"I was effectively pro-choice at that time," said Romney, the former governor of Massachusetts, during a campaign stop in Iowa.
Romney insists that while he took a pro-choice stand until a couple of years ago, he has always personally opposed abortion. He added that his wife's donations say little about his positions on the matter.
A sign of the sensitivity surrounding Romney's abortion stance: An anti-abortion group's decision to give an award to Romney is drawing protests from those on both sides of the issue.
And the disclosure of the Planned Parenthood contribution, first reported by ABC News, is likely to give fresh ammunition to foes already suspicious of his changed position on the issue.
"I know there are some campaigns that want to keep reminding people of that," said Romney. "It's really hard for me to gauge what people will do."
"Her contributions are for her and not for me," Romney said before a campaign appearance in Iowa. "Her positions are not terrible relevant to my campaign." Romney volunteered that wife, Ann, is now one of the heads of Massachusetts Citizens for Life, a leading anti-abortion group.
Romney repeated an argument he's made frequently that many noted abortion opponents, including former President Ronald Reagan, have switched their views on the issue.
"There have been other great Americans who have had the recognition they were wrong," said Romney.
Romney says he changed his view on abortion during the debate over stem cell research and human cloning.
His wife's donation was made at a time when Romney was unsuccessfully running to unseat U.S. Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., before Romney was elected governor in 2002.
The anti-abortion group's plan to give Romney an award is also stirring controversy.
Abortion rights activists plan to picket the Republican presidential contender's appearance in Agawam at the Massachusetts Citizens for Life Mother's Day Dinner on Thursday, while abortion opponents are expected to demonstrate on Romney's behalf. A news conference planned by the event's organizer has been canceled, but Romney's staff said its scheduling was a mistake.
The focus on the event — the presentation of the group's "Political Leadership Award" to Romney — has critics crying hypocrisy. Romney himself has conceded a shift in his support for abortion rights.
As recently as 2002, he declared his support for the federal Roe v. Wade abortion rights decision, but more recently, as he seeks votes from conservative activists, he has declared his opposition to the Supreme Court ruling.
The former Massachusetts governor also gave $15,000 to Massachusetts Citizens for Life last December, prompting questions of bias in the group's award decision.
"There's no shortage of irony here," said Lisa Dacey, spokeswoman for the Planned Parenthood Advocacy Fund. "He is somebody who will say anything and change his mind a great deal to get elected. He did that here in Massachusetts and we have no doubt he will do that in the presidential race as well."