.- Providing economic security for the middle class and access to free contraception as a key part of women’s health care were major issues that dominated conversations at the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, N.C.
"Yes, our path is harder – but it leads to a better place," said President Barack Obama in a Sept. 6 address as he accepted his party's nomination for re-election.
Obama said he would aim to "create a million new manufacturing jobs in the next four years," improve and expand access to education, pursue a wide variety of new energy options, continue strengthening national security and "reduce our deficit without wrecking our middle class."
He also warned of “Washington politicians who want to decide who you can marry, or control health care choices that women should make for themselves.”
Although Obama’s speech was originally planned to be held in the Bank of America stadium, the threat of inclement weather moved it to the nearby indoor Time Warner Cable Arena, where other convention speeches had been held.
Much of the three-day convention was dedicated to responding to criticism of Obama over the struggling economy while portraying his Republican opponents Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan as disconnected politicians who want to give tax credits to the wealthy, and who would also devastate programs like Medicare and Medicaid.
Repeatedly throughout the convention, speakers made the case for Obama's re-election, asserting that he can repair the economy and create more jobs if he is given four more years.
First lady Michelle Obama painted a picture of her husband as a compassionate man who can relate to the needs and interests of average Americans, saying that the past four years have shown his character and conviction.
In a Sept. 4 speech, Mrs. Obama told Americans that "we can trust Barack to do what he says he's going to do, even when it's hard," the first lady said that her husband "doesn't care whether you're a Democrat, a Republican, or none of the above," but instead is "always looking for the very best in everyone he meets."
Former Democratic President Bill Clinton fired up the crowd on Sept. 5 with a 48-minute speech on Wednesday night in which he described Obama as a competent leader whose efforts to revive a devastated economy have been hampered by Republicans' unwillingness to cooperate.
"No president, not me, not any of my predecessors, no one could have fully repaired all the damage that he found in just four years," Clinton said, adding that the current president has created millions of jobs and is "still committed to constructive cooperation."
Obama needs more time to accomplish his goals of building up America as "a nation of shared opportunities, shared responsibilities, shared prosperity, a shared sense of community," he said.
U.S. Vice President Joe Biden preceded Obama's address with his own speech, in which he praised the president's leadership in ordering the attack that killed Osama bin Laden and stepping in to save the American automobile industry with a government bailout.
"We now find ourselves at the hinge of history. And the direction we turn is in your hands," said Biden. "The journey of hope is not yet finished, but we are on our way."
Women's health care was among the most prominent topics at the convention, particularly the controversial Health and Human Services mandate that requires employers to offer free birth control to employees in their health care plans.
The mandate has drawn criticism from the U.S. bishops and other faith leaders who object that it violates the religious freedom of those who object to its requirements.
However, the mandate was praised by numerous abortion advocates who were given speaking slots during the evening sessions of the convention, where they made strong accusations against the Republican Party.
Nancy Keenan, president of NARAL Pro-Choice America, charged that "we cannot trust Mitt Romney to respect our rights."
"He would overturn Roe v. Wade and sign into law a wave of outrageous restrictions on a woman's ability to make decisions about her pregnancy," she said.
Planned Parenthood president Cecile Richards warned of a time in America nearly a century ago when "birth control was illegal."
"And as a result, few women had the opportunity to finish school," she said. "We weren't even expected to live past the age 50."
She cautioned against "politicians who want to end access to birth control" and said that Romney is trying to "turn the clock back on a century of progress."
Romney and Ryan "are committed to ending insurance coverage for birth control" and want to "turn women's health care decisions over to our bosses," she claimed.
Georgetown University law graduate Sandra Fluke reiterated this argument, warning of "extreme, bigoted voices" in the Republican Party, whose plan would provide a future that "looks like an offensive, obsolete relic of our past."
Fluke has been a notable figure in the birth control debate since she testified in February before a U.S. House committee in favor of requiring Georgetown University and other Catholic institutions to offer free contraception in their health care plans.
While speaker after speaker painted Republicans as having extreme views that would block women from accessing contraception, the GOP has not included a ban on birth control in its platform. Rather, party leaders say they would repeal the mandate that requires it to be offered for free, returning to longstanding policies that allow companies and individuals to purchase contraception as they see fit.
GOP leaders in turn have charged that Democrats are the extreme party, adopting a platform opposed to any restrictions or limitations on abortion and arguing that President Obama "has respected the principle of religious liberty" in requiring free contraception to be included in health insurance plans.
The Democratic platform also came under scrutiny during the convention for removing a reference to God. The statement, which had previously been in the party platform, called for a government that gives "everyone willing to work hard the chance to make the most of their God-given potential."
After receiving criticism for the decision, the statement was reinserted, leading to both cheers and boos from Democratic delegates.
In addition, the party’s platform has drawn garnered attention for its unprecedented support for the redefinition of marriage to include gay couples.
References to redefining marriage were scattered throughout numerous speeches during the convention, but the main speakers did not give the subject a heavy emphasis.
Despite speculation that prominent gay Rep. Barney Frank would highlight the issue in his Sept. 6 address to the convention, the Massachusetts congressman limited his speech to economic issues.
However, at a smaller caucus of LGBT delegates and supporters earlier in the day, Frank spoke very directly about the party’s endorsement of “gay marriage,” saying that the Democratic Party has become the party of the gay movement.
Other caucus speakers said the redefinition of marriage is “inevitable” and insisted that they would not be content with civil unions but would insist upon the full recognition of “gay marriage.”
"There's no such thing as half-way to justice," said Cory Booker, mayor of Newark, N.J.
Among the most notable Catholic voices at the convention was Sr. Simone Campbell, who heads the social justice lobby Network and led the "Nuns on the Bus" tour to protest Paul Ryan's federal budget proposal.
Sr. Campbell criticized Republicans for failing to acknowledge the shared responsibility of Americans to care for their neighbors through federal government programs. She applauded the president's economic, health care and Medicaid policies.
"This is part of my pro-life stance and the right thing to do," she said.
The convention also featured celebrity appearances by actresses Kerry Washington, Scarlett Johansson and Eva Longoria, who voiced approval for Obama's economic policies and financial support of Planned Parenthood.
Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan of New York, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholics Bishops, offered the final benediction to conclude the convention.
He prayed for the nation's leaders and for all Americans, as well as for immigrants, the poor and those struggling to find work.
"Renew in all of our people a respect for religious freedom in full, that first most cherished freedom," he added.
The cardinal, who also offered the closing benediction at the Republican National Convention, prayed for "those yet to be born" and for a respect for "the laws of nature and nature's God."
"May you mend our every flaw, confirming our soul in self-control, our liberty in law," he prayed.