The Republican presidential primary field is full of anti-abortion candidates, but amid electoral backlash to abortion bans, some candidates are attempting to backpedal on the campaign trail.
It’s been roughly 15 months since the US Supreme Court overturned the constitutional right to abortion, and there’s a little over a year to go until the 2024 presidential election, which could decide the future of abortion rights in the United States.
On one side, President Joe Biden has vowed to do everything he can to restore the protections previously guaranteed by Roe v. Wade, but that would require a Democratic-controlled House and Senate, and the elimination of the Senate filibuster.
On the other side, the Republican presidential primary field is full of anti-abortion candidates, but amid massive electoral backlash to abortion bans (spoiler alert: they’re unpopular and costing Republicans elections!), some candidates are attempting to backpedal or soften their stances on the campaign trail, or ignore the issue altogether.
So where do GOP presidential candidates stand on the issue? And what’s their record? Let’s take a look.
Donald Trump, the former president and GOP front-runner, has boasted about the fact that he appointed three of the Supreme Court justices who were part of the decision that overturned Roe.
“After 50 years of failure, with nobody coming even close, I was able to kill Roe v. Wade, much to the ‘shock’ of everyone,” Trump wrote on Truth Social, his social media platform, in May. “Without me there would be no 6 weeks, 10 weeks, 15 weeks, or whatever is finally agreed to. Without me the pro Life movement would have just kept losing.”
He’s made similar comments at in-person campaign events.
“Last year, I was able to do something that nobody thought was possible—and you have to really think about this and study this because it’s very important—we ended Roe V Wade,” Trump said to cheers during a Sept. 20 rally in Iowa.
While bragging about being the person responsible for the reversal of Roe nationally, Trump has tried to distance himself from the consequences, most notably the total or six-week abortion bans being passed in Republican-led states.
During a recent appearance on NBC’s Meet the Press, Trump criticized Florida Governor Ron DeSantis for signing a six-week ban in his state.
“I think what he did is a terrible thing and a terrible mistake,” Trump said.
In that same “Meet the Press” interview, Trump said he wants to bring “both sides” together on the issue.
DeSantis calls himself a “pro-life candidate” and signed two abortion bans into law in Florida—a 15-week ban last year and the six-week ban this year—and suggested to Tucker Carlson in July he would sign a national version of Florida’s six-week abortion if he were president.
More recently, during the second GOP presidential primary debate on Wednesday, he confirmed that he would sign a 15-week nationwide ban. He also dismissed the idea that abortion bans and restrictions were the reason that Republicans performed poorly in last year’s midterm elections.
“I reject this idea that pro-lifers are to blame for midterm defeats,” he said.
Unlike some of his counterparts, South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott has not shied away from abortion on the trail and has made it clear to Iowans that he supports a national abortion ban.
“I am 100% pro-life. When I am president of the United States, I will sign the most pro-life legislation the House and Senate can put on my desk,” Scott wrote in a July op-ed for the Des Moines Register.
He also reaffirmed this stance many times on the campaign trail.
“I’m a pro-life conservative with a 100% pro-life voting record,” Scott said at an event in Iowa on Aug. 31. “As president of the United States, I would limit abortions in this country to 15 weeks.”
He also called the Supreme Court decision overturning Roe “historic” and celebrated his role in appointing the justices who overturned Roe.
Nikki Haley, a former UN ambassador and South Carolina governor, said during a May campaign event in New Hampshire that she would sign a nationwide abortion ban, without specifying details.
But she also raised some eyebrows during the first GOP presidential primary debate when she said calls for a national abortion ban were unrealistic. She’s continued to reiterate that point on the campaign trail.
“In order to pass a federal law, you have to have the majority of the House, 60—six-zero—Senate votes and the signature of a president. We haven’t had 60 Republicans in over a hundred years—we might have 45 pro-life senators—so no Republican can anymore ban abortions than a Democratic president can ban those state laws,” she said during a recent event in Iowa.
Haley said her goal would be to stop as many abortions as possible and to help mothers and women find alternatives to abortion.
A good foundation of former Vice President Mike Pence’s political career has been built on opposing reproductive rights.
“I’m pro-life and I don’t apologize for it,” Pence frequently says.
He ran for Congress in 1996 for “the babies” and said he was the first person to introduce legislation to defund Planned Parenthood in the US House of Representatives.
As governor of Indiana, Pence signed HB 1337 into law, which enacted new abortion access restrictions, but the law was ultimately ruled unconstitutional.
On the trail, Pence has also supported a minimum national 15-week abortion ban. “When the Supreme Court returned this question to the American people, they didn’t just send it to the states only,” Pence said during the first Republican debate. “It’s not a states-only issue. It’s a moral issue.”
“A 15-week ban is an idea whose time has come,” Pence added.
Pence has also boasted about being part of the Trump-Pence administration that eventually led to the toppling of Roe v. Wade.
“We ought to ban abortion across America,” Pence said in Iowa this month.
Vivek Ramaswamy, a former biotech entrepreneur, describes himself as “unapologetically pro-life,” but has said he does not believe a federal abortion ban “makes any sense,” while in the same breath comparing abortion to murder.
“This is not an issue for the federal government. This is an issue for the states. I think we need to be explicit about that,” Ramaswamy told CNN in May. “If murder laws are handled at the state level and abortion is a form of murder, the pro-life view, then it makes no sense for that to be the one federal law.”
At the state level, Ramaswamy said he backs outlawing abortion after six weeks.
“If life ends, when do we brainwaves end? That’s how we determine when life ends on the back-end, I think we should apply a consistent principle on the front end, that’s around the six-week mark that brainwaves do begin,” he told Fox News in April.
Chris Christie, the former New Jersey governor, told NBC he is a “pro-life” candidate who supports abortion exceptions for rape, incest, or the life of the mother. Christie also believes abortion laws should be left up to the states and that the federal government should not get involved, unless “there’s consensus around the country.”
“What I stand for … is what conservatives have been arguing for 50 years, which is that Roe was wrong, there’s no federal constitutional right to an abortion, and that the states should decide,” he told CNN in June.
Former Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson signed a near-total abortion ban into law in 2021. The measure outlawed all abortions, except those performed to save the life of the mother. It did not include exceptions for rape or incest.
“In Arkansas, I signed over 30 pro-life bills—Arkansas was known as the No. 1 pro-life state in the nation,” Hutchinson said on the campaign trail this year at the Iowa GOP Lincoln Dinner. “I did that as governor and let me tell you, if I’m president of the United States, I will be a pro-life president.”
As far as a national ban goes, Hutchinson has been inconsistent.
In May of 2022, he told ABC News that a nationwide ban was “inconsistent” with the decades of Republican arguments about returning abortion policy to the states. But in April of this year, he said he would sign a 15-week nationwide ban, with some exceptions.
“[If] a pro-life bill that comes to me that sets reasonable restrictions, but also has the appropriate exceptions, yes I would sign it,” he told Fox News.
In July, during an event in Iowa, he said he thinks abortion bans should be left to the states, unless there is a national consensus on restrictions and exceptions.
North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum signed a near-total ban on abortion into law in his state in April of this year. The law bans abortion throughout pregnancy, with exceptions for cases of rape, incest, or medical emergencies up to six weeks of gestation. After six weeks, rape and incest victims cannot get abortions. The law does contain an exception for abortions to “prevent the death or a serious health risk” of the mother at any stage of pregnancy.
Burgum does not support a federal ban, however.
“We should not have a federal abortion ban,” Burgum said during the first Republican debate.
Iowa Starting Line Senior Editor Ty Rushing contributed to this report.
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