WASHINGTON (CNN) - Mitt Romney grew emotional during a television interview aired Sunday in which he recalled his family's civil rights legacy and the Mormon church's 1978 decision to allow blacks to participate fully in church rites.
In an interview on NBC's 'Meet the Press' Sunday, Romney's eyes seemed to fill with tears when he recalled the moment he heard about the church's policy change. "I was driving home from, I think it was law school, but I was driving home... I heard it on the radio, and I pulled over and literally wept," he said. "Even at this day, it's emotional."
He also clarified some of his recent remarks on faith, saying that "for America to be a great nation and lead the world, we must have a religious base," but added that he does believe it is possible for an individual to be both moral and atheist.
The former Massachusetts governor also said that he did speak with leaders of the Mormon church before running for president, but he made the final decision in consultation with his family.
Romney repeated campaign trail statements that Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court case that allowed abortion to remain legal, should be overturned, and said he would love it "if people would welcome our becoming a no-abortion country." He said any new penalties should not punish women who underwent the procedure, but that physicians who performed certain abortions should lose their licenses, or face up to two years in prison.
The former governor, who has made a get-tough immigration policy a central issue in his efforts to win the Iowa caucuses, also repeated earlier calls that workers in the U.S. illegally should have to go home for a period of time before receiving any sort of legal status.
"The 12 million here illegally should be given the opportunity to stay here, but no advantage in becoming a U.S. citizen," said Romney, adding that, "if they had a child, that doesn't mean they all get to stay here indefinitely."
He said that employers who hired these workers should face the same criminal penalties as those who do not pay their taxes, and repeated his calls for a new national employment verification system.
Immigration is a top issue among Republicans in many early-voting states, including Iowa. Polling showed Romney leading in the state until recently, but he is now currently trailing Mike Huckabee in the newest surveys with less than three weeks to go until the Hawkeye State's first-in-the-nation caucuses.
Romney repeated a Saturday criticism of the former Arkansas governor, saying he "went over the line" in a newly-released Foreign Affairs article in which he said the Bush administration had an "arrogant bunker mentality" with regard to foreign policy.
Romney, who is leading in New Hampshire in most polls, faced a snub from his hometown paper Sunday when The Boston Globe decided to back Arizona Sen. John McCain in neighboring New Hampshire's Republican primary. McCain, who won the Granite State during his 2000 presidential run, is second there behind Romney in most recent polls.
- CNN Associate Political Editor Rebecca Sinderbrand