Deflection, ducking and hasty backpedaling have been the hallmarks of many of the 2024 Republican president candidates’ approach to abortion, a sea change from the not-so-distant past when it was their party’s key electoral carrot.
But the Supreme Court’s Dobbs ruling, which is approaching its one-year anniversary, has upended the abortion landscape, and elections even in deep red states have indicated that majorities of voters support abortion access.
While Republicans try to find new footing on the topic that doesn’t spur angry backlash, anti-abortion advocates are eager to build on their historic victory with ever more draconian restrictions. Rounding out the uncomfortable position for the 2024 hopefuls, the upcoming election is the party’s first chance since Dobbs to win Congress and the White House — making a federal abortion ban a possibility for the first time, and thus an unavoidable topic.
Former ambassador and governor Nikki Haley, at a Sunday CNN town hall, was the latest GOP candidate to squirm out of saying what degree of restriction she supports.
Anchor Jake Tapper asked Haley whether she would sign a six-week gestational ban, if it came to her desk in the White House.
“I will answer that when you ask Kamala and Biden if they would agree to 37 weeks, 38 weeks, 39 weeks,” she responded. “Then I’ll answer your question.”
Demonizing “late-term abortions” is a common Republican tactic, seizing on an anti-abortion myth that women are frequently carrying their pregnancies almost completely to term before having an elective abortion divorced from a medical emergency. And elsewhere in her answers, Haley insisted that she supports a “consensus” decision on abortion, whatever can get 60 votes in the Senate.
But her refusal to say what kind of ban she’d support — an answer likely to leave both opponents and proponents of abortion access dissatisfied — reveals the political danger of the issue to Republicans.
Susan B. Anthony Pro-Life America President Marjorie Dannenfelser, responding to similar comments Haley made in May on CBS, called her position “not acceptable.”
“Ambassador Haley is uniquely gifted at communicating from a pro-life woman’s perspective,” Dannenfelser said in a statement. “I look forward to confirmation of her concrete goals.”
Haley’s competitors aren’t faring much better.
Late last month, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) spent less than a minute touting his six-week abortion ban — in a speech to the Florida Family Policy Council, a major anti-abortion group in the state. He’d signed the ban behind closed doors, marking its passage into law with a middle-of-the-night press release.
He’s taken mild swipes at former President Donald Trump, trying to position himself as the more anti-abortion candidate of the two, but stopped well short of leaning into his state’s own ban.
Trump himself was scolded by SBA Pro-Life America after his campaign said in a statement that the Supreme Court got it right when it ruled to leave it to the states.
The group has since softened its stance on Trump, and Trump has shifted to attacking Democrats for wanting to “kill the baby in the ninth month.”
Despite the political radioactivity, Haley, DeSantis and Trump may ultimately be forced to be more explicit about what degree of restriction they’d support by their more candid challengers. Sen. Tim Scott (R-SC), who entered the race in late May, said he’d support a 15-week ban if it reached his desk. And former Vice President Mike Pence, who is expected to formally launch his campaign this week, has backed both a six- and 15-week federal ban.