Tin 2024 Republican presidential candidates have an abortion problem.
At every campaign stop, town hall, debate and interview, the elephant in the room manages to creep into the debate – how should a potential president approach the legality of abortion at the federal level, if not?
For decades, the ideal GOP candidate would declare his stance pro-life and argue the landmark Supreme Court case Roe v. Wade to earn a gold star and possible approvals.
But since his fall Roe In the past year, the issue of abortion has become increasingly complex, and voters have made it clear that they are looking for a candidate who can approach the issue with a nuanced approach.
In general, polls show that most Americans believe that abortion should be legal in most or all cases during the first trimester, regardless of party lines. At the same time, the same majority of voters also believe that third-trimester abortions should be illegal.
But when the candidates are confronted with the issue, many show an obvious struggle to stay true to long-standing GOP beliefs while extending a conciliatory hand to the rest of the country.
Front-runner and anti-abortion leader Donald Trump has criticized strict bans while also supporting the anti-abortion movement.
Mr Trump has consistently taken credit for overturning the Supreme Court Roe v. Wadeciting his three conservative Supreme Court nominations as a contribution – a promise he made while running for president in 2016 and one that helped get him elected.
At the same time, he criticized lawmakers, including Florida Gov. Ron DeSandis, for imposing six-week bans he believed to be too restrictive.
Ostensibly, it's an effort to appeal to primary voters, who tend to be more conservative, while trying not to alienate general election voters, who tend to be more moderate. As a result, Mr. Trump appears flayed on both sides.
Similarly, Mr. DeSantis has never made a clear statement about his position on the federal abortion ban, despite signing a six-week ban in his state.
When confronted with the issue of the federal ban during the first GOP debate, Mr. DeSantis said he would “stand on the side of life” as president.
But earlier this year, Florida's governor criticized the federal government for protecting abortion rights Roe v. Wadecalling it an “abuse of power” – which would be hypocritical if they did the same to outlaw it nationally.
But other GOP candidates aren't afraid to alienate voters with their opinions on the issue — former Vice President Mike Pence and former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, for example.
Mr. Pence has the widely unpopular belief that all abortions after six weeks should be federally banned, even if a pregnancy is not viable.
He also chose to pick a fight with Ms. Haley over the matter when she received an unexpected response.
During the first GOP debate in August, Ms. Haley said that while she personally takes a “pro-life” stance, the US should “stop demonizing” the issue and instead find common ground.
Instead of a full federal ban, Ms. Haley said she supports national legislation that would ban third-trimester abortions, make contraception more widely available, decriminalize those who choose to have an abortion and more — all of which voters generally agreed with. .
But Mr. Pence criticized Ms. Haley, the only woman running in the crowded GOP field, for trying to find consensus among Republicans, Democrats and independents.
“Nikki, you are my friend. But consensus is the opposite of leadership,” Pence said. “The 15-week ban is an idea whose time has come.”
Ms. Haley, who appears to be appealing to more general election voters than just primary voters, interrupted the former vice president to point out a major flaw in Republicans' desire for a federal ban.
“When you talk about a federal ban, be honest with the American people,” Ms. Haley said. “We've had 45 pro-life senators in over 100 years. So no Republican president can ban abortion any more than a Democratic president could ban all these state laws.”
Perhaps most striking was the former UN ambassador's statement acknowledging the impact of abortion on voters, particularly women: “Don't make women feel like they have to decide this issue when you know we don't have 60 votes in the Senate in Parliament. .”
After the debate, Mr. Pence's poll numbers dropped to about 4.2 percent. Ms. Haley jumped from 3.3 percent to 5 percent.
While the jump may simply reflect her strong performance, there is no doubt that her approach to abortion appeals to millions of voters in a way that Mr. Pence does not.
“When it comes to the issue of abortion, generally speaking, the American public really sees this issue in many shades of gray,” said Mallory Newall, vice president of polling at Ipsos. The independent.
A June poll found that two in three Americans believe abortion should be legal in early pregnancy with a 34 percent majority agreeing there should be very few or no restrictions.
Ms Newall added: “When it comes to the question of legality, most Americans are in favor of abortion with some restrictions.”
25 percent of people think abortion should be completely banned with exceptions in cases of rape, incest or to save a mother's life – and Republican voters make up a majority of that percentage.
While the anti-abortion stance has long been associated with the Republican party, it didn't always start out that way.
Abortion became a hot-button issue for conservatives in the 1970s when the GOP realized they could win over Christian voters by promoting “family values.”
What emerged from the anti-abortion movement were many organizations and political action committees (PACs) that promised endorsements and vetting of candidates who spread the message.
Susan B Anthony (SBA) Pro-Life America, a non-profit organization that seeks to reduce and eliminate abortion, and the PAC, the SBA List Candidate Fund, were among them.
Since its inception in the 1990s, the organization has distributed endorsements that have grown stronger over the years. Before last year's decision, a candidate againstRoe And anti-abortion politics could earn them a spot on the list.
However, the new standard for SBA Pro-Life America appears to be a candidate endorsing a federal ban of at least 15 weeks.
Marjorie Dannenfelser, President of SBA Pro-Life America, said in a statement to The independent that it is “imperative” that the US have a leader who supports “national protection for the unborn for at least 15 weeks, when they can feel pain, a position that aligns with the majority of Americans.”
(The claim that a fetus can feel pain at 15 weeks' gestation is disputed by many medical organizations, including the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. There have been no consistent studies determining when in pregnancy a fetus can feel pain.)
Ms. Dannenfelser called Ms. Haley's stance on abortion “unacceptable,” accusing her of “dismissing” the task of getting enough votes in Congress to pass a federal abortion law as “unrealistic.”
Ms. Haley's stance on abortion will likely hurt her in the primaries. But he is playing the long game in hopes of picking up undecided voters.
“I think a candidate who shows a greater willingness to accept these shades of gray on abortion and someone who says they are not in favor of a national abortion ban with no exceptions would be more successful in connecting those in the middle,” Ms Newall said. .
Candidates like Vivek Ramaswamy and Doug Burgum have both said they would not support a federal ban on appealing to general election voters, while also supporting six-week state bans on appealing to conservative voters.
Both Mr. Ramaswamy and Mr. Burgum managed to maintain their poll numbers, albeit significantly lower than Mr. Trump's, during the early days of their campaign.
While polls show most voters are in favor of banning second-trimester abortions, there are widely agreed exceptions such as in cases of rape, incest, or to save a woman's life.
Ms Newall said “a 15-week ban does better than a six-week ban” with voters, but “even then, you're just starting to win the absolute majority of the Republicans”. He noted that registered Independent voters are more likely to side with Democrats to oppose a 15-week abortion ban.
Looking ahead to the 2024 election, GOP leaders may have to reconsider how high they set the bar when it comes to candidates who endorse a ban.