Haley pushes for limited federal abortion restrictions, says country needs ‘consensus’

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Republican presidential candidate Gov. Nikki Haley on Tuesday outlined broad support for a set of national abortion restrictions, arguing that she thought the federal government should have a role in regulating the procedure despite conservatives’ oft-stated insistence the issue be left to the states.

But she also warned pro-life conservatives that any such federal bans are unlikely to ever go far as they want, emphasizing that the country needed to find “consensus” on a medical procedure that has long polarized Democrats and Republicans.

Delivering what was billed as a major abortion rights speech, Haley sought to position herself as the one candidate in the 2024 presidential race — either Republican or Democrat — capable of helping the country find a lasting compromise on abortion rights after the Supreme Court struck down the Constitutional right to the procedure last year. Doing so, she added, requires lawmakers to balance both the fetuses’ right to live and the difficulties women face during pregnancy.

“I said I wanted to save as many babies and help as many moms as is possible — that is my goal,” Haley said, speaking at the pro-life Susan B. Anthony Pro-Life America offices here just outside the nation’s capital. “To do that at the federal level, the next president must find national consensus.” (Haley’s speech, according to her prepared remarks, used the word “consensus” nearly a dozen times.)

Haley’s speech was at times deeply personal, relating her husband’s adoption, her own struggles to conceive, and the “anguish” a friend felt after after being raped and worrying that she would have an unwanted pregnancy. The former South Carolina governor also cited her own experience removing the Confederate Flag from the statehouse in Columbia as proof that she is able to find compromise on emotionally difficult issues.

Haley, who as governor in 2016 signed a law prohibiting abortions after 20 weeks except in cases where the mother’s life was in danger, did not say whether she would support a national ban on the procedure after a certain number of weeks, – generally considered the most important question facing any candidate considering federal push to limit abortions. A spokeswoman for Susan B. Anthony told McClatchyDC after the speech, however, that Haley has assured the group that she would commit to a 15-week national ban.

She also did not say whether she thought Mifepristone, a common abortion drug, should remain legal across the country even as the judicial system, including the Supreme Court, adjudicates its status after a Texas federal judge temporarily suspended its distribution earlier this month.

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But the presidential candidate, who described herself as “unapologetically” pro-life, did outline a series of areas she thought already had national support.

The list included protections for babies born alive during an abortion, prohibitions on pressuring people into abortions or forcing doctors or nurses to perform the procedure even when it contradicts their beliefs, and policies that make adoption easier.

She also suggested restrictions on the procedure “up until the time of birth” while arguing that contraception should be more widely available.

“And we can all agree that women who get abortions should not be jailed,” said Haley, who is expected to be the only woman seeking the GOP’s presidential nomination next year. “A few have even called for the death penalty. That’s the least pro-life position I can possibly imagine.”

Haley urged Republicans to accept that some of the most far-reaching abortion restrictions GOP officials have enacted in red states, including laws that prohibit the procedure entirely, are not feasible at the federal level. In a Congress where political parties need 60 votes in the Senate to pass major social policy, the GOP has only about 45 “pro-life” lawmakers, she said.

“We have to face this reality,” Haley said. “The pro-life laws that have passed in strong Republican states will not be approved at the federal level. That’s just a fact.”

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Arguing that she would not “hide” from the issue but speak about it “directly and openly,” Haley effectively used her speech to try and outline a political roadmap on the abortion issue, which has emerged as a politically vexing issue for Republicans since the Supreme Court struck down Roe V. Wade last year.

Polls show that a large majority of Americans want abortion to be legal in most cases, and the issue is credited with helping Democrats unexpectedly retain a majority control of the Senate after the 2022 midterm elections.

Even red states like Kansas – whose voters last year rejected a push to remove abortion-rights protections from their state constitution – have shown a backlash to the court’s decision.

Already in the 2024 GOP presidential primary, the issue has tripped up some of Haley’s rivals for the nomination. U.S. Sen. Tim Scott, who is exploring a run for president, initially stumbled when asked about a national abortion ban, before settling on support for a 20-week national ban.

Another potential candidate, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, alarmed even some of his own supporters after he signed a six-week abortion ban in his state earlier this month, a position even some conservatives acknowledge could alienate moderate voters.

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Haley’s speech comes roughly two months after she declared she was running for president, at a time when she’s struggled to receive much support among GOP voters in polls of the 2024 primary.

An NBC News survey released Sunday found Haley receiving 3% support among GOP voters, tied with Scott, a fellow South Carolinian. She trailed former President Donald Trump, DeSantis, and former Vice President Mike Pence.

In her speech, Haley railed against Democratic President Joe Biden on the day he announced his reelection campaign, saying he had fanned the flames of division on the abortion issue. But she also urged Republicans not to demonize people who consider themselves pro-choice.

Finding consensus, she added, “starts with humanizing, not demonizing.”

“I believe in conversation,” Haley said. “I believe in compassion. I believe in empathy, not anger. We’re not just talking about policy here. We’re talking about people. That’s often lost in this debate on the left and the right, but it’s front of mind for me. I acknowledge the humanity of the unborn baby and the pregnant mom.”