WASHINGTON - In a rousing indictment of the Bush administration and the Supreme Court it created, Senator Barack Obama told a Planned Parenthood convention here on Tuesday that the next election would decide a fundamental question: "What kind of America will our daughters grow up in?"
The speech by Mr. Obama, of Illinois, came on a day when the leading candidates for the Democratic presidential nomination expressed their commitment to reversing the Bush administration's approach to abortion rights, judicial appointments, sex education and contraception.
Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton declared that President Bush had consistently "played politics with women's health." She added, "He has chipped away at reproductive rights, and he has worked to turn Washington, D.C., into an evidence-free zone where facts are subordinate to ideology."
Mrs. Clinton, of New York, argued that the Bush administration and its conservative allies had undermined and underfinanced longstanding education and family planning programs while heavily favoring abstinence education. She added, to cheers, "I want you to know that when I'm president, I will devote my very first days in office to reversing these ideological, antiscience, antiprevention policies that this administration has put into place."
Mr. Obama, who was repeatedly interrupted by applause, said the recent Supreme Court decision upholding a federal ban on a type of abortion was the beginning of a profound retreat on women's rights, and should be presented that way to the voters.
"We know that five men don't know better than women and their doctors what's best for women's health," Mr. Obama said, alluding to the 5-to-4 majority in the abortion case, Gonzales v. Carhart, which upheld the Partial Birth Abortion Ban Act of 2003.
"We know that a woman's right to make a decision about how many children to have and when, without government interference, is one of the most fundamental freedoms we have in this country," he said.
Mr. Obama's speech - and the reception it received from the Planned Parenthood Action Fund - underscored the power of the Supreme Court as a galvanizing issue for Democratic primary voters, after a session marked by conservative shifts on abortion, school integration and other issues. But Mr. Obama also argued that supporters of abortion rights should not shy from making their case to the broader public.
"If the argument is narrow, oftentimes we lose," he said. "But if you ask everybody, you ask the most conservative person, do they want their daughters to have the same chances as men? Most of them will answer in the affirmative."
Elizabeth Edwards, speaking on behalf of her husband, former Senator John Edwards of North Carolina, said his commitment to abortion rights ran deep.
"He hasn't changed, he hasn't wavered," she said. "John is pro-choice not because he made some political calculation. He simply is pro-choice."
Mrs. Edwards argued that the nation was now "one justice away from overturning Roe v. Wade," the 1973 Supreme Court decision recognizing a right to abortion. She added that it was no time for the abortion-rights side to flinch.
"There are times when compromise simply means capitulation, and this is one of those times," she said. "Just as you can't be a little bit pregnant, you can't be a little bit deprived of the right to control your body."
All of the candidates emphasized their commitment to a "prevention agenda" that intends to reduce the number of abortions by reducing unintended pregnancies.
Copyright 2007 The New York Times Company