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Mitt Romney is proudly pro-life, and he will be a pro-life president,” campaign spokesman Andrea Saul said.

Surrogates for Mr. Romney rushed to his defense Wednesday, saying he is more focused on putting Americans back to work.

“The reality is, it’s no surprise that President Obama would want to talk about anything but the economy,” Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal said at a campaign stop in Virginia.

Mr. Jindal made the remarks after he and Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell visited a barbecue restaurant in Chester. Mr. McDonnell said that Mr. Romney was sending a message that his presidential agenda “isn’t focusing on social issues.”

“Having read those comments from Gov. Romney,” Mr. McDonnell said of the Register interview, “what he was saying is, his overwhelming priority is going to be creating jobs, getting the economy back on track.”

The governor’s record

The former Massachusetts governor generally doesn’t talk about a pro-life agenda at his campaign rallies. Mr. Romney’s position on abortion has evolved over his political career, starting in 1994 with his failed U.S. Senate bid against Democrat Edward M. Kennedy in Massachusetts. At the time, Mr. Romney said he personally opposed abortion, but that his commitment to keeping abortions legal stemmed from having a relative who died from an illegal abortion.

“I believe that abortion should be safe and legal in this country,” Mr. Romney said at the time. “I believe that since Roe v. Wade has been the law for 20 years that we should sustain and support it.”

He touted a similar message during his 2002 gubernatorial bid, vowing to “preserve and protect a woman’s right to choose” and saying that he is “devoted and dedicated to honoring my word in that regard.”

However, his stance changed in 2005 after he announced in a Boston Globe editorial that he is “pro-life” and said that he supports a reversal of Roe v. Wade.

The shift haunted Mr. Romney in this year’s GOP primary, where he was on the receiving end of attacks from former Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania and struggled to win over evangelical voters who questioned his pro-life credentials.

An unexpected fight

A fight over female voters is one of the last battles that Mr. Obama’s advisers thought they would be waging this late in the campaign. Women voted for Mr. Obama in 2008 by a margin of 56 percent to 43 percent over Republican candidate John McCain. Unmarried women went for the president in an especially lopsided result, 70 percent to 29 percent. Married mothers gave Mr. Obama a slight edge.

But in a Bloomberg News poll released Wednesday, married mothers in the crucial battleground states of Ohio and Virginia gave Mr. Romney the edge, saying they preferred the Republican for dealing with the nation’s economic challenges, even though they side with the president on reproductive rights.

Married mothers in Ohio supported Mr. Romney 50 percent to 44 percent; in Virginia, they favored Mr. Romney by 50 percent to 45 percent.

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