GOP Candidates’ Defense of Abortion Bans Cools in Debate After Election Day

Derick Alison
Derick Alison
5 Min Read

Republican candidates for president clashed over the future of the anti-abortion movement during Wednesday night’s primary debate in Miami — the day after key electoral victories for abortion rights.

While Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis said he “rejects this idea that pro-lifers are to blame for midterm defeats” during the second Republican primary debate in September, he now took a different tack.

Republicans had been “caught flat-footed on these referenda,” and need to “do a better job,” he said. While he stressed the value of “a culture of life,” he added, “I understand that some of these states are doing it a little bit different,” citing Texas, New Hampshire, Iowa, and Virginia as examples with varying degrees of protections and restrictions. He noted, however, that his tolerance for different approaches does have a limit.

On Tuesday, voters in Ohio approved a constitutional amendment protecting access to abortion and other forms of reproductive healthcare. In Kentucky, Gov. Andy Beshear (D), who promised exceptions to his state’s near-total abortion ban, held his seat, and in Virginia, Republicans failed to sweep the legislature — a change Gov. Glenn Youngkin (R) said was needed to pass a promised 15-week “limit” on abortions. Abortion rights measures also passed in all six states that included them on their ballots in 2022.

Nikki Haley, former governor of South Carolina and former ambassador to the United Nations, said she is “unapologetically pro-life,” and “a wrong was made right” with the fall of Roe v. Wade in June 2022.

Regarding a 15-week federal ban, she said she “would support anything that would pass,” as that would save more lives, but such a ban would require 60 votes from Congress, and there might only be “45 pro-life senators.”

Instead, Haley called for “consensus” on banning late-term abortions, encouraging “good-quality adoptions,” making contraception accessible, and ensuring that no state law would criminalize a woman who obtains an abortion.

“I don’t judge anyone for being pro-choice and I don’t want them to judge me for being pro-life,” she noted. “We don’t need to divide America over this issue anymore.”

In contrast, Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.) said, if elected, he would “certainly” enforce a 15-week limit, suggesting that three in four Americans agree.

“I would not allow states like California, Illinois, or New York to have abortion up until the day of birth,” he said. (For the record, California and Illinois protect the right to abortion before fetal viability, and New York protects access up to 24 weeks, with exceptions for the mother’s life and health.)

Vivek Ramaswamy, a biotech engineer, did not specifically state his views on a 15-week ban other than to suggest that Haley was not being “honest” and Scott was. He also noted that he was “upset” about Ohio’s ballot measure, which he argued “effectively codifies a right to abortion all the way up to the time of birth without parental consent.” (Ohio’s amendment does not change the state’s parental consent policy and protects abortion before fetal viability, with exceptions for the mother’s life and health.)

He blamed Republicans for the loss because they did not have an alternative amendment. He also called “sexual responsibility” the “missing ingredient” in the anti-abortion movement, suggesting that “men deserve more responsibility,” in the matter of abortion, but failed to define a specific solution.

Finally, Chris Christie, former governor of New Jersey, said that abortion is available up until 9 months in his state.

“I find that morally reprehensible,” he added, “but that is what the people of our state have voted for, and we should not short-circuit that process until every state’s people have the right to weigh in on it.”

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    Shannon Firth has been reporting on health policy as MedPage Today’s Washington correspondent since 2014. She is also a member of the site’s Enterprise & Investigative Reporting team. Follow

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