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DENVER — Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper, never one to identify himself too closely with controversial or partisan causes, gave a short speech defending a woman’s right to choose Tuesday afternoon at a rally organized by Planned Parenthood ahead of Wednesday night’s first presidential debate here.

A late addition to the slate of speakers at the group’s “Ask Mitt” rally on the Auraria Campus, Hickenlooper criticized Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, who stated earlier this year that he wanted to “get rid of” Planned Parenthood.

“I imagine when Mitt Romney comes back and looks at some of the positions he’s taken in this campaign, he’s going to have a hard time rationalizing that with pretty much everything he’s spoken and stood for for the rest of his life,” Hickenlooper said.

During the GOP primaries, Romney also stated that he supported a Personhood amendment, which would have posed a potential legal challenge to abortion had it not been voted down, in Mississippi.

On its website, Planned Parenthood poses five questions about women’s health it would like to see asked by moderator Jim Lehrer in Wednesday’s debate.

Hickenlooper, who was joined on stage by Planned Parenthood Action Fund President Cecile Richards and the group’s top lobbyist, Celinda Lake, began his speech describing his mom, an ardent supporter of women’s rights.

“My mother raised four kids by herself and she was very focused on her household, but also focused on what kind of a world was out there for us,” Hickenlooper said.

“There wasn’t a lot of money left at the end of the week, but at the end of the year, she’d get all of us together and make three contributions. One was to the college she’d gone to. One was to the local relief organization that helped homeless folks.

“And the third one — every year, she gave to Planned Parenthood.”

Hickenlooper said that he has always agreed with his mother that about the importance of a woman’s right to choose.

“Having an abortion is one of the toughest questions any woman, any girl, any couple could ever face,” Hickenlooper said.

“In the end, [my mother] would say, that decision absolutely has to be the decision of the woman who is carrying that child. You cannot take that decision away.”

Hickenlooper, who didn’t immediately announce that he was supporting President Barack Obama’s reelection bid, has taken a somewhat more active campaign role, giving a speech at the Democratic National Convention last month and speaking at a couple of Obama’s rallies in Colorado.

With exactly five weeks until Election Day, Hickenlooper encouraged those attending the rally Tuesday to take an active role and not to be discouraged by the negative ads on television.

“Each of us can go out and make sure that we go out over the next five weeks and do whatever we can do, whether it’s registering people to vote, helping people who are registered to vote actually vote,” Hickenlooper said. Most importantly, just keep talking about the election.

“You never see businesses do attack ads against each other,” continued Hickenlooper, whose most memorable 2010 campaign ad showed him showering in his clothes because negative ads made him feel dirty.

“What you end up doing is you depress the product category. We are depressing the product category of democracy. The only way you can fight that is dig your heels in, draw your line in the sand and don’t let them do that to you.

“Watch the news, listen to the debates, pay attention to the language of the arguments, get your friends involved and fired up,” he continued. “If we all do that, we can absolutely make sure we take back our democracy and absolutely make sure we reelect Barack Obama.”