GOP presidential candidates and abortion: Where they stand after the 1st debate

Vivek Ramaswamy and Nikki Haley
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When asked about the issue of abortion at Wednesday’s first Republican presidential debate, the candidates — seven men and one woman — touted their “pro-life” stances, but it was apparent that one thing was clear: None of them had a consistent message on the reproductive rights issue.

Read more on Yahoo News: Where do the 2024 presidential candidates stand on abortion? Take a look, via AP

What they said: Former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, the only female candidate, expressed how she wants to find common ground with a “respectful” approach on the issue. "We need to stop demonizing this issue," she told Fox News moderator Martha MacCallum. “Can’t we all agree that contraception should be available? And can’t we all agree that we are not going to put a woman in jail or give her the death penalty if she gets an abortion?”

Haley also argued that a national abortion ban, which all of the candidates were asked about, wouldn’t pass unless her party finds a “consensus” on the issue, citing that any federal legislation would need 60 votes in the Senate.

Former Vice President Mike Pence challenged Haley saying, “Nikki, you’re my friend, but consensus is the opposite of leadership.” Pence, perhaps the most vocal anti-abortion advocate among the candidates, argued that there should be a minimum 15-week ban on abortion at the federal level.

“When the Supreme Court returned the question of abortion to the American people they didn’t just send it to the states,” he said. “It’s not a states-only issue, it’s a moral issue.”

The former vice president said he would enact such a ban if he were elected to the White House.

Meanwhile, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis skirted around the question and didn’t take a clear position on a federal abortion ban. “I'm going to stand on the side of life. I understand: Wisconsin will do it different than Texas. ... But I will support the cause of life as governor and as president.”

Why it matters: Hours ahead of the presidential debate, South Carolina’s Supreme Court upheld the state’s ban on abortion around six weeks of pregnancy. In a 4-1 ruling, the all-male bench reversed the court’s decision it made in January that struck down a similar abortion ban the GOP-led Legislature passed in 2021. The six-week ban takes effect immediately in South Carolina.

Abortion issues have been a thorn in the side of the GOP ever since they were defeated across the board on abortion ballot initiatives in the November 2022 midterms, months after the fall of Roe v. Wade. Abortion rights supporters won in all six states where abortion-related issues were on the ballot, including red states.

Voters in conservative Kansas, Kentucky and Montana used citizen-led ballot initiatives to reject proposals restricting abortion access, while voters in the more progressive states of California, Michigan and Vermont passed initiatives to enshrine abortion rights into each of their state constitutions.

Most recently, abortion rights supporters won a major victory in a special election in Ohio on Aug. 8, and defeated a ballot measure (Issue 1) that would have made it more difficult to amend the state’s constitution.

Republicans in the state Legislature had called the special election, hoping to undercut a vote in November that will decide whether to amend the state’s constitution to establish protections for reproductive health. But it proved to be yet another defeat, and an added challenge ahead of the 2024 presidential election.

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