By Patricia Zengerle
CHARLOTTE, North Carolina (Reuters) - Two dozen Democratic women from the U.S. House of Representatives brought the charge that Republicans are waging a "war on women" to the party's convention stage on Tuesday with sharp denunciations of Republicans on healthcare, equal pay and domestic violence.
Led by Nancy Pelosi of California, the only woman to serve as speaker of the U.S. House, the women pressed the party's argument that the Democrats will protect women's interests against what they described as Republican attacks.
"When my Republican colleagues held a hearing about birth control and refused to include a single woman on the first panel as a witness, I asked, 'Where are the women?'" said New York congresswoman Carolyn Maloney.
"Where are the women? The women are here. And we are on our way to re-elect our president," she said, to cheers.
Democrats see the women's vote as a key to victory this fall, with polls showing President Barack Obama leading among women voters, and trailing among men. They are spotlighting women officials - and women running for office - at the convention in Charlotte, North Carolina, this week.
They have seized upon socially conservative statements by Republicans to paint the rival party as anti-woman, such as the opposition to contraception by former Senator Rick Santorum, who spoke last week at the Republican convention and was Mitt Romney's last major rival for the Republican presidential nomination.
They also seized on a comment last month by Todd Akin, a Missouri congressman running for a U.S. Senate seat, who opined that women are unlikely to get pregnant from "legitimate" rape, and sponsored anti-abortion legislation with fellow congressman Paul Ryan, Romney's vice presidential running mate.
U.S. Representative Allyson Schwartz, from Pennsylvania, said Democrats would keep Republicans from destroying Medicare, the popular government health insurance program for older Americans.
Medicare has become a focus of campaigning for the November 6 general election.
Romney and Ryan support a plan to change Medicare into one that would give recipients a fixed amount of government money each year to buy private health insurance or traditional Medicare coverage.
The Democrats attack that approach as a bid to "destroy" Medicare and turn it into a voucher program. Republicans in turn insist that Obama cut $716 billion from Medicare to pay for his healthcare overhaul.
The speaker list Tuesday night also included Nancy Keenan, president of the National Abortion Rights Action League, Tammy Duckworth, a wounded Iraq war veteran who is running for a House seat from Illinois, Lilly Ledbetter, whose legal fight for pay equity inspired a law in her name, and first lady Michelle Obama.
Duckworth, who lost part of both legs and part of an arm when her Blackhawk helicopter was shot down over Iraq in 2004, sharply criticized Romney for the Republicans' failure to talk about the war in Afghanistan during their convention last week.
"Last week, Mitt Romney had a chance to show his support for the brave men and women he is seeking to command," she said. "But he chose to criticize President Obama instead of even uttering the word 'Afghanistan,'" Duckworth said.
(Editing by Edward Tobin and Doina Chiacu)