Republican vice presidential candidate Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) qualified… (Matt Rourke / Associated…)
RALEIGH, N.C. -- Rep. Paul Ryan shrugged off differences with Mitt Romney on abortion policy Wednesday, saying Romney's views, while more moderate than his, were "a good step in the right direction."
Ryan, the presumptive Republican vice presidential candidate under Romney, has taken a sharply conservative view on abortion in the past, saying he opposes it in all circumstances except to save the life of the mother -- a position that would outlaw abortion even in cases of rape or incest. Romney accepts all three exceptions.
Ryan briefly answered questions on the topic during an impromptu news conference on his campaign plane. After reporters traveling with the campaign complained about a lack of access to the candidate, Ryan came back to the plane’s press section on a trip from Roanoke, Va., to Raleigh, N.C., passing out cookies that he said were a gift from "Chris the Baker" -- a sudden conservative hero who reportedly rejected an offer to appear with Vice President Joe Biden recently.
PHOTOS: Paul Ryan's past
Asked about an abortion bill he co-sponsored along with Rep. Todd Akin, Ryan said he was among 251 supporters of the bill. "It was bipartisan. ... I think we had 251 votes, 16 Democrats. I'm proud of my pro-life record."
The bill in question was H.R. 3, known as the "No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act," which did pass the House in 2011 by a vote of 251 to 175. It died in the Senate. The bill, which would have made permanent an existing ban on federal funding of abortion, initially provided an exception for cases of "forcible rape." That language was removed after an outcry by women's groups over the word "forcible," which suggested that some rapes were not forced.
In response to a question about his differences with Romney on exceptions to a ban on abortion, Ryan said: "Look, I'm proud of my record. ... Mitt Romney is going to be the president; the president sets policy. His policy is exceptions for rape, incest, life of the mother. I'm comfortable with it because it's a good step in the right direction. I'll leave it at that."
He declined to answer any more questions on the subject.
PHOTOS: "Legitimate rape" and other disastrous quotes
Democrats have highlighted Ryan’s abortion record since his selection as Romney’s vice presidential running mate, and the attention has increased since Akin’s remark Sunday that victims of “legitimate rape” rarely become pregnant. Akin, the Republican nominee for a U.S. Senate seat in Missouri, has brushed aside suggestions by Romney and a host of other Republicans that he back out of the race to preserve GOP hopes of defeating Democratic incumbent Claire McCaskill.
Ryan acknowledged having spoken to Akin about dropping out of the race but declined to describe the conversation. "It was as you would imagine. I'll keep it between us," he said, adding that he agreed with Sen. Roy Blunt, former Sen. John Danforth "and the rest of them ... that he should have dropped out of the race."
"But he's not," he added. "He's going to run his race and we're going to run ours."
Follow Politics Now on Twitter