Mitt Romney said that abortion-related legislation would not be part of his agenda if he was elected president, a statement that could reignite the debate over reproductive rights and the Republican nominee’s history of reversals on the topic.

“There’s no legislation with regards to abortion that I’m familiar with that would become part of my agenda,” the Republican nominee told an editorial board meeting on Tuesday at the Des Moines Register, though he added that he would reinstate through an executive order what is known as the Mexico City policy, which blocks US foreign aid being used to perform abortions.

The statement was seized on by the Obama campaign, which said it contradicted his pledge to appoint Supreme Court justices who would try to overturn Roe v Wade, the landmark decision that legalised abortion in the US.

“We know the truth about where he stands on a woman’s right to choose – 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,” said an Obama campaign spokeswoman.

Mr Romney has throughout his campaign for the White House expressed his staunch opposition to abortion rights except in cases of rape and incest.

Indeed, a Romney campaign official said: “He’d obviously support pro-life legislation.”

The Tuesday night statement is likely to reflect an attempt to soften that stance as the campaign seeks to appeal to more women voters. Recent polls show that Mr Romney has made inroads with so-called “swing” voters who are women since his strong debate performance against Barack Obama, US president, last week.

But his words could also create anger among conservatives who have previously been uneasy about Mr Romney’s conservative credentials given his previous support of abortion rights. As governor of Massachusetts and in his unsuccessful run for the Senate against Edward Kennedy, Mr Romney persistently denied that he would curb a woman’s right to abortion, saying in debates that he would “preserve and protect” the right.

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