MOUNT VERNON, Ohio (AP) — A day after Mitt Romney downplayed his plans to fight abortion, social conservatives on Wednesday offered the Republican presidential nominee a not-so-subtle reminder of his pledge to do "everything in my power to cultivate, promote, and support a culture of life in America."
The head of the anti-abortion group Susan B. Anthony List distributed an article Romney penned last summer vowing to prohibit federal funding for Planned Parenthood, while backing legislation that would "protect unborn children who are capable of feeling pain from abortion." In the June 2011 article, Romney also expressed support for the reversal of Roe v. Wade, the landmark Supreme Court ruling that legalized abortion.
"We have full confidence that as president, Gov. Romney will stand by the pro-life commitments," said Susan B. Anthony List President Marjorie Dannenfelser.
In an interview Tuesday with The Des Moines Register, Romney said he would not pursue any abortion-related legislation if elected.
"There's no legislation with regards to abortion that I'm familiar with that would become part of my agenda," he told the Iowa newspaper, an apparent shift from his previous position.
The Republican's campaign walked back his comments almost immediately. "Gov. Romney would of course support legislation aimed at providing greater protections for life," spokeswoman Andrea Saul said. She declined to elaborate.
Romney himself returned to the topic of abortion when he said after an event Wednesday in Delaware, Ohio: "I think I've said time and again that I'm a pro-life candidate and I'll be a pro-life president."
President Barack Obama jumped on the comments about abortion, saying the words showed that Romney was trying to hide his position in abortion in an attempt to close the deal with voters.
"This is another example of Gov. Romney hiding positions he's been campaigning on for a year and a half," Obama told ABC News for an interview that aired Wednesday.
"When it comes to women's rights to control their own health care decisions, you know, what he has been saying is exactly what he believes," said Obama. Romney "thinks that it is appropriate for politicians to inject themselves in those decisions."
Romney has struggled with the issue of abortion throughout his political career.
It was an issue in his 1994 Senate campaign against Massachusetts Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, who described Romney's abortion position as "multiple choice." Romney supported abortion rights when he became governor of Massachusetts in 2003, before changing his mind. As a presidential candidate, he opposes all abortion except in cases of rape, incest or to protect the life of the mother.
Now, less than a month before Election Day, he's trying to avoid the issue as he simultaneously courts women and his party's most passionate voters — groups with opposing priorities on the explosive social issue. In recent days, he's largely emphasized his personal side and moderate political positions.
While he said he would oppose abortion-related legislation, the former governor told the Register he would issue an executive order to reinstate the so-called Mexico City policy. Named for the city where it was announced, the policy bans giving federal money to international groups that perform abortions or provide abortion information. The policy has bounced in an out of law for more than a quarter-century. President Barack Obama waived the order soon after taking office in 2009.
Hogan Gidley, a former aide to Rick Santorum, a stanch social conservative who challenged Romney during the GOP primaries, said Romney's latest abortion flap is "bad news and good news."
"The bad news is that pro-life conservatives want a president to push policies that protect the innocent, unborn children from being murdered. But the good news is that Gov. Romney has pledged to reinstitute the Mexico City policy by executive order," Gidley said. "This will be of little consolation for many pro-lifers — but the alternative of Barack Obama is much worse."
Obama's deputy campaign manager Stephanie Cutter told reporters on a conference call Wednesday that Romney was "cynically and dishonestly" hiding his positions on abortion and other women's issues to try to seal the deal with voters.
"We're not saying he's changed his mind on these issues," Cutter said. "We're saying he's trying to cover up his beliefs."
Cutter said the campaign would seek to make sure that women are "not fooled" by Romney's attempts to soften his positions on abortion. The Democrat's campaign has aired TV ads accusing Romney of supporting overturning Roe v. Wade and eliminating federal funding for Planned Parenthood.
"Women frankly just can't trust Mitt Romney," Planned Parenthood President Cecile Richards said on the Obama campaign call. Richards said she was taking a break from her role at the women's health services provider to volunteer for Obama in the campaign's closing weeks.
Romney did not seek to clarify his abortion comments during a day of campaigning Wednesday in Ohio. He noted at a town hall-style meeting that his wife, Ann, and Karen Buchwald Wright, the businesswoman who helped introduce him, were breast cancer survivors.
"Karen was kind to remind me that this is Breast Cancer Awareness Month and gave me this pin, which I am wearing this morning in her honor and the honor of my wife and in honor of all the women across America who have battled this terrible disease and know of our commitment to defeat it and to provide long lives to our fellow citizens," Romney said.
Romney called the women "champions."