By Elise Viebeck - 10/10/12 12:10 PM EDT
Mitt Romney said Tuesday that legislation on abortion was not "part of my agenda," sparking controversy as critics charged him with misrepresenting his position.
Speaking with the Des Moines Register on Tuesday, Romney suggested he would not press legislation to restrict abortion rights if elected, saying "there is no legislation with regards to abortion that I'm familiar with that would become part of my agenda."
The remark clashed with Romney's past commitment to ensuring U.S. laws reflect the "values of preserving life," and prompted criticism from abortion-rights advocates who accused the GOP challenger of playing politics to win female voters.
Romney's campaign later clarified his position, saying the candidate is "proudly pro-life and will be a pro-life president."
In the past, Romney has promised to support fetal pain legislation, which bans abortion after 20 weeks on the disputed premise that pre-viable fetuses feel pain.
He has also vowed to end public health funds for Planned Parenthood because the group provides abortions, and to support a decades-old ban that prohibits federal dollars from supporting the procedures.
Romney outlined these pledges in a letter to supporters posted in July at the anti-abortion rights site Life News.
"I support the reversal of Roe v. Wade because it is bad law and bad medicine," Romney also wrote. "I will only appoint judges who adhere to the Constitution and the laws as they are written, not as they want them to be written."
In the Des Moines Register interview, Romney promised one action on abortion — an executive order to bar U.S. foreign aid from funding it.
The controversy comes as Romney seeks to soften his public image in the closing weeks of the presidential race, particularly on healthcare issues. Polls have found him leading President Obama since his highly successful debate performance last week.
In a statement, Obama's campaign criticized the GOP nominee for his willingness "to play politics with such important issues."
"We know the truth about where [Romney] stands on a woman’s right to choose," said Obama campaign spokeswoman Lis Smith.
"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. Women simply can’t trust him."