Several Republican presidential candidates reaffirmed their pro-life positions during an Iowa gathering over the weekend and dug deeper into policy specifics.
'These Mothers Need Our Support'While most of the conversation surrounding abortion focuses on access to the procedure and whether there should be limits, several Republican candidates spoke of a need for a more compassionate approach that might include providing care for pregnant mothers.
Larry Elder, who joined his fellow candidates after missing the cut for the first GOP debate—reportedly because of low poll numbers—declared his belief that life begins at conception but spoke out against the party's previous strategy on the issue.
"One of the reasons I believe we did so poorly in the midterms is because the pro-abortion side was able to say to people, 'This now means that there'll be a law passed at the federal level to outlaw abortion or to put time limits on abortion,'" he said. "And the Democrats and the left use that to say that we're taking away people's rights."
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis told the gathering of faith-led voters that if elected president, he would support pro-life policies across the board.
"Understand that these mothers need our support. They need our comfort, and we need to have government and organizations working (for them), especially in this environment," he said.
"A lot of times, the abortion is driven by financial considerations. A lot of these women have no support. The fathers are nowhere to be found."
Mr. DeSantis highlighted some of the policies his administration has put into effect in the Sunshine State, including promoting foster care and adoption and making every single baby item tax-free. He also talked about a program created by his wife, Casey DeSantis, called Hope Florida, which helps private businesses, charities, churches, and caring individuals take an active role in "helping to lift people up."
"What we understand is the people in need, and a lot of times it's single mothers—just [being given] a government check ... is not ultimately going to put somebody on the pathway to prosperity or independence," he said, promising that he would replicate his program at a federal level.
Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson agreed with Mr. DeSantis. However, he didn't elaborate on any specific plan.
"You win the hearts and minds of Americans by standing on conviction," he said. "And then also expressing compassion and solutions to the challenges we face."
Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.) said he also sees the need to "make it easier for families to choose life." He called for a change in federal spending to have the level of funding Planned Parenthood receives be put into organizations that promote and encourage the protection of life, such as adoption and crisis pregnancy centers, as well as a change to the tax code.
"One of the things I'd like to do is provide tax benefits once a woman gets pregnant because we should be pro-life from the moment of conception until birth and then beyond as well," he said. "So I would redesign the tax code to reflect that faith-filled position."
Will Hurd, a former Texas congressman and former CIA officer, spoke of the need to defend new life.
Federal 15-Week BanThe question of the federal government's role in abortion policies follows the Supreme Court's decision in the case "Dobbs v. Jackson," which overturned the automatic federal protections of abortion provided by Roe v. Wade and returned to the states the power to decide on the issue.
Former Vice President Mike Pence reminded attendees of his connection to that ruling.
"To have been a part of the administration that appointed three of the justices that sent Roe versus Wade to the ash heap of history, where it belongs, is something I will cherish for the rest of my life."
He said that although the Dobbs decision returned the question of abortion to the states, a "minimum standard in Washington, D.C.," is necessary.
"I think we ought to ban abortion across America, but from the point that a baby can experience pain in the world," he said. "It's a 15-week minimum ban. I believe it's an idea whose time has come."
Mr. Hutchinson also supported the idea of a 15-week ban.
"You read [the Dobbs decision] closer, and it says it returns the issue to our elected representatives," he said. "And so if our members of Congress can reach a consensus and pass a pro-life bill that has reasonable exceptions to it, that we all agree upon, I will sign that as a pro-life president."
Not all of the candidates, however, are certain that such pro-life legislation will be possible during their presidency.
Former U.N. ambassador and South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley doubled down on the position she took on abortion during the first presidential debate in August.
"In order to pass a federal law, you have to have the majority of the House, 60–six-zero–Senate votes, and a signature of the president," she said. "We haven't had 60 Republicans in over 100 years. We might have 45 pro-life senators. So no Republican president can any more ban abortions than a Democrat president can ban those state laws."
Mr. Elder also voiced his doubts about the reality of enacting any federal legislation and, echoing President Ronald Reagan, argued that a proposed amendment to the Constitution is "the only real way" to end the fight.
'Humanize This Issue'Ms. Haley also warned against what she sees as the "demonizing" that comes with abortion restrictions.
"If you go and you put these restrictions that make people demonize each other, I'm not going to be a part of the demonizing," she said. "We have to humanize this issue if we're ever going to pass it and do more.
"I had a roommate in college who was raped. I wouldn't wish on anyone what she went through, wondering if she was pregnant. Everybody has a story. The way we bring people to us is not by demonizing them. We bring people to us when we humanize the situation."
She said her goal is to establish "a good conversation" to save as many babies and support as many mothers as possible.
"Can't we all agree that we should ban late-term abortions," she said. "Can't we all agree that we should encourage adoptions and good quality adoptions? Can't we all agree that doctors and nurses who don't believe in abortion shouldn't have to perform them? And can't we all agree that no woman who has an abortion should get a prison sentence or the death penalty? Let's start there."
Ms. Haley enacted both an ultrasound bill and a pain-capable bill in South Carolina during her governorship and claimed to be "the most pro-life ambassador" the U.N. had ever seen. She said she sees any federal protections for the unborn as a win in the fight, asking the Iowa voters, "Whatever we can get 60 Senate votes on, isn't that better than what we have now?"
"If it's six weeks, that's great. If it's 15 weeks, that's great. If it's 20 weeks, it's going further than we want, but guess what: We'll save more babies that way."
Perry Johnson, Ryan Binkley, and Vivek Ramaswamy were also at the Iowa event.
Mr. Johnson spoke out against late-term abortions and affirmed that he believes that life begins at conception. However, he didn't declare any concrete policy or ban he would put in place.
Mr. Binkley and Mr. Ramaswamy weren't given a chance to comment while on stage.
Former President Donald Trump didn't appear at the event but recently elaborated on his position and also spoke out against abortion bans. During an interview with NBC’s “Meet the Press,” he called Mr. DeSantis's decision to support the push to ban abortions after six weeks in Florida "a terrible thing and a terrible mistake."
“What’s going to happen is you’re going to come up with a number of weeks or months,” Mr. Trump said. “You’re going to come up with a number that’s going to make people happy.”
He also insisted that he would sit down with both sides to make everybody satisfied.
Mr. Hutchinson directly rebutted that approach, saying: "Both sides aren't gonna like you. This is going to be a fight for life. And we've been doing that for 40 years. You take a stand, you state your position."
Qualifying Republican candidates will assemble again at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, California, on Sept. 27 for the second 2024 presidential debate.