Mitt Romney's complicated relationship with abortion has long made him suspect to rock-ribbed conservatives. He started off his political career in the solidly blue state of Massachusetts as a pro-abortion-rights Republican, before switching to a firmly anti-abortion position shortly before his first presidential run in 2008. His "evolution" on abortion has, of course, invited accusations of brazen flip-floppery, and Romney has worked hard to convince Republican voters that his position is genuine, claiming in 2007 that he would be "delighted" to sign federal legislation banning all abortions and promising as recently as September to defund Planned Parenthood. (See a thorough video history of Romney's changing abortion position at BuzzFeed, and a 1994 video of Romney supporting abortion rights below.)
This week, Romney once again appeared to sing another tune, saying in an interview with The Des Moines Register that "there's no legislation with regards to abortion that I'm familiar with that would become part of my agenda." His campaign quickly "clarified" that Romney "would of course support legislation aimed at providing greater protections for life."
Perhaps predictably, the Obama campaign pounced on Romney's suddenly more moderate stance, accusing the GOP candidate of a cynical ploy to woo women voters. "Romney may try to change his image four weeks before Election Day, but he can't change the fact that women can't trust him," said Lis Smith, a spokeswoman for Team Obama. Indeed, many critics of Romney see the shift as part of a broader plan to erase his conservative positions before November. "This is an extension of the strategy Romney employed at last week's debate," says Steve Kornacki at Salon, "playing dumb when confronted with the aspects of conservative ideology that are difficult to market outside the Republican Party base."
Conservatives see less hypocrisy in Romney's modification, noting that legislation would not be Romney's main vehicle for limiting abortion. "As president, Mitt Romney would affect abortion policy by issuing executive orders and appointing Supreme Court justices that would (hopefully) allow the states to legislate on abortion," says John McCormack at The Weekly Standard.
Either way, the strategy carries pitfalls and rewards. "While Romney's comments may widen his appeal among independent female voters, they risk raising questions among other independents about where he stands on the issue and depressing turnout among anti-abortion Republicans who already had misgivings about his past positions," say Margaret Talev and Lisa Lerer at Bloomberg.