Members of the crowd bow their heads in prayer at the start of the Faith & Freedom Road to Majority conference at the Washington Hilton on June 23, 2023. (Drew Angerer/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON — The 2024 Republican presidential primary marks the first time in half a century that candidates will debate whether abortion should be restricted or banned at the federal level without the Roe v. Wade ruling making most of their proposals moot.
The U.S. Supreme Court’s decision last summer to overturn the nationwide, constitutional right to an abortion sent the question back to “the people and their elected representatives.”
Many Republicans have interpreted that as sending the issue back to state lawmakers and GOP-led states during the past year moved to pass bans and restrictions. The ruling also left the door open for Congress to pass legislation — a move many anti-abortion organizations would like to see.
While some GOP presidential candidates at this early point in the campaign are enthusiastic supporters of the idea, others are unwilling to back national abortion laws.
The Faith & Freedom Coalition “Road to Majority 2023” conference June 22 to 24 in Washington, D.C. billed as “the nation’s premier pro-faith, pro-family event,” produced new details and commitments from several candidates.
Roger Severino, vice president of domestic policy at the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank in Washington, D.C., said during an interview it will be “crucial” for Republican presidential candidates to release clear proposals for what abortion legislation they would advocate for if elected.
Heritage, he said, is calling on the GOP candidates to push for a nationwide law that would restrict abortion after embryonic cardiac activity is detected, which happens approximately six weeks into a pregnancy.
Severino pressed back against the stance from some Republicans in Congress that the issue is best left up to the states. A Republican U.S. House and U.S. Senate would be essential for any GOP president to implement a nationwide abortion ban.
“Members of Congress should not avoid the issue by trying to punt it off to the states when they have been elected on pro-life platforms for years and are expected to deliver,” Severino said. “That would be the height of disingenuousness.”
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Severino was less clear about whether Republicans, if they regain control of the Senate, should eliminate the legislative filibuster that requires at least 60 senators to move legislation toward final passage.
That provision ensures that absent one party holding a supermajority, only bipartisan bills pass through the chamber. It has blocked Republicans from passing nationwide bans under unified control of Washington and Democrats from passing nationwide protections for abortion access when they held control.
“The legislative filibuster is a more complicated question because once it’s gone you can’t take it back,” Severino said.
The conservative organization, he said, is looking for a presidential candidate that possesses “leadership to pick up the mantle of this new civil rights movement to protect innocent unborn life.”
Susan B. Anthony Pro-Life America President Marjorie Dannenfelser said in a written statement released in May that the organization, one of the nation’s largest anti-abortion groups, wants the next president to push for a national ban of at least 15 weeks.
The group also wants that person to “work tirelessly to build consensus and gather the votes necessary in Congress.”
Dannenfelser has rebuked Republicans who argue abortion should be left up to states, saying in a written statement released in April that it “is a morally indefensible position for a self-proclaimed pro-life presidential candidate to hold.”
“The Supreme Court made clear in its decision that it was returning the issue to the people to decide through their elected representatives in the states and in Congress,” she wrote. “Holding to the position that it is exclusively up to the states is an abdication of responsibility by anyone elected to federal office.”
“This holds especially true for the president, more than any other federal official, because he or she has a responsibility to forge national consensus and progress on the most egregious human rights violation of our time,” Dannenfelser added.
President Joe Biden, likely to be the Democratic nominee for president, said Friday that if reelected he would prevent any restrictions to reproductive rights or abortion access.
Here’s where the current Republican presidential candidates currently stand on a nationwide abortion law, according to their public actions, statements and campaign websites:
Doug Burgum: The North Dakota governor signed legislation in April that restricts abortion access in the state to six weeks for people who survive rape or incest. Abortion would then be banned for anyone except for pregnant patients whose lives would be at risk or who are having medical emergencies. His campaign website doesn’t have an official position on what he would support as president.
Chris Christie: The former New Jersey governor hasn’t been especially clear about whether he’d sign a nationwide abortion ban if he won election to the Oval Office, though during his run in 2016, Christie said he would support a 20-week ban.
During a CNN town hall in June, Christie said he doesn’t believe there’s a constitutional right to an abortion and that the issue should be decided in each state. “The federal government should not be involved unless and until there’s a consensus around the country from the 50 states making their own decisions about what it should be. And if at that time there’s a consensus that has emerged, well, then that’s fine.”
Ron DeSantis: The Florida governor has signed several state bills since the fall of Roe v. Wade last year, including a ban once embryonic cardiac activity is detected, roughly around six weeks. That new law will take effect if the state Supreme Court upholds a 15-week ban that he also signed.
DeSantis said Friday during the Faith & Freedom Coalition conference that he was proud to have enacted legislation that removed sales taxes from all baby supplies, as well as bills to provide support for foster care, adoption and single mothers.
“It’s important that we walk the walk and just not talk the talk when it comes to right to life,” DeSantis said.
Larry Elder: The radio host opposes abortion, but has said he believes it should be decided at the state level.
Nikki Haley: The former South Carolina governor and ambassador to the United Nations in the Trump administration describes herself as “unapologetically pro-life” and said during a CNN town hall in June that she does believe there’s a role for the federal government to play.
But Haley said Republicans running for the Oval Office must be honest with voters that it’s highly unlikely they’d have at least 60 senators to move abortion legislation past the Senate’s legislative filibuster. Instead, she said, the House, Senate and White House should look for what they do agree on and move forward with that.
“I think we can all agree on banning late-term abortions. I think we can all agree on encouraging adoptions and making sure those foster kids feel more loved, not less,” Haley said. “I think we can agree on doctors and nurses who don’t believe in abortions shouldn’t have to perform them. I think we can agree on the fact that contraception should be accessible. And I think we can all come together and say any woman that has an abortion shouldn’t be jailed or given the death penalty.”
In 2016, Haley signed a bill as governor that banned abortions starting at 20 weeks with an exception afterward for the life of the pregnant patient. The measure didn’t have exceptions after that threshold for rape or incest survivors.
Will Hurd: The former Texas congressman tweeted in May 2022 that he is “pro-life” and believes that life begins at conception, though he added he believes “we shouldn’t continue to fail women – before, during and after pregnancy.”
During his time in Congress, Hurd voted for a bill that would have instituted a nationwide abortion ban at 20 weeks gestation with exceptions for rape, incest or the life of the pregnant patient after that time. Hurd doesn’t state on his campaign website whether he’d support a nationwide ban if elected president.
Asa Hutchinson: While governor of Arkansas, Hutchinson signed several bills that restricted abortion, including one that didn’t include exceptions for rape or incest.
During the Faith & Freedom Coalition conference on Friday, Hutchinson said he would sign a nationwide abortion ban and work to prevent federal dollars from going to abortion. Federal law only allows federal taxpayer dollars to provide abortions in cases of rape, incest or the life of the pregnant patient.
“As president I would fight to make sure taxpayer funds are not used to support abortion,” Hutchinson said. “And if Congress acts, I will sign a federal law to restrict abortion as well, as president of the United States.”
Hutchinson said in April that he would want to see the details of any nationwide bills before signing the legislation.
“I’ve always signed pro-life bills that come to me … I certainly support the decisions of the states,” he said at the time. “And my longtime position is that abortion should not be allowed except in three circumstances: in the life of the mother and in the cases of rape and incest.”
Mike Pence: The former vice president during the Trump administration has a long record of supporting abortion restrictions and cheered the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision last summer to send the issue back to lawmakers.
During the Faith & Freedom Coalition conference on Friday, he rejected calls from some of his fellow Republicans to leave the issue solely to state lawmakers. Pence called for every Republican candidate to support a nationwide abortion ban of at least 15 weeks.
“Now some you will hear from, at this very podium, will say that the Supreme Court returned the issue of abortion only to the states, that nothing should be done at the federal level. Others will say that continuing the fight to life has produced state legislation that’s too harsh. Some have even gone on to blame the overturning of Roe v. Wade for election losses in 2022,” Pence said.
“But, let me say from my heart, the cause of life is the calling of our time and we must not rest and must not relent until we restore the sanctity of life to the center of American law in every state in this country,” Pence added.
Vivek Ramaswamy: The entrepreneur has said abortion access should only be taken up at the state level, not by Congress.
“I don’t believe a federal abortion ban makes any sense. I say this as somebody who is pro-life,” he said during an interview with CNN in May. “This is not an issue for the federal government. It is an issue for the states. I think we need to be explicit about that. If murder laws are handled at the state level and abortion is a form of murder, the pro-life view, then it makes no sense for that to be the one federal law.”
Murder, and other legal definitions of killing, can be charged as federal crimes, however. At the state level, Ramaswamy said, he supports a six-week ban.
Tim Scott: The U.S. senator who has represented South Carolina for more than a decade has co-sponsored several bills during his time in Congress, including one that would define life as beginning at the moment of “fertilization or cloning” and a 20-week abortion ban. Scott didn’t co-sponsor a 15-week ban that was introduced in the Senate following the Dobbs decision.
Scott has given mixed answers about when abortion should be legal since announcing his presidential bid. In mid-April, Scott declined to get into specifics on the campaign trail before saying he would sign a 20-week ban. Scott then said during an interview with NBC News that he would “sign the most conservative, pro-life legislation that they can get through Congress.” But Scott declined to go into details about exceptions to a nationwide ban, saying he didn’t want to get into hypotheticals.
Francis Suarez: The Miami mayor spoke at length during the Faith & Freedom conference on Friday about his personal faith and the “pro-life” values within his family, though he didn’t get into specifics about what types of legislation he would press for if elected to the White House
Suarez said in mid-June during an interview with The Associated Press that he would support a 15-week nationwide ban on abortion, suggesting support isn’t there for a six-week ban.
“We are in a situation where 70% of the country agrees with a limitation of 15 weeks, where there is an exception for the life of the mother and an exception for rape and incest, and I think that is a position that will save a tremendous amount of babies,” Suarez said to the AP. “If there was that kind of federal law, that’s one that I would support as president.”
Donald Trump: The former president nominated three conservative-leaning justices to the U.S. Supreme Court during his four years in office. That move was possible after Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell, a Kentucky Republican, held one seat open during the last year of the Barack Obama presidency.
Trump has repeatedly referred to himself as a pro-life president, but hasn’t been especially clear on the subject during his 2024 bid for the Oval Office. He elicited criticism from Susan B. Anthony Pro-Life America after he said the issue should be left up to state governments, not Congress.
SBA President Dannenfelser, however, said later in a written statement that she had a “terrific meeting” with Trump, during which he “reiterated that any federal legislation protecting these children would need to include the exceptions for life of the mother and in cases of rape and incest.”
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