COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney pledged to be "a pro-life president," a day after an interview in which he said he doesn't intend to pursue anti-abortion legislation if elected.
"I've said time and again, I'm a pro-life candidate, I'll be a pro-life president," Mr. Romney told reporters Wednesday in response to a question as he campaigned at Bun's Restaurant in the city of Delaware, north of Columbus. He also said he'd eliminate funding for Planned Parenthood in his proposed federal budget and re-impose a policy banning use of U.S. foreign aid to fund abortions abroad.
Mr. Romney's remarks a day earlier to the Des Moines Register's editorial board played into his efforts to moderate his positions as the Nov. 6 election approaches. "There's no legislation with regards to abortion that I'm familiar with that would become part of my agenda," the former Massachusetts governor told the newspaper Tuesday before an event in the swing state of Iowa.
President Barack Obama and abortion-rights advocates jumped on Mr. Romney's remark, accusing him of trying to obscure his previous stance in an attempt to win over women, a crucial constituency for both candidates.
"This is another example of Governor Romney hiding positions he's been campaigning on for a year and a half," Mr. Obama said in an interview Wednesday with ABC News. "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," the president said. Mr. Romney "thinks that it is appropriate for politicians to inject themselves in those decisions."
Mr. Romney, in Tuesday's newspaper interview, didn't specify what he would do if a Republican-controlled Congress passed abortion legislation and sent it to him to sign into law. His running mate, Wisconsin Rep. 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.
While Mr. Romney's remarks to the editorial board had the potential to widen his appeal among independent female voters, they risked raising questions among other independents about where he stands on the issue and depressing turnout among GOP abortion foes who already had misgivings about his past positions.
His comment "certainly indicates that he is out of touch with the conservative base and is turning his back on America's women and children," Jennifer Mason, spokeswoman for Personhood USA, a group that wants to ban abortions, said in a statement.
The Romney campaign reached out to Family Research Council president Tony Perkins, making clear that the candidate wasn't shifting his positions on abortion, council spokesman J.P. Duffy said in an interview. The website Talking Points Memo quoted Mr. Perkins as saying there were "no alarm bells" about Mr. Romney from his perspective.
The potential confusion raised by Mr. Romney's abortion remarks came as he attempts to accelerate his campaign's momentum coming out of his first debate with Mr. Obama.
"I need your vote," Mr. Romney said Wednesday at a town hall rally in Mount Vernon, Ohio. "Because if you vote for me, and you get some people to do the same thing, Ohio is going to elect me the next president of the United States." The state, which has 18 electoral votes, has backed the winner in the past 12 presidential elections.
Gallup polling suggests a settling of the bounce for Mr. Romney after the Oct. 3 debate. The daily tracking survey of likely voters taken Oct. 3-9, starting with the day of the debate, shows the race tied at 48 percent support for each candidate. Mr. Romney led, by 49 percent to 47 percent, in Gallup's first survey of likely voters, released Tuesday.
Its survey of registered voters Wednesday reports Mr. Obama ahead, by 50 to 45 percent, up from 49 to 46 percent a day earlier. The margin of error for each sample group is plus or minus 2 percentage points.
In the ABC interview, Mr. Obama said he remained confident because the "fundamentals" of the race hadn't changed. He said his poor performance in Denver didn't hand the advantage to Mr. Romney, according to excerpts released by the network. "Governor Romney had a good night. I had a bad night. It's not the first time I've had a bad night," Mr. Obama said.
Socially conservative Republicans made limiting abortion rights part of the party's platform, which proposes a constitutional amendment to ban the procedure.
Mr. 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," Mr. Ryan told the Weekly Standard magazine in 2010.
While seeking the GOP nomination, Mr. Romney regularly pledged to limit abortion funding. In September, he said he would appoint Supreme Court justices who would overturn Roe v. Wade, the landmark 1973 ruling that established a woman's right to abortion.