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Nikki Haley is no pro-life champion

The GOP presidential candidate hedges on abortion

Former UN Ambassador Nikki Haley speaks during the Aug. 23 Republican presidential primary debate in Milwaukee, Wis. Associated Press/Photo by Morry Gash, file

Nikki Haley is no pro-life champion

If pro-life voters are looking for a champion among presidential hopefuls, Nikki Haley isn’t it. In the first GOP presidential debate, Haley once again claimed to be pro-life, while avoiding making any substantive policy commitments on the issue. “Unelected justices didn’t need to decide something this personal,” Haley said when asked about abortion in Wednesday night’s debate, seemingly insinuating that Roe’s overturn was a mistake. She went on to say that it’s great that “it’s been put in the hands of the people,” but continued to repeat the same, non-committal line: “Let’s find consensus.”

“Finding consensus” on abortion seems to be the sum of Haley’s abortion policy prescription for America. The former UN ambassador should know better than most, however, that when you’re negotiating a consensus, you must first stake out an actual position. (In her April speech at SBA Pro-Life America, where Haley was supposed to unveil her abortion policy proposal, she refused to commit to SBA’s proposed 15-week ban, which some said she had committed to privately with SBA officials before her remarks.)

Haley’s stance on abortion (if you can even call it a stance) isn’t surprising, however. Haley has consistently shied away from strong, pro-life positions on abortion, a bad sign for a presidential candidate in a primary where voters are overwhelmingly pro-life.

SBA Pro-Life America has offered one solution, in keeping with what polls say most Americans support: the Protecting Pain-Capable Unborn Children from Late-Term Abortions Act, introduced by Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., which would ban abortions after 15 weeks nationwide. The proposed law is essentially the inverse of Roe. It would set a nationwide limit on how late abortions can be performed, while still allowing states to pass more restrictive laws as they see fit. Despite criticism from Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., that it’s a “radical bill to institute a nationwide ban on abortions,” it’s still more liberal than most of Europe’s abortion laws, which limit abortion to twelve weeks.

Republican voters want a leader who is unapologetically pro-life.

This is nothing new; Democrats have been trying to paint pro-life Republicans as radicals for a long time. President Biden himself revealed his inability to be a president for all Americans, calling pro-lifers “ultra MAGA extremists” and a threat to American democracy. When pressed on what President Biden meant by this, White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre elaborated that “when you are not with where a majority of Americans are, then that is extreme.” But Democrats (and apparently some Republicans) fail to recognize that it’s not pro-life Republicans nor their elected representatives that are radical extremists: It’s Democratic leaders themselves.

According to a Harvard-Harris Poll, 75 percent of women, 70 percent of independents and even 60 percent of Democrats support legislation to protect babies by at least 15 weeks. According to the Pew Research Center, most Americans limit support for abortion to the first trimester, with over 71 percent supporting some exceptions or restrictions on abortion.

Democratic politicians, on the other hand, support abortion on demand for any reason and at any point up until birth, something that less than nineteen percent of Americans support. Despite what the former White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki will tell you, we have the receipts: 47 Democrats (all Democratic senators except for Joe Manchin of West Virginia) voted in favor of the Women’s Health Protection Act, which would have done just that and more.

Republican voters want a leader who is unapologetically pro-life. It’s the one reason many Republicans voted former President Trump into office in 2016, and it will continue to be an issue that Republican voters care about in the leadup to 2024. Thankfully, we do have other candidates who are strong on life. Former Vice President Mike Pence has remained the most pro-life candidate among the 2024 hopefuls, while former President Trump has recently waffled on the issue. Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C., has also been consistently pro-life, and while Florida Gov. Ron Desantis is less open about policy prescriptions for abortion, he says he remains committed to the pro-life cause.

Ultimately, former Gov. Haley is right: “Whether we can save more lives nationally depends entirely on doing what no one has done to date—finding consensus.” But according to the polls, that shouldn’t be as hard as many Republican politicians think it would be. In fact, something like the SBA-proposed 15 week bill would seem to fit that bill. It doesn’t seem like too much to ask for all the GOP’s 2024 presidential candidates to support federal abortion legislation that’s more liberal than Europe’s. The fact that we have to beg some of them to answer the question is an indication of the challenge we face.

Katelyn Walls Shelton

Katelyn Walls Shelton is a Bioethics Fellow at the Paul Ramsey Institute. She is a women’s health policy consultant who previously worked to promote the well-being of women and the unborn at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. She graduated from Yale Divinity School and Union University and lives in Washington, D.C., with her husband, John, and their three children.


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