Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney sent his campaign staffers into clean-up mode late Tuesday, when reports that he had softened his pro-life position began circulating.
"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, according to a story posted on the newspaper's website.
Iowa is a critical battleground state, but the issue of abortion has national reach.
Romney was criticized by Democrats and women's health groups when he selected Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan as his running mate because of Ryan's sponsorship of more than a dozen bills that would either restrict a woman's access to contraception or the ability to get an abortion. Romney is Mormon and Ryan is Catholic.
Following the published report, Democrats tried to paint the remark as another example of Romney shifting his position on the issues, but a spokeswoman clarified to The Des Moines Register that he is "proudly pro-life and will be a pro-life president."
Romney also told the editorial board that he would ban federal monies for nonprofits that provide abortions abroad through executive order. President Barack Obama ended that prohibition, known as the "Mexico City policy," soon after taking office.
That wasn't enough to dissuade the Obama campaign from calling Romney untrustworthy.
"It's troubling that Mitt Romney is so willing to play politics with such important issues, but we know the truth about where he stands on a woman's right to choose—he's said he'd be delighted to sign a bill banning all abortions, and called Roe v. Wade 'one of the darkest moments in Supreme Court history' while pledging to appoint Supreme Court justices who will overturn it," said Lis Smith, an Obama campaign spokeswoman, in a release. "Women simply can't trust him."
In the past, Romney has said he would entirely defund Planned Parenthood, an organization that provides women's health services, including abortions, in the United States and receives federal funds. But in accordance with what's called the Hyde Amendment, federal funds are banned from paying specifically for abortions. In the past, Republicans unsatisfied with this caveat have tried to cut funding for Planned Parenthood entirely, through legislation.
Romney's current position on abortion is that it should only be an option in cases of rape, incest, or when the life of the mother is threatened.
But there's precedent for people being confused by Romney's talk on abortion. During his 1994 Senate campaign against Ted Kennedy in Massachusetts, Romney asserted, "I believe abortion should be safe and legal in this country."
"I have since the time my mom took that position since she ran in 1970 as a U.S. Senate candidate," he said at the time. "I believe that since Roe vs. Wade has been the law for 20 years that we should sustain and support it and I sustain and support that law and the right of a woman to make that choice. And my personal beliefs, like the personal beliefs of other people, should not be brought into a political campaign."
While serving as Massachusetts governor from 2002 to 2006, Romney vowed to do nothing that would threaten pro-choice rights already in law. But in 2005, he vetoed a bill that would have widened accessibility to emergency contraception.
And completing his evolution, when Romney was running for president in 2007, he proclaimed the Supreme Court decision that legalized abortions should be overturned.
"We should overturn Roe v. Wade and return these issues to the states," Romney said during a debate on CNN. "I would welcome a circumstance where there was such a consensus in this country where we said we don't want to have abortions in this country at all. Period. That would be wonderful."
Though most people say their top issue in the current election is the economy, social issues such as abortion have the ability to motivate voter turnout on both sides. The Obama campaign has already been highlighting the campaign differences on access to contraception in advertising in swing states like Colorado and Ohio.
Romney, currently experiencing a polling boost thanks to a strong debate performance, could face some backlash from the elevation of social issues in the campaign. That's because deeper looks at the polling data show his surge is due to an increase in support from unmarried women, a group that had been resistant to support him. Now, they may second-guess their support.
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Rebekah Metzler is a political writer for U.S. News & World Report. You can follow her on Twitter or reach her at email@example.com.