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2024 GOP Presidential Hopefuls Must Navigate Taking a Pro-Life Stand in a Post-Roe World

- NATIONAL CATHOLIC REGISTER - Lauretta Brown - MAR 15, 2023 -

Pro-life presidential hopefuls are being called upon to defend unborn life by advocating for national abortion limits.

Who is likely to join the 2024 Republican field? (photo: Shutterstock)

WASHINGTON — The landmark Dobbs decision last June has ushered in a new era for pro-life presidential contenders: They are being called upon to state what abortion limits they would support at the federal level.

Gone are the days when pro-life candidates could broadly promise to work to overturn Roe v. Wade. Thirteen states have enacted bans on abortion, and several other states have limited it to six weeks of pregnancy, when a heartbeat is detectable, or 15 weeks, while many states have moved to enshrine late-term abortion into their state’s constitution.

While polling consistently indicates that most Americans, even post-Dobbs, favor limiting abortion to, at most, the first 15 weeks of pregnancy, pro-life politicians have been cautious in navigating the issue as abortion battles in the states continue. Following a disappointing 2022 midterm election cycle for pro-life advocates, in which all five state pro-life ballot initiatives failed, pro-life groups have called for clear and strong messaging on the issue.

The Republican National Committee passed a resolution in January urging candidates to “go on offense in the 2024 election cycle and expose the Democrats’ extreme position of supporting abortion on demand up until the moment of birth, paid for by the taxpayers, even supporting discriminatory abortions such as gender selection or when the child has been diagnosed with Down syndrome.”

The resolution also called for lawmakers in state legislatures and in Congress to “pass the strongest pro-life legislation possible — such as laws that acknowledge the beating hearts and experiences of pain in the unborn — underscoring the new relics of barbarism the Democratic Party represents as we approach the 2024 cycle.”

Working Towards Consensus

What is the “strongest pro-life legislation possible” for a presidential candidate to back in the post-Roe landscape? Two of the GOP candidates who have formally announced their presidential bids, former President Donald Trump and former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, do not have a specific answer just yet. They did not respond to questions from the Register regarding at what point in pregnancy they would back a federal abortion limit.

Haley told the Today show in February that “we need consensus on this,” in response to a question about a federal abortion ban. She added that she would not back “a full-out federal ban, because I don’t think that’s been put on the table.” She referenced the proposal from Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., to ban abortion at 15 weeks, saying, “If we’re looking at 15 weeks, what we need to understand is we are not okay with abortion up until the time of birth, and so we should at least decide when is it okay.”

During her tenure as governor of South Carolina in 2016, Haley signed a law banning abortion after 20 weeks of pregnancy, a point at which unborn babies can feel pain. Her campaign website points to her record of “standing for the unborn” as “one of the most pro-life governors in America.”

Trump laid the groundwork for the overturning of Roe v. Wade through his appointing of three pro-life justices to the Supreme Court during his presidency, and his campaign website states that “President Trump’s three appointees delivered the biggest win for life in a generation in overturning Roe v. Wade.”

In January, however, some in the pro-life movement were frustrated by a statement he made blaming the “abortion issue” for losses in the 2022 midterm elections. He claimed the issue was “poorly handled by many Republicans, especially those that firmly insisted on ‘No Exceptions,’ even in the case of rape, incest or life of the mother, that lost large numbers of voters.” He also claimed that “people that pushed so hard, for decades, against abortion got their wish from the U.S. Supreme Court and just plain disappeared, not to be seen again.”

Responding to Trump’s comments on the midterms, SBA Pro-Life America said in a statement that “the approach to winning on abortion in federal races, proven for a decade, is this: State clearly the ambitious consensus pro-life position and contrast that with the extreme view of Democrat opponents. We look forward to hearing that position fully articulated by Mr. Trump and all presidential candidates.”

A third GOP candidate who formally announced his bid last month, entrepreneur and author Vivek Ramaswamy, is “pro-life,” his spokeswoman Tricia McLaughlin told the Register via email, but “as a constitutional matter, he strongly agrees with the outcome of Dobbs and believes this is an issue for the states, not the federal government.”

A Federal ‘Human-Rights Issue’

Marilyn Musgrave, vice president of government affairs at SBA Pro-Life America, told the Register that the group has “very high expectations for the presidential candidates.” She reiterated her organization’s call for candidates to “clearly state that they will work for a national minimum standard in protecting life, whether that be pain-capable or heartbeat.”

Musgrave said that taking a clear stand on abortion is a “human-rights issue” and added that attempts to ignore it could be interpreted as “tacit support for the abortion-on-demand policies that we see from blue states like New York and California and Illinois.” She believed that the Republican presidential candidates should be “very comfortable” discussing a “national minimum standard” based on recent Marist polling on the issue showing that 69% of Americans support limiting abortion to, at most, the first three months of pregnancy.


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