Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney said he doesn't intend to pursue anti-abortion legislation if elected, a stance that threatens to alienate some core supporters just as he's surging in national polls.
"There's no legislation with regards to abortion that I'm familiar with that would become part of my agenda," Romney told The Des Moines Register's editorial board yesterday before an event in the swing state of Iowa.
His running-mate, Wisconsin Representative Paul Ryan, sponsored a bill during the last Congress that would deem a fetus a person and effectively criminalize abortion without exceptions, including for rape victims.
President Barack Obama's campaign and abortion-rights advocates accused Romney of trying to hide his previous stance on the contentious issue in an attempt to win over women, a crucial constituency for both candidates.
While Romney's comments may widen his appeal among independent female voters, they risk raising questions among other independents about where he stands on the issue and depressing turnout among anti-abortion Republicans who already had misgivings about his past positions.
The abortion remarks overshadowed Romney's attempt to accelerate his campaign's momentum coming out of his first debate with Obama and as the two candidates were making their pitches to voters in Ohio, a state that has voted for the winner in the past 12 presidential elections.
Campaign Statement The former Massachusetts governor's campaign sought to clarify his position.
"Mitt Romney is proudly pro-life, and he will be a pro- life president," said Romney spokeswoman Andrea Saul.
Marjorie Dannenfelser, the president of the anti-abortion advocacy group Susan B. Anthony List, issued a statement of support for Romney, saying she has "full confidence that as president, Governor Romney will stand by the pro-life commitments he laid out," to prohibit federal funding for Planned Parenthood and "advocate for a bill to protect unborn children capable of feeling pain." The socially conservative base of the Republican Party has made limiting abortion rights a key part of their platform and pushed for legislation to achieve that goal.
Ryan also co-sponsored an act trying to narrow the definition of rape to curtail abortions. Only in cases of "forcible rape," according to the measure, would a woman be eligible to have her abortion covered under insurance.
"I'm as pro-life as a person gets," Ryan told the Weekly Standard magazine in 2010.
Obama Response The Obama campaign said Romney was being misleading, a message that the president and his surrogates have been hammering on since the Oct. 3 debate in Denver. They pointed to a remark the Republican made during a 2007 debate when he said he would be "delighted" to sign a bill banning all abortions.
"Romney may try to change his image four weeks before Election Day, but he can't change the fact that women can't trust him," Obama campaign spokeswoman Lis Smith said in a statement.
Stephanie Schriock, president of Emily's List, which raises money to support female candidates who support abortion rights, said in a statement that Romney "is weaving back and forth between versions of himself faster than his spokeswoman can keep up." Supreme Court While seeking the Republican nomination, Romney vowed to limit abortion funding.
In September, he said he would appoint justices to the Supreme Court who would overturn Roe v. Wade, the landmark 1973 ruling that established a woman's right to abortion.
"I hope to appoint justices to the Supreme Court that will follow the law and the constitution," he said at the time on NBC's "Meet the Press." "It would be my preference that they reverse Roe v. Wade and therefore they return to the people and their elected representatives the decisions with regards to this important issue." Even so, Romney's reliability on the issue was such a concern for some anti-abortion activists during the primaries that a group of more than 150 pastors and abortion opponents convened a meeting in Texas to determine which Republican candidate to support to consolidate the anti-Romney vote.
Supporters of former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and former Senator Rick Santorum made pitches. The group endorsed Santorum, citing their belief that they needed to rally around one contender to defeat Romney before the South Carolina primary.
Gingrich ended up winning the state on Jan. 21.
Executive Order In the Des Moines Register interview, Romney said he would issue an executive order to reinstate the so-called Mexico City policy banning the use of U.S.
foreign aid to fund abortions abroad.
His statements fit in with a broader effort by Romney's campaign to moderate his message to reach out to voters who switch their votes between the two major parties.
A Bloomberg News Swing Voter poll in Ohio and Virginia showed Romney has an opening to win among married mothers, who are disproportionately concerned about unemployment and consider the Republican best at creating jobs, handling gasoline prices and reviving the housing market.
That demographic group comprised one in six voters and narrowly backed Obama in 2008. In the poll conducted Oct. 4-7, they supported Romney over Obama 50 percent to 44 percent in Ohio and 50 percent to 45 percent in Virginia.
Tightening Race The margin of error for the telephone survey of 377 female likely voters in Ohio who are married with children aged 18 and younger was plus or minus 5.1 percentage points. The margin of error for the poll of 400 voters with the same profile in Virginia was plus or minus 4.9 percentage points.
Nationally, polls taken since the debate show the presidential contest is tightening. Both sides are trying to gain an edge with a small slice of undecided voters who could determine the outcome while simultaneously galvanizing their base.
Obama yesterday was in Ohio intensifying his efforts to register young voters and get them to the polls now in early- voting states.
He told students at a rally of 15,000 people at Ohio State University in Columbus that buses had been arranged to take them to register before a 9 p.m. state deadline and vote early at the same site. "No extensions, no excuses," he said, telling students he needs their help to win.
Young Voters Last week the president was in another closely contested state to address students at the University of Wisconsin in Madison. The president will speak at a rally tomorrow at the University of Miami in Florida, the biggest electoral prize among the so-called swing states that have a history of voting for either major political party.
Obama won with 66 percent of the vote from those under 30 in the last election. That was the highest share for a presidential candidate from that age group going back to the start of modern exit polls in 1980. Turnout in the age group, while still trailing that of older voters, was the highest in 16 years, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
The president's challenge is reigniting that enthusiasm. The portion of 18- to 24-year-olds who say they will definitely vote dropped to 47 percent this year from 64 percent in 2008, according to polls conducted by the Institute of Politics at Harvard University's John F. Kennedy School of Government during March and April of each election year.