LITTLETON, New Hampshire (Reuters) - Planned Parenthood in New Hampshire is attacking U.S. presidential candidate Mitt Romney for his opposition to federal funding for family planning, a stance that could help decide the state's crucial Republican primary in January.
Romney has called for the elimination of federal funding for family planning and preventive health services for women because some of the money goes to recipients like Planned Parenthood, a reproductive health group, that also provide abortions.
Democrats and some women's groups also have criticized him after he told Fox News he would have "absolutely" supported a constitutional amendment that would define conception as the beginning of life.
"Over the past several weeks, Mitt Romney has taken positions that are far out of the mainstream on women's health," said Jennifer Frizzell, a spokeswoman for Planned Parenthood of Northern New England.
Romney and Texas Governor Rick Perry, another presidential contender, have made "some of the most extreme statements" about family planning and abortion in the Republican field, she said.
A poll by the University of New Hampshire in February found that 88 percent of state residents think abortion should always be legal or legal in limited circumstances, including 82 percent of Republicans.
New Hampshire on January 10 holds the first primary election on the road to the Republican presidential nomination. It is the second state contest after the Iowa caucuses.
Romney, former governor of neighboring Massachusetts, holds a wide lead in the New England state heading toward the primary.
Should he win the Republican nomination, his views on abortion and birth control could be a factor in a general election matchup with Democratic President Barack Obama.
Romney's campaign defended his statements.
"Mitt Romney is pro-life and as he has said previously, he is supportive of efforts to ensure recognition that life begins at conception," said Andrea Saul, a Romney spokeswoman.
"Governor Romney simply does not believe that federal taxpayer dollars should be used to fund groups that provide abortions or abortion-related services. This is particularly so during a time of massive budget deficits and out-of-control spending."
New Hampshire has been a battleground in the national effort by abortion foes to weaken Planned Parenthood by cutting government funding for services such as pelvic exams and birth control prescriptions.
In June the state's Republican-controlled executive council vetoed a $1.8 million federally funded contract for women's health and family planning services in half of the state because Planned Parenthood would provide the services.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services ruled in September that the move violated federal rules, and funded Planned Parenthood in New Hampshire directly.
Federal law bars Planned Parenthood from using government funds to pay for abortions. The organization finances abortion services from private sources.
Reporting by Jason McLure; Editing by Ros Krasny, Jerry Norton and Xavier Briand