The 2024 Republican candidates for president are facing a challenge when it comes to the issue of abortion. Regardless of the campaign stop, town hall, debate, or interview, the topic always finds its way into the conversation. The main question being discussed is how a potential president should approach the legality of abortion at the federal level, if at all.
For many years, the ideal GOP candidate would firmly state their pro-life stance and express disagreement with the landmark Supreme Court case Roe v Wade. This would earn them support and potential endorsements. However, since Roe was overturned last year, the issue of abortion has become more complex. Voters have made it clear that they are looking for a candidate who can take a more nuanced approach to the subject.
Polling data consistently shows that a majority of Americans believe abortion should be legal in most or all cases during the first trimester, regardless of party affiliation. At the same time, the same majority of voters also believe that abortions should be illegal in the third trimester. When candidates are confronted with this issue, many struggle to remain loyal to the Republican party’s long-held beliefs while also trying to appeal to the rest of the country.
The leading contender, Donald Trump, has been criticized for his inconsistent stance on abortion. He has criticized strict bans while also supporting the anti-abortion movement. Trump has taken credit for the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v Wade, citing his conservative Supreme Court Justice nominations as a contributing factor. However, he has also criticized lawmakers, like Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, for enacting six-week bans, believing they are too restrictive. This has made Trump appear indecisive to both sides of the issue.
DeSantis, on the other hand, has not clearly stated his position on a federal abortion ban, despite signing a six-week ban in his state. During the first GOP debate, DeSantis stated that he would “stand on the side of life” as president. However, he previously criticized the federal government for protecting the right to abortion with Roe v Wade, calling it an “abuse of power.” This inconsistency could be seen as hypocritical if he were to support a national ban.
Other GOP candidates, such as Mike Pence and Nikki Haley, have taken more definitive positions on the issue. Pence believes that all abortions after six weeks should be federally banned, even in cases where the pregnancy is not viable. Haley, on the other hand, has taken a middle-of-the-road approach. She supports national legislation that would ban abortions in the third trimester, make contraception more widely available, decriminalize those who choose to obtain an abortion, and more. This approach has resonated with many voters.
During the first GOP debate, Pence criticized Haley for trying to find consensus between Republicans, Democrats, and independents. He stated that a 15-week ban on abortion is an idea whose time has come. However, Haley pointed out that no Republican president can ban abortions, just as no Democratic president can ban state laws. She also emphasized the importance of not making women feel pressured to decide on this issue when there is not enough support in Congress to pass a federal abortion law.
Following the debate, Pence’s polling numbers dropped to approximately 4.2%, while Haley’s increased from 3.3% to 5%. This suggests that Haley’s approach to abortion appeals to a wider range of voters compared to Pence’s more rigid stance.
Abortion is a complex issue, and polling data shows that the majority of Americans see it with shades of gray. Most Americans believe that abortion should be legal with certain limitations. Only a quarter of people believe that abortions should be fully banned, with exceptions in cases of rape, incest, or to save a mother’s life.
The Republican party’s association with the anti-abortion movement began in the 1970s as a way to attract Christian voters by promoting “family values.” This led to the emergence of organizations and political action committees (PACs) that promised endorsements and financial support to candidates who supported their message.
Susan B. Anthony (SBA) Pro-Life America and its PAC, the SBA List Candidate Fund, have been influential in endorsing candidates who oppose Roe v Wade and support anti-abortion policies. However, the new standard set by SBA Pro-Life America seems to be a candidate endorsing a federal ban on abortion after at least 15 weeks. This standard has been criticized for not aligning with the majority of Americans.
Looking ahead to the 2024 election, GOP leaders may need to reconsider their stance on candidates endorsing a ban on abortion. The issue is more nuanced than ever, and candidates who can find common ground and appeal to a wider range of voters may have more success in the long run.