Romney's mail piece on abortion was roundly criticized by his Republican rivals.
COLUMBIA, South Carolina (CNN) - Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney's presidential campaign recently sent out a slick mail piece in South Carolina emphatically stating that Romney is "the only major presidential candidate who supports the Republican party's pro-life platform: A constitutional amendment banning abortion nationwide."
That blanket declaration is aimed directly at many of the state's conservative primary voters, who believe abortion should be outlawed in full.
But the claim doesn't completely square with Romney's previous statements that the abortion issue should first be decided by state legislatures before a constitutional amendment can be passed, leading one conservative leader in the state to call parts of the Romney brochure "oversimplified" and "offensive."
Romney's claim in the mailer, obtained last week by CNN, also opened the door for three of his Republican opponents campaigning in South Carolina to hammer Romney on his past support for abortion rights.
Romney, according to previous statements, actually favors overturning Roe vs. Wade and returning the issue to the states as a stop gap measure until enough votes can be gathered in the Senate to pass an amendment.
In a 2005 Boston Globe op-ed, Romney wrote that he is "pro-life" but said that "while the nation remains so divided over abortion, I believe that the states, through the democratic process, should determine their own abortion laws and not have them dictated by judicial mandate."
Asked about whether those statements conflict with the mailer's straightforward claim that he supports an amendment banning abortion nationwide, a Romney aide directed CNN to a Christian Broadcasting Network interview from Monday with James Bopp, Jr., Romney's advisor on "life issues."
Bopp said in the interview that Romney believes an amendment is "not possible right now" because the votes are not there, "but what is possible is reversing Roe vs. Wade."
Bopp added that Romney's state approach is consistent with "a federalism approach" because a constitutional amendment would ultimately require ratification by three-fourths of the states.
Oran Smith, president of the Palmetto Family Council - the South Carolina affiliate of Dr. James Dobson's organization, Focus on the Family - said that Romney brochure is "oversimplified and unnecessary."
"It's really unnecessary for Romney in many ways," Smith said. "He had a pretty good record as governor. He doesn't need to resort to oversimplifying his record."
Smith also dismissed the brochure's use of the term "major candidate," which apparently excludes former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee, who poses a challenge to Romney with his recent strides among religious conservatives, most notably in Iowa.
Romney dropped a mailing in Iowa about gay marriage this week that also excludes Huckabee.
"You can't say before any election has been held anywhere who is and who isn't a major candidate," Smith said. "I find the use of that term rather offensive."
Former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee, a staunch abortion rights opponent, said at a campaign stop in South Carolina on Saturday that he too supports an amendment banning abortion.
"Long before he was even pro-life, I was pushing the Human Life Amendment," Huckabee said. "Where Mitt comes up with that, I have no idea. You'll have to ask him how he can manufacture such ideas."
Huckabee, along with former Tennessee senator Fred Thompson and Arizona Sen. John McCain, have all campaigned in South Carolina in recent days.
Asked about the mailer, all three blasted Romney for his past support for abortion rights, with Thompson on Saturday going so far as to call Romney "one of the most adamant pro-choice advocates that I had ever seen."
Thompson, who supports overturning Roe vs. Wade and letting states decide their own abortion laws, does not support a constitutional amendment banning abortion.
McCain said Tuesday in South Carolina that he does support an amendment, and that Romney's mail piece "is certainly dramatically different from his passionate defense of a woman's right to choose that used to be his position both verbally and in writing."
McCain told ABC News last year that said he supports a constitutional amendment with exceptions for rape and incest, but that he is ultimately a federalist and isn't confident such an amendment will be passed.
The other leading Republican candidate, former New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani, is a supporter of abortion rights but has repeatedly said he will appoint "strict constructionist judges."
- CNN South Carolina Producer Peter Hamby