Romney Risks Base With an Appeal to Center on Abortion

U.S. Republican Presidential Candidate Mitt Romney
U.S. Republican presidential candidate, former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney. Photographer: Steve Pope/Getty Images

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,” Romney told reporters today in response to a question as he campaigned at Bun’s Restaurant in Delaware, Ohio. 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.

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 yesterday before an event in the swing state of Iowa.

President Barack Obama and abortion-rights advocates jumped on Romney’s remark, accusing him of trying to obscure his previous stance on the issue in an attempt to win over women, a crucial constituency for both candidates.

‘Hiding Positions’

“This is another example of Governor Romney hiding positions he’s been campaigning on for a year and a half,” Obama said in an interview today 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,” Obama said.  Romney “thinks that it is appropriate for politicians to inject themselves in those decisions.”

Romney, in yesterday’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 Representative 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 Romney’s remarks to the editorial board had the potential to widen his appeal among independent female voters, they also risked raising questions among other independents about where he stands on the issue and depressing turnout among Republican abortion foes who already had misgivings about his past positions.

‘Out of Touch’

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 Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, making clear the candidate wasn’t shifting his positions on abortion, council spokesman J.P. Duffy told Bloomberg News. The website Talking Points Memo quoted Perkins as saying there were “no alarm bells” about Romney from his perspective.

The potential confusion raised by Romney’s abortion remarks came as he attempts to accelerate his campaign’s momentum coming out of his first debate with Obama.

“I need your vote,” Romney said today 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.

Polls Shift

Gallup polling suggests a settling of the bounce for Romney following his performance in 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. Romney led, by 49 percent to 47 percent, in Gallup’s first survey of likely voters released yesterday.

Its survey of registered voters today reports Obama ahead, by 50 percent to 45 percent, up from 49 percent 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, Obama said he remains confident because the “fundamentals” of the race haven’t changed. He said his poor performance in the Denver debate didn’t hand the advantage to 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,” Obama said.

Republican Platform

Socially conservative Republicans made limiting abortion rights part of the party’s platform, which proposes a constitutional amendment to ban the procedure.

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,” Ryan told the Weekly Standard magazine in 2010.

Other Republicans stood by Romney today, saying they still believed the candidate would advocate for policies limiting abortion rights.

Marjorie Dannenfelser, the president of the anti-abortion advocacy group Susan B. Anthony List, said in a statement that she has “full confidence that as president, Governor Romney will stand by the pro-life commitments he laid out,” to prohibit federal funding for Planned Parenthood and “advocate for a bill to protect unborn children capable of feeling pain.”

Akin Reaction

Missouri Republican Senate candidate Todd Akin was “happy to see the clarification,” Akin spokesman Rick Tyler said today referring to a statement last night by Romney spokeswoman Andrea Saul that the candidate was “proudly pro-life.”

Akin, who made national headlines in August for saying a rape exception to a ban on abortion was unnecessary because “legitimate rape” rarely results in pregnancy, was confident that Romney “would govern as a pro-life president,” Tyler said. Akin is running against Democrat Claire McCaskill.

Stephanie Schriock, president of Emily’s List, which raises money for female candidates who support abortion rights, said in a statement that Romney “is weaving back and forth between versions of himself faster than his spokeswoman can keep up.”

While seeking the Republican nomination, Romney regularly promised to limit abortion funding.

In September, he said he would appoint justices to the Supreme Court who would overturn Roe v. Wade, the landmark 1973 ruling that established a woman’s right to abortion.

Romney’s ‘Preference’

“It would be my preference that they reverse Roe v. Wade and therefore they return to the people and their elected representatives the decisions with regards to this important issue,” he said at the time on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”

In Mount Vernon today, Romney cast himself as more eager to use economic and diplomatic pressure than military action to influence events in the Middle East, tempering the muscular foreign policy tone he’s taken in past appearances.

“We should play an active role,” he said. “That doesn’t mean sending in troops or dropping bombs but it does mean actively participating in a place like Syria.”

That approach, he said, doesn’t conflict with his promises to increase military spending.

“I want a military that’s so strong that we don’t have to use it,” he said.

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