DELAWARE, Ohio — With President Obama losing his advantage among female voters, his campaign aides Wednesday resurrected attacks on Mitt Romney over abortion and women’s rights, claiming the Republican nominee is hiding his true positions.
Mr. Romney is pro-life but doesn’t emphasize his position on the campaign trail, preferring to focus on economic issues. The swiftness of the Obama campaign’s attack, calling in Planned Parenthood President Cecile Richards to criticize Mr. Romney, underscored the concern in the president’s camp about the shifting attitudes of female voters since the first presidential debate on Oct. 3, in which the president performed poorly.
Viewers of the debate rated Mr. Romney as the undisputed winner, and even some single women, who make up a key part of the president’s support, favored the Republican. A month ago, Mr. Obama enjoyed an 18-point advantage over Mr. Romney among female voters in a Pew Research Center poll, 56 percent to 38 percent. But in a Pew survey conducted after the debate, Mr. Obama’s lead among women had evaporated, with the candidates tied at 47 percent in the eyes of female voters.
Given those developments in the past week, the president’s surrogates seized Wednesday on a comment that Mr. Romney gave in an interview with the Des Moines Register, in which he said “there’s no legislation with regards to abortion that I’m familiar with that would become part of my agenda.”
“We’re not saying that he’s changed his mind on these issues,” said deputy Obama campaign manager Stephanie Cutter. “We’re saying he’s trying to cover up his beliefs. Women simply cannot trust Mitt Romney.”
Ms. Richards accused Mr. Romney of hiding his positions on abortion. “This isn’t about flip-flopping; this is about distancing himself from positions he’s taken repeatedly,” she told reporters in a conference call arranged by the Obama campaign.
Ms. Richards said she has taken a temporary leave from Planned Parenthood to campaign for the president’s re-election.
At a campaign stop in Delaware, Ohio, on Wednesday, Mr. Romney defended his remarks in the Des Moines newspaper and said he hasn’t changed his stance.
“I think I’ve said time and again, I’m a pro-life candidate,” Mr. Romney said. “I’ll be a pro-life president. The actions I’ll take immediately are to remove funding for Planned Parenthood. It will not be part of my budget. And also I’ve indicated I’ll reverse the Mexico City position of the president. I will reinstate the Mexico City Policy.”
The Mexico City Policy, initiated by President Reagan in 1984, bans federal funds from being used by private groups to pay for abortions. Mr. Obama rescinded the policy within days of taking office.
The president also weighed in Wednesday, telling ABC News’ Diane Sawyer that his opponent’s interview in the Des Moines paper “is another example of Gov. Romney hiding positions he’s been campaigning on for a year and a half.”
“Is it a lie?” Ms. 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,” Mr. Obama said. “[Mr. Romney] thinks that it is appropriate for politicians to inject themselves in those decisions.”
Romney: No changes
Mr. Romney campaigned during the Republican primary season on a pro-life platform, and a campaign spokeswoman reiterated Wednesday that Mr. Romney hasn’t changed that position.
“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.
In Ohio, the Bloomberg poll found that married mothers backed Mr. Romney, although 55 percent favored the federal government’s auto bailout, which Mr. Romney opposed. They said they think Mr. Romney also will do a better job than the president on handling gas prices and reviving the housing market.
There are 2½ times as many single women as married mothers in the U.S., and Mr. Obama continues to hold an advantage with them.