, saying it was about saving the "weakest members of our society."(Full story)

Kerry was introduced by activists with groups that organized the rally, including the Planned Parenthood Action Fund -- which gave him its first-ever presidential endorsement.

"We have a moral obligation to the women of America," said the group's president, Gloria Feldt. "Make no mistake about it -- there is a war on choice, and it is a war we must win and we can win."

Feldt described Kerry as a strong supporter of global women's rights and said he "understands women's very humanity is determined by our ability to control our own reproductive destiny."

Kate Michaelman, president of the National Abortion Rights Action League (NARAL), said, "We've never, never had a president whose attitudes toward women are more wrong-headed than those of our current President Bush. Nor is there any leader today more courageous, passionate or caring, whose beliefs about women are more progressive, thoughtful, or forward-looking."

Kerry will not attend Sunday's rally. He will be campaigning in Iowa.

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