Nov 8, 2023 - Politics & Policy

GOP presidential candidates face abortion questions after election losses

Republican presidential candidates at the primary debate hosted by NBC News in Miami. Photo: Joe Raedle/Getty Images

The day after brutal losses in the 2023 off-year elections, Republican presidential candidates kept to a strategy of avoiding any specific abortion policies or proposals during Wednesday's third primary debate.

Zoom in: Candidates provided congressional reality checks, left the choices up to state governments, praised a "culture of life" and even called for more "sexual responsibility for men."

  • Democrats picked up control of the Virginia legislature, won the Kentucky governor's race and enshrined abortion rights in Ohio's constitution in Tuesday's elections.
  • One day later, the Republicans on stage showed no consensus on how to address the issue.

What they're saying: When asked about the role of the abortion issue in recent GOP losses, former UN Ambassador Nikki Haley took a similar approach as she did in the first debate — laying out the tough political realities for passing any kind of federal ban of abortion.

  • "We haven't had 60 Senate votes in over 100 years — we might have 45 pro-life senators. So no Republican president can ban abortions," she said.
  • Florida Gov. Ron Desantis, who signed a 6-week abortion ban into law in his state this year, touted a "culture of life" and admitted that Republicans need to do a "better job on these referenda" and that the pro-life cause has been "caught flat-footed."
  • "Here's the missing ingredient of this movement: sexual responsibility for men," entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy said when asked about abortion, going on to say, "It's not men's rights versus women's rights. It's about human rights."
  • Chris Christie said abortion regulations should be left to the states, saying, "the founders were really smart, and this is an issue that should be decided in each state."
  • Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.) was the only candidate to proactively commit to a specific number of weeks at which to ban abortion, saying he would have a 15-week national ban.

The bottom line: Americans have now voted in favor of abortion rights via state ballot initiatives seven times since the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade — and the pro-life movement is still trying to find its political footing.

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