ICYMI: National Abortion Ban is Key Litmus Test for 2024 GOP Hopefuls
March 20, 2023
Key Point: “One of the most influential groups, Susan B. Anthony Pro-Life America, is likely to ask candidates to sign a pledge supporting a federal minimum limit on abortion at no later than 15 weeks of pregnancy.”
Washington Post: Abortion foes seek vows from 2024 GOP hopefuls
By Rachel Roubein
- Leading antiabortion groups, fresh off their historic victory with the demise of Roe v. Wade, are drawing up plans for a new goal in the 2024 presidential election: Ensuring the Republican nominee promises to back nationwide restrictions on abortion.
- One of the most influential groups, Susan B. Anthony Pro-Life America, is likely to ask candidates to sign a pledge supporting a federal minimum limit on abortion at no later than 15 weeks of pregnancy.
- “If any GOP primary candidate fails to summon the moral courage to endorse a 15-week gestational minimum standard, then they don’t deserve to be the president of the United States,” said Marjorie Dannenfelser, the president of SBA Pro-Life America, who was instrumental in extracting antiabortion promises from former president Donald Trump during his 2016 campaign.
- “Our biggest challenge right now is making sure we get everyone on the record and for them to understand that we expect substantial action to be taken,” said Kristan Hawkins, the president of Students for Life Action. She added: “We want to make sure that every candidate knows that they’re going to have to be ready to make their case for life.”
- The Supreme Court’s decision last June striking down a constitutional protection for abortion rights means such questions are no longer merely hypothetical. If Republicans win enough House and Senate seats in a future election, they could feasibly pass some kind of federal abortion limit — and activists are determined to nail down presidential candidates on whether and to what extent they’d go along with it.
- Most of the Republican field is expected to be unified in opposing abortion. But divisions are likely to emerge when drilling down into specific policies, such as how early in pregnancy to restrict abortion, what exceptions should be allowed and whether some of those decisions should be left up to states.
- In addition to likely asking candidates to sign a pledge, Dannenfelser said her group is aiming to be involved in candidate forums in Iowa and South Carolina, at a minimum. The group has long assessed candidates’ records and public statements on abortion and spent millions in each election cycle, though it usually doesn’t make endorsements in the primary, with the exception of Rick Santorum in 2012. Armed with a budget that’s expected to be “significantly more” than last election cycle’s $78 million, the group is planning its ground game in presidential and Senate battleground states, which includes the traditional door knocking, digital ads and mailers.
- Both the Heritage Foundation and its political arm, Heritage Action, want to hear presidential candidates come out in support of what abortion opponents call “heartbeat legislation” or a ban on abortion even earlier in pregnancy. Roger Severino, a vice president at the Heritage Foundation, said the group will be pushing candidates to be clear about their positions and is working to try to host candidate debates or forums as a venue for them to do so.
- Meanwhile, Students for Life Action is hammering out a survey to send to candidates once more have announced their presidential ambitions. Its questions will likely include whether the candidate would be willing to sign into law specific bills banning abortion early in pregnancy, how they’d crack down on abortion pills and whether they would defund Planned Parenthood. The group also may ask about protections for health care workers and pharmacists who raise conscience objections to abortion, as well as questions about judicial and cabinet appointments.
- State-level groups could also turn up the pressure. The Family Foundation of Virginia typically doesn’t host presidential forums, since it’s one of the later primary states, but it is discussing doing so this year, said president Victoria Cobb. She added that she’s “not convinced that there’s only one path that pro-lifers will accept,” but that candidates have to “be willing to push the issue forward.” Texas Values Action typically puts out a candidate questionnaire, and in last year’s midterm elections, the survey included multiple abortion-related asks.
- “Now that the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that abortion is not a constitutional right, there will be a lot of focus on how a candidate has handled the pro-life issue in his or her state or if they’ve been in some other elected position at any other level,” said Jonathan Saenz, the president of Texas Values Action, whose group typically endorses candidates in the primary and likely will again in the 2024 presidential election cycle. “Their record will be looked at very closely.”
- Former U.N. ambassador Nikki Haley announced her candidacy last month. As South Carolina’s governor, she signed a law in 2016 prohibiting the procedure at 20 weeks of pregnancy unless the mother’s life is at risk or if a doctor determines the fetus cannot survive outside of the womb. In a recent Today Show interview, she didn’t say whether she’d support a limit at 15 weeks, saying there should be “consensus” found on abortion while indicating she didn’t support a “full-out federal ban because I don’t think that’s been put on the table.” The campaign didn’t respond to specific questions about whether Haley supports certain national limits.
- That includes former vice president Mike Pence, who supported antiabortion measures as a member of the House and governor of Indiana. In November, he said he would have supported legislation from Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.) to prohibit most abortions after 15 weeks if he was in Congress. And his organization, Advancing American Freedom, is calling on Congress to pursue antiabortion bills, including “heartbeat” legislation and legislation defining a fetus as a person and declaring it has the same rights available to other people.
- “Others may need to sign a pledge to convince voters of their pro-life credentials, but Mike Pence has been in the fight to defend the unborn for more than 30 years and his record on life is unmatched,” an adviser to Pence wrote in an email.
- Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) has privately indicated he intends to run, and last year signed a limit on most abortions after 15 weeks. Now, Republican lawmakers in his state are pushing to restrict the procedure after six weeks of pregnancy, a bill that DeSantis has signaled he’d sign. DeSantis representatives didn’t respond to questions about his stance on national abortion restrictions.
- Since the summer, antiabortion groups have been scrambling to build on their 49-year crusade to overturn Roe v. Wade, saying that was just the beginning, as abortion rights groups work to counteract state-level bans on abortion.
- At a gala this month in Naples, Fla., Hawkins told a crowd of dozens of Students for Life Action donors and others that the fight over abortion was far from over, describing overturning Roe v. Wade as once seeming like an “insurmountable challenge.”
- “I can’t ignore the moment that we’re in,” she said. “The battlefield is larger than it’s ever been before.”