Republican presidential candidates weigh in Iowa’s abortion ban. Who’s cheering? Who's silent?

  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.

Presidential candidates Mike Pence, Vivek Ramaswamy and Tim Scott cheered Iowa Republicans for passing a six-week abortion ban after a marathon special legislative session this week, even as many other contenders kept their distance from the issue.

Advancing American Freedom, a nonprofit founded by former Vice President Pence, spent about $25,000 on ads and texts encouraging Iowans to contact their lawmakers in support of the bill. And Pence reached out to the Des Moines Register in a Wednesday morning phone call to heap praise on Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds and the Republican-led Legislature.

"I think life is winning in Iowa because of the principled leadership of Republicans in the House and Senate and Gov. Kim Reynolds," Pence said. "And as a pro-life American, I'm just grateful for their stand for the unborn."

Ramaswamy, who was in Iowa for a separate campaign event, altered his plans at the last minute to stick around for the session. He was on hand at the Capitol Tuesday where he said he met with Republican legislators and Reynolds, enduring boos and catcalls from pro-choice protesters.

And U.S. Sen. Tim Scott tweeted Wednesday afternoon that the bill's passage is "great news!"

"I celebrate states like Iowa and the leadership of Gov. @KimReynoldsIA that understand the importance of creating a culture that protects life," he wrote.

Republican presidential candidate Vivek Ramaswamy extended his Iowa trip to attend Tuesday’s special session on abortion.
Republican presidential candidate Vivek Ramaswamy extended his Iowa trip to attend Tuesday’s special session on abortion.

Most GOP presidential candidates quiet on Iowa's new 6-week abortion ban

But other candidates did not appear to publicly acknowledge the moment — their silence conspicuous in a state that has become accustomed to presidential candidates opining on Iowa politics in an effort to ingratiate themselves with local politicians, activists and voters.

Former President Donald Trump’s campaign quietly catered a BBQ lunch and dinner for Republican lawmakers as a show of solidarity Tuesday, a campaign official confirmed.

And Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis hinted at the legislative action in a Monday tweet saying Reynolds “is poised to deliver even more for Iowans in the special session.” But neither of the two polling frontrunners offered public praise for the policy.

Candidates’ apparent reluctance to weigh in on the issue may reflect the potential perils associated with modern abortion politics as Republicans struggle to find a message that unifies the diverse opinions within their party.

Trump has drawn criticism in Iowa, for example, for suggesting a six-week abortion ban is “too harsh.” And even as DeSantis signed his own six-week ban into law in Florida, he’s shown reticence to bring up the issue while campaigning in more moderate states like New Hampshire.

Since the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade and the Constitutional right to abortions, political observers have questioned how abortion opposition will play in a general election. Democrats have promised to remind voters that Republican candidates from the presidential race to the state legislature are out of step with the majority of voters, according to polling.

"There are 483 days until Election Day 2024 and there won’t be a day that Iowa House Democrats aren’t reminding voters that Republicans took away their rights and acted against the will of more than half of Iowa voters," said House Minority Leader Jennifer Konfrst, D-Windsor Heights.

Family Leader Summit could bring candidates face to face with abortion issue

But the issue of abortion will be difficult for candidates to avoid for long.

On Friday, Reynolds will sign the “heartbeat bill” into law at the Family Leadership Summit, an annual gathering of evangelicals that is drawing a full slate of presidential candidates this year.

Confirmed speakers include Pence, Ramaswamy, DeSantis, Scott, former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley and former Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson. Trump was invited but does not plan to attend.

"My guess is they'll all get the opportunity to talk about the life issue and presidential leadership as it relates to the life issue," said Family Leader President and CEO Bob Vander Plaats. "And it'd be a wise move for them to highlight Gov. Kim Reynolds, the Legislature and all those who have worked so hard for the culture of life in Iowa."

Pence, Ramaswamy most vocal in discussing Iowa’s abortion ban

Pence was unequivocal in his support for the legislation, saying in an interview that he “couldn’t be more proud” to see Iowa Republicans approve the bill, which will prohibit doctors from providing abortions after cardiac activity is detected with an abdominal ultrasound.

He pushed back on the idea that general election voters will reject Republicans if they go too far in restricting abortion.

“I think that the cause of life is so much more important than politics,” he said. “But I do believe that standing with compassion and principle on the sanctity of life is also a winning issue.”

He pointed to Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp and Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine who won re-election with healthy margins in 2022 after signing “heartbeat” bills.

“I believe that in one race after another around the country, including that of Congressman Zach Nunn in Des Moines, where you saw Republicans stand with principle and compassion on the issue of life that they were able to prevail in one election after another,” he said.

He said he has supported the types of exemptions Iowa Republicans wrote into their law, including exceptions to preserve the life of the mother and for pregnancies resulting from rape or incest.

He also said he believes conversations about reforming the adoption process must be part of the conversation around abortion policy.

“We ought to demonstrate the heart of the people in the pro-life movement in extending care to women in crisis pregnancies,” he said. “We ought to demonstrate a willingness to support newborns as much as the unborn.”

Pence has been out in front of the field on the issue of abortion, urging his fellow presidential candidates to support a 15-week federal abortion ban as "a minimum federal standard."

Ramaswamy, a biotech entrepreneur, has been less specific about where he stands on policy, though he has said he does not support a federal ban.

Speaking from outside the Iowa Capitol as debate raged inside on Tuesday, Ramaswamy told reporters the issue was important enough to warrant changing his travel plans.

“It’s an important day to recognize this is a constitutional republic in action,” he said. “For me, it was important for me to stick around for that.”

Ramaswamy said he supports expanding support for various social safety nets, adoption programs and childcare.

“But that’s not an excuse for protecting unborn life in the meantime,” he said. “Unborn life is life.”

Former Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson, who was campaigning in Nevada, Iowa on Tuesday, acknowledged Iowa's legislation but stopped far short of endorsing it.

"If you look at my governorship of Arkansas, I signed over 30 pro-life bills," Hutchinson said. "And I know here in Iowa, you had your general assembly meeting on the heartbeat bill. Well, we have a very supportive pro-life legislation in Arkansas, that I signed."

Hutchinson told reporters Tuesday he would sign a 15-week abortion ban as long as it had "reasonable" exceptions and restrictions, such as those protecting the life of the mother or allowing abortions in the case of rape and incest.

Asked if he would sign a six-week ban, he said that the proposal is "not on the table right now, nationally," so he he would need to see how consensus develops in Congress.

A March Des Moines Register Iowa Poll found that 61% of Iowans said abortion should be legal in all or most cases, and 35% of respondents said it should be illegal in all or most cases.

The Iowa Poll has measured Iowans’ views of abortion seven times since 2008. According to the poll, support for abortion in Iowa has risen from a low of 48% in 2008.

Other Republican candidates support some abortion restrictions, but didn't weigh in on Iowa's law

Iowans have grown to expect presidential candidates to hop on local bandwagon issues as they campaign across the state.

In March of 2019, for example, Democratic presidential candidates were tripping over themselves to help Waterloo Democrat Eric Giddens campaign in a special election to the Iowa Senate, even though the election would do nothing to change the partisan makeup of the chamber.

But relatively few candidates proactively waded into Iowa’s abortion debate this week.

Haley has said there's a role for the federal government to play in abortion policy, pledging to sign a federal abortion ban if it were to reach her desk.

But Haley has not said at what point in a pregnancy the procedure should be banned, and she has also cautioned that reaching consensus on a national abortion ban is unlikely.

"I think if there's 60 votes, which we're not anywhere near that, and if there's something where they've come together on consensus, yes of course I would sign it," she said in May while campaigning in New Hampshire. "Because that's 60 votes out of 100 saying 'this is what America wants.' But we're at 45, so we're not anywhere close."

Nikki Haley greets Iowans after an event at the Temple of Performing Arts in Des Moines on April 12, 2023.
Nikki Haley greets Iowans after an event at the Temple of Performing Arts in Des Moines on April 12, 2023.

Scott has said he would support a 15-week federal abortion ban. And although he’s also praised South Carolina’s six-week ban as “good news,” he has skirted questions about whether he would support such a ban.

“I’ve also said very clearly, because I think you have to tell the American people the truth, even the 15-week limit is not possible unless we change the hearts and minds of the American people, because it can’t get through Congress,” Scott said at a May event hosted by Axios.

Des Moines Register reporters Philip Joens and Virginia Barreda contributed to this story.

Brianne Pfannenstiel is the chief politics reporter for the Register. Reach her at or 515-284-8244. Follow her on Twitter at @brianneDMR.

Stephen Gruber-Miller covers the Iowa Statehouse and politics for the Register. He can be reached by email at or by phone at 515-284-8169. Follow him on Twitter at @sgrubermiller.

This article originally appeared on Des Moines Register: How GOP presidential candidates reacted to the Iowa abortion law