Where Do the 2024 GOP Candidates Stand on a 15-Week Federal Abortion Limit?
Heading into Wednesday’s second presidential debate, RNC Chair Ronna McDaniel had strong words for her party on abortion. They needed more fight, she argued, more backbone. Under the big lights of the Reagan Library, they delivered. From Florida Governor Ron DeSantis’s (R) forceful rebuke of the Left’s position to Chris Christie’s surprise recitation of his New Jersey record, Republicans finally took the hint that ignoring the issue won’t make it go away.
One of the biggest surprises of the night was the obvious shift to a federal limit on abortion. After more than a year of trying to kick the debate to the states, Republicans seem to realize that isn’t what conservatives want — or, as recent GOP history proves — what wins.
Senator Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) has been on a personal crusade to change the party’s thinking since Dobbs, insisting that “if we can’t muster the courage, post-Dobbs, to tell the country that we’re against late-term abortion, then we’ve lost our way.”
That doesn’t mean, Graham has said, that states can’t be more restrictive. If Arkansas or Louisiana want to outlaw abortion entirely, they can. But there also needs to be a clear, nationwide boundary, Graham argued, so that children in extreme places like California, Illinois, or Maryland have a fighting chance. So “at 15 weeks, we draw the line as a nation. [That’s a] minimum federal standard.”
By calling it a states’ rights issue, some Republicans thought they could avoid the political landmine. Instead, McDaniel argued, it exploded in their faces. The last thing Republicans need, she emphasized, “is to put our head in the sand and say, ‘This is an issue we’re uncomfortable talking about.’” If the GOP continues to do that, she warned, “the Democrats will define us. And we need to be out there defining ourselves and defining them.”
DeSantis, especially, seemed to take that advice to heart, staring straight in the camera and calling out Democrats’ agenda of taxpayer-funded abortion on demand right up to the moment of birth. “I reject this idea that pro-lifers are to blame for midterm defeats,” he insisted. “I think there’s other reasons for that. … My wife and I earlier today were at the gravesite of President and Mrs. Reagan, and I noticed that there was a quote where it says, ‘Every single person has purpose and worth.’ We’re better off when everybody counts, and I think we should stand for what we believe in. I think we should hold the Democrats accountable for their extremism, supporting abortion all the way up until the moment of birth. That is infanticide and that is wrong.”
On “Washington Watch” Thursday, Family Research Council President Tony Perkins applauded the subtle sea change underway. “We saw candidates rejecting the narrative that blames pro-life advocates for the GOP midterm election defeats and [then] called for conservatives to go on the offense on the life issue.” FRC Action’s Brent Keilen agreed, pointing to the “big breakthrough” of the night, which was DeSantis throwing his support behind a 15-week federal limit on abortion. “There’s a lot of momentum there,” Keilen said. “You do have a couple candidates … saying [they feel] like this is a states’ rights issue still. But the candidates saying that, many of them really aren’t doing that well in the polls right now.” And, of course, the irony is, “Nobody on the Democrat side is pushing for that,” Keilen argued. They’re openly calling for “abortion up until the moment of birth at taxpayer expense” as the national standard. “That really is the contrast.”
So how do the 2024 GOP candidates stack up when it comes to 15-week protections for the unborn?
Donald Trump: Undecided
Earlier this month, the former president made waves by calling Florida’s heartbeat law “a terrible mistake.” During that same “Meet the Press” interview, Trump was asked, “If a federal ban landed on your desk, if you were reelected, would you sign it at 15 weeks?” He replied,” “Well, people are starting to think of 15 weeks, that seems to be a number that people seem to be talking about right now. I would sit down with both sides, and I’d negotiate something. … I’m not going to say I would or I wouldn’t.”
Governor Ron DeSantis: Supports
It was tough for viewers of the second presidential debate to hear (most transcripts don’t even include the exchange), but at one point, Senator Tim Scott (R-S.C.) turned to the governor and asked if he would support legislation outlawing abortions of babies after 15 weeks in the womb. “Yes, I will,” DeSantis replied. The Daily Signal reached out to the campaign to verify, and they confirmed his position.
Nikki Haley: Supports
During a July interview on Fox News Sunday, the former governor and U.N. ambassador was asked by Shannon Bream if she thought a national ban “was appropriate.” Haley replied, “First of all, Shannon, we do have to be honest with the American people, and I don’t think that they’ve been honest on that. … [I]n order to get a federal law, you have to have 60 Senate votes, a majority of the House, and a presidential signature. We might have 45 — 45 — pro-life senators, so we’ve got a long way to go. … I think we should find consensus. … And whatever 60 votes come to, whether that’s 15 weeks, I absolutely would sign it.”
Vivek Ramaswamy: Opposes
Despite calling himself “unapologetically pro-life,” the young entrepreneur told CNN in May that “I don’t believe a federal abortion ban makes any sense.” He went on to couch abortion as a states’ rights issue, claiming, “This is not an issue for the federal government. This is an issue for the states. I think we need to be explicit about that. If murder laws are handled at the state level and abortion is a form of murder, the pro-life view, then it makes no sense for that to be the one federal law.”
Mike Pence: Supports
Throughout his campaign, the former vice president has been clear that a nationwide ban — preferably at six weeks or earlier — is his firm position. He renewed that call at Family Research Council’s Pray Vote Stand Summit on September 15, telling the audience, “I truly do believe the time has come for a minimum national standard that would ban abortions after the point that an unborn child can experience pain. We need a 15-week national standard to protect unborn children in California, in Illinois, in New York, and in Democrat led states. I think the fate of our nation is tied up in the cause of life. Save the babies. And we’ll save America.”
Senator Tim Scott: Supports
After cosponsoring legislation in the Senate for a 20-week limit, the South Carolina Republican wrote in an op-ed earlier this year, “I am 100% pro-life. When I am president of the United States, I will sign the most pro-life legislation the House and Senate can put on my desk. We should begin with a 15-week national limit. Poll after poll shows that a clear majority of Americans oppose abortion in the second trimester and agree it should be restricted.”
Chris Christie: Conditionally Supports*
On Wednesday, the former New Jersey governor said again that he believes “in states’ rights.” “I think we fought hard against Roe v. Wade for decades to say that states should make these decisions.” Earlier in the year, Christie expressed reluctance to a “national abortion ban,” telling a CNN townhall, “I don’t think we should be worried about that now. … We’re not at a consensus point.” In his conversation with Anderson Cooper, Christie argued that the federal government should “not be involved unless — and until — there’s consensus around the country.” Presuming Congress’s consensus is 15 weeks, the governor’s statement implies he would sign it. But, as he told Cooper, “That’s a lot of ifs in there.”
Governor Doug Burgum: Opposes
The North Dakota candidate has been consistently against a federal limit on abortion, a surprise for people in his state, who’ve seen him sign some of the strictest pro-life laws in the country. “[T]he best decisions are made locally,” Burgum argued on CNN “This Morning.” “I think the decision that was made returning the power to the states was the right one. And I think we’re going to have — we have a lot of division on this issue in America. And what’s right for North Dakota may not be right for another state, Minnesota, California, New York.”
Asa Hutchinson: Supports
In a surprising shift, the former Arkansas governor changed his tune in April of this year. After residing in the states’ rights camp for months, Hutchinson came around on Fox News this spring. When Bream asked, “If you did have both houses of Congress, and were President Hutchinson, would you sign [a 15-week limit]?” He responded, “I’ve always signed pro-life bills. And a pro-life bill that comes to me that sets reasonable restrictions, but also has the appropriate exceptions, yes, I would sign it.”
Suzanne Bowdey serves as editorial director and senior writer at The Washington Stand.