Pelosi defends 'abortion on demand' comments

Greg Nash

Caught in the unusual position of taking heat from abortion rights advocates, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) is defending her recent remarks discounting the notion of "abortion on demand."

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NARAL Pro-Choice America, a leading abortion rights group and a long-time Pelosi ally, has condemned Pelosi's comments as "disappointing and ill-advised."

But the minority leader pushed back Wednesday, saying she's "never" backed the notion of abortion on demand –– a description used by anti-abortion groups in condemning the practice. She called on the advocates to unite with like-minded lawmakers for the broader cause of protecting women's reproductive rights from the conservative attacks.

"I've never supported that, but I believe that inside and outside of Congress, we should all be working together to make sure that women have the right to make their own decisions in terms of the size and timing and of their families," Pelosi said during a press briefing in the Capitol. "That's something that I had been passionate about my whole life in the political arena, and also one [issue] that I've tried to be dispassionate about how we achieve our goals."

Prompting the stir, Pelosi told Roll Call this week that she doesn't believe women use abortion flippantly as a substitute for birth control.

"I don’t believe in abortion on demand," she said. "I’m talking about the health of the mother and the child and this is not a decision that a politician should be making. This is about a woman’s judgment. This is about respect –– respect for women.

"I sometimes wonder if the Republican men who are here even know what’s going on in their own families, because the fact is that contraception and birth control is something that is used," she added. "I don’t believe that abortion is a form of birth control or contraception, and if you want to diminish the number of abortions in our country, you should love contraception, but they don’t.”

NARAL Pro-Choice America took offense, suggesting that, by adopting the language of anti-abortion groups, Pelosi risks muddling the message of those fighting to keep the procedure legal and accessible.

The group did not mince words, taking the rare step of attacking one of the fiercest abortion rights voices on Capitol Hill.

“At a time when our rights are under daily attack in the halls of Congress, on the campaign trail, in statehouses and in the courts, now more than ever, we need our champions to speak with a clear and strong voice in support of our legal right to abortion. Unfortunately, Leader Pelosi’s recent comments fall well short of this standard," Sasha Bruce, the group's senior vice president for campaigns and strategy, said in a statement.

“The Leader should stop using twisted GOP talking points about abortion and birth control. We don't know women who demand abortion or use abortion as birth control. We do know women who make thoughtful decisions about how and if they want to start a family, and who need access to all reproductive-health care services, including abortion. We’re confident the Leader does too, which makes her comments all the more troubling, Bruce added.

“Time and time again, Leader Pelosi has stood up for women and our reproductive rights. But at a moment when so much is at stake, her comments are particularly disappointing and ill-advised."

The back-and-forth arrives as Republicans on Capitol Hill have tried repeatedly to defund Planned Parenthood –– a push that has no chance of becoming law under President Obama but is sure to be a top issue on the election trail this year.