Mitt Romney Tripped Up By Abortion Rhetoric

Romney's abortion comments could complicate Ryan's debate night.

ByABC News
October 10, 2012, 10:58 AM

Oct. 10, 2012 -- Mitt Romney promised today he would govern as a "pro-life president" less than 24 hours after telling an Iowa newspaper he saw "no legislation with regards to abortion that I'm familiar with that would become part of my agenda."

His earlier comments threatened to put him at odds with segments of his core constituency and box in running mate Rep. Paul Ryan, a staunch opponent of abortion rights who has been careful to keep in line with Romney's less strict approach.

Tune in to on Thursday for livestreaming coverage of the 2012 Vice Presidential Debate moderated by ABC's Martha Raddatz in Danville, Ky. Coverage kicks off with ABC News' live preview show at noon, and full debate coverage begins at 8 p.m.

Romney sought to reinforce his anti-abortion credentials this afternoon, telling reporters he would immediately "remove funding for Planned Parenthood" and "reinstate the Mexico City policy," which bans federal money from being used by private organizations "to pay for the performance of abortions as a method of family planning."

Asked about Romney's Iowa remarks on the trail today, Ryan denied there was anything daylight between him and the top of the ticket.

"Our position's unified," Ryan told reporters outside an ice cream shop in St. Petersburg, Fla. "Our position is consistent and hasn't changed."

Romney was prompted to bolster his anti-abortion stance after an interview with the Des Moines Register on Tuesday where he said, "There's no legislation with regards to abortion that I'm familiar with that would become part of my agenda."

The comment appeared to be a marked shift for the GOP candidate who has pledged during the campaign to advocate support for specific legislation restricting abortion rights.

President Obama seized on the confusion during an exclusive interview with ABC World News anchor Diane Sawyer.

"This is another example of Governor Romney hiding positions he's been campaigning on for a year and a half," Obama said.

"Is it a lie?" Sawyer asked.

"No, I actually think… 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 answered. "[Romney] thinks that it is appropriate for politicians to inject themselves in those decisions."

Obama spokeswoman Lis Smith said Ryan's statement was proof that a President Romney "will restrict a woman's right to choose.

"And there's no better validator on this issue than Paul Ryan, who worked with Todd Akin to redefine rape and ban abortion, even in the case of rape and incest," she said in an email.

Rep. Akin, R.Mo., infuriated women this summer by claiming they don't get pregnant during "legitimate rape."

Ryan, who will debate Vice President Biden Thursday Danville, Ky., co-sponsored a so-called "personhood" amendment during his last term. Under the proposed law, terminating a pregnancy would become illegal with almost no exception.

Romney's comments and the resulting back-and-forth have resulted in an unusual, if unintentional, agreement between the two campaigns, with both sides arguing the Republican presidential nominee was more dedicated to the anti-abortion cause than his remark in Iowa would suggest.

"Mitt Romney is proudly pro-life, and he will be a pro-life president," Romney spokeswoman Andrea Saul said after the original interview was posted online.

Obama's deputy campaign manager Stephanie Cutter accused Romney not of reversing himself on the abortion issue, but "trying to cover up his beliefs."

In the aftermath of a well-received debate performance, Romney has seen his support among women voters rise. Recent polls show him even with or just behind Obama, who has held a commanding lead for much of the campaign season.

The Susan B. Anthony list, a leading anti-abortion organization, told ABC News it was standing by Romney despite his apparently softened rhetoric.

"He truly holds to the pro-life view in his mind and heart," SBA List President Marjorie Dannenfelser said today. "That's who he is."

Romney's tack to center could create some complications for his vice presidential nominee, who arrives in Kentucky today ahead of Thursday's debate at Centre College in Danville.