New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie on Friday declared his opposition to abortion, confronting religious conservative critics hours before the potential 2016 GOP presidential candidate planned to campaign in New Hampshire.

In his first major address to social conservatives, Christie declared that "every life is a gift from God that's precious and must be protected."

Christie also said those who oppose abortion must protect human lives after birth.

"I believe if you're pro-life, as I am, you need to be pro-life for the whole life," he said at a conference of the Faith and Freedom Coalition, a group led by Christian activist Ralph Reed. "You can't just afford to be pro-life when the human being is in the womb."

The comments came in the midst of what amounts to a cross-country revival tour, after a home-state political scandal, that has featured policy speeches, late-night television appearances and campaign stops in key states on the presidential primary calendar.

His visit to New Hampshire was to be the first since the George Washington bridge scandal came to light and threatened to sink Christie's 2016 hopes. The governor's aides ordered lanes to the busy bridge closed as a way of causing traffic jams in Fort Lee, New Jersey, apparently in an act of political retribution against the town's mayor.

Officially, Christie, as chairman of the Republican Governors Association, intended to stop in New Hampshire to support gubernatorial candidate Walt Havenstein. But the appearance also may represent the most tangible evidence yet of Christie's growing interest in the presidency.

He and his advisers believe the worst of his political troubles are behind him, in part because no evidence has come out that he was personally involved in the bridge closure that led him to fire his top political adviser and deputy chief of staff.

Christie did not mention the bridge scandal during his Friday remarks in Washington.

"We haven't seen anything that indicates, much less demonstrates, that he had any advanced knowledge of this or was personally involved," Reed said in an interview with The Associated Press.

But Reed, like others at the conference, noted that Christie has yet to win over many religious conservative voters who still hold great sway in the presidential primaries.

Christie vetoed a bill that would have allowed gay marriage in New Jersey, but angered some conservatives this year by declining to appeal a court ruling that legalized it.

"We agree on some things and we disagree on some things," Reed said. "But he's the first pro-life governor in New Jersey since Roe v. Wade."

Another conference participant was less complimentary.

Steve Scheffler, who serves as Iowa's Republican national committeeman, said he had questions about Christie's conservative credentials.

"I don't think we're going to win with somebody in the fall who essentially a Democrat-lite," he said when asked about the New Jersey governor.

Christie said he's not worried about his critics.

"I'm accused of lots of different things. And I'm called lots of different names. But indirect has never been one of them," he said. "Leadership is about telling people who you are and what you stand for, and then speaking it directly, loudly and understandably so that not only your supporters know who you are, but the people against you know who you are, too, and have respect for where you stand."