Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney speaks at a campaign stop… (Jay LaPrete, Associated…)
DELAWARE, Ohio — The abortion issue returned to the fore of the presidential campaign Wednesday as Mitt Romney reaffirmed his opposition and said he would act from the White House to reduce the incidence of abortion in the United States and around the world.
"I think I've said time and again, I'm a pro-life candidate. I'll be a pro-life president," the Republican presidential nominee told reporters at a campaign stop in this central Ohio suburb.
"The actions I'll take immediately are to remove funding for Planned Parenthood. It will not be part of my budget," Romney said. "And also I've indicated I'll reverse the Mexico City position of the president. I will reinstate the Mexico City policy."
That was a reference to a ban on taxpayer funding for international groups that perform abortions or provide abortion counseling, a policy named after the city where it was announced. The ban has routinely been repealed under Democratic presidents and reinstated under Republicans.
The abortion issue, which became a brief focal point of the presidential campaign over the summer, resurfaced after a Romney interview with the Des Moines Register in which he seemed to downplay its import. He told the newspaper that there was "no legislation with regards to abortion that I'm familiar with that would become part of my agenda."
Soon after his remarks were posted online Tuesday, a Romney spokeswoman told the Associated Press, "Mitt Romney is proudly pro-life, and he will be a pro-life president."
"Gov. Romney would of course support legislation aimed at providing greater protections for life," spokeswoman Andrea Saul said.
Weighing in from the White House on Wednesday, President Obama accused Romney of deliberately fuzzing up his position. "Four weeks before the election, he is trying to cloud the question when it comes to women's right to control their own healthcare decisions," Obama said in an ABC News interview.
"The one thing that I think people — Republicans as well as Democrats — can say is that there has been consistency with me from the time that I started running for president to today," said Obama, who took the day off the campaign trail. "And there will be consistency all the way through the next four years of my presidency. People will know where I stand, what I believe, what I'm fighting for. And that's part of leadership."
As the governor of left-leaning Massachusetts, Romney supported legal abortion — one reason he has been viewed with distrust by many social conservatives. He took a firm antiabortion stance during the Republican primaries both times he ran for president, opposing abortion in all instances except for cases involving rape or incest or to save the life of the mother.
Romney said he would appoint Supreme Court justices he hoped would overturn Roe vs. Wade, the decision legalizing abortion, and said in a 2007 debate that if Congress passed an abortion ban, "I'd be delighted to sign that bill."
Social conservatives pointedly reminded Romney of that position Wednesday. The Susan B. Anthony List, an antiabortion group, distributed an article Romney wrote vowing to prohibit federal funding for Planned Parenthood and backing legislation that would "protect unborn children who are capable of feeling pain from abortion." In the June 2011 article, Romney also reiterated his support for overturning Roe vs. Wade.
"We have full confidence that as president, Gov. Romney will stand by the pro-life commitments," said Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the group.
But Romney's positions on abortion and birth control have alienated more moderate women, contributing to a gender gap that has benefited Obama. Romney has worked to make up some of that ground in the aftermath of his strong debate performance last week.
The abortion issue flared over the summer after Republican Rep. Todd Akin of Missouri, a candidate for U.S. Senate, said women had the ability to avoid pregnancy in cases of "legitimate" rape. Romney was among Republicans who urged Akin to quit the Senate race, to no avail.
Mehta reported from Delaware, Ohio, and Barabak from Los Angeles. Michael A. Memoli in Washington contributed to this report.