For the first time in 50 years, abortion rights are not federally protected heading into a presidential campaign season. But after Democrats’ messaging on abortion helped stave off the Republican red wave expected in last November’s midterm elections, the issue poses a new challenge to any GOP hopeful looking to win the party’s presidential nomination early next year and win the White House.
When the Supreme Court overturned the landmark Roe v. Wade ruling last June and left it up to states or Congress to determine abortion laws, the possible 2024 GOP presidential hopefuls praised the decision. But the next president will have the power to either sign or veto any federal abortion legislation.
“It’s like year one for the pro-life movement, so it’s a different world after Dobbs, and our expectations are very high for these presidential candidates,” said Marilyn Musgrave, vice president of government affairs for the anti-abortion group Susan B. Anthony Pro -Life America. Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization was the abortion case that overturned Roe.
Musgrave said the group is looking forward to seeing how candidates view the path forward for abortion rights opponents, but she made one thing clear.
“We will not accept a candidate who says ‘it’s a state issue now, back to the states now, no federal law’ — that’s totally unacceptable,” Musgrave said.
Bob Vander Plaats, an influential conservative activist in Iowa and president and CEO of the socially conservative organization Family Leader, said that “there is definitely a way that the federal government needs to play” when it comes to abortion.
“Because if it’s a state issue — you have runaway abortion in California with Newsom, and will have abortion until birth,” he said. “For these presidential candidates, they have to be solid on the sanctity of human life.” Last November, California passed a ballot measure codifying a woman’s right to an abortion. The law allows abortions for a pregnant woman up to the point of viability – usually considered to be between 23-24 weeks – and only qualified doctors can perform them.
So far, only former President Donald Trump is the only declared candidate for the White House, butRepublicans are considering a 2024 run.
Trump, who said when Roe was overturned that “God made the decision,” believed Republicans had “badly handled” the abortion issue and that it hurt them politically in the midterms.
On Monday, he said on Real America’s Voice that failed Republican candidates, such as Doug Mastriano of Pennsylvania and Tudor Dixon of Michigan, should have embraced exemptions for rape, incest and to save the life of the mother.
“If you haven’t [them] I think it is very, very difficult to be chosen. With that said, you have to go with your heart and what you feel,” he said. “Again, Ronald Reagan was for the three exceptions, which I was… I think it’s very difficult, except for certain parts of the country, to be elected if you are not in favor of the three exemptions.”
A number of the potential candidates are governors and have moved to restrict abortion in their states since the Dobbs decision.
had a trigger law that went into effect after the Dobbs decision that prohibits abortion except if the pregnant woman’s life is in danger, with no exception for pregnancies resulting from rape or incest. She praised the Dobbs decision for returning abortion rights to the states.
Earlier this month, Noem’s communications director, Ian Fury, sought to contrast South Dakota’s abortion ban with Florida’s, under Gov. Ron DeSantis.
“Where was Governor DeSantis? Hiding behind a 15-week ban,” Fury wrote to a National Review reporter, suggesting the Florida Right to Life organization was “embarrassed” by DeSantis’ record, so they invited Noem to speak instead at their conference in 2021. .
Asked by CBS News if she agreed with Fury, Noem declined to cite DeSantis by name, but said that “every leader now, today, has the opportunity to stand for every single life.”
“I will push every governor to do what they can to back up their pro-life record,” she said.
DeSantis’ office has not yet responded to CBS News’ request for comment on Noem’s or Fury’s comments.
In April 2022, DeSantis signed a 15-week ban on abortion, with no exceptions for rape, incest or human trafficking. The state previously had a ban for 24 weeks.
In December, he said he would be “willing to sign major pro-life legislation” when asked if he would support a six-week abortion ban.
DeSantis has not ruled on whether he supports a national abortion ban since the overturn of Roe, but he supported measures restricting abortion during his time in Congress.
Democrats largely support codification of Roe which protected abortion until viability before any restrictions could be applied.
Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin, whose upset victory in Democratic-leaning Virginia in 2021 put him in the conversation for 2024, faces his own legislative test on abortion.
He is pushing for a 15-week abortion ban, noting in his address this month that “Virgins want fewer abortions, not more.” But with a Democratic majority in the state Senate that grew after a special election in January, Youngkin’s ban faces a challenging path forward. Still, he told CBS News that he is “optimistic” and “hopeful” that he can work with the divided legislature to pass it.
The first-term elected official and governor has also not said whether he will support a national abortion ban. In a July 2022 interview with ““, Youngkin said that he believes there should be exceptions for rape, incest and the life of the mother, and that “this is a decision for the states to make.”
“This is a moment for our country to have a discussion around this and each state will decide something differently. And I think that’s the real value of the Supreme Court’s decision,” he said.
New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu, who has kept the door open to a 2024 run, signed a 24-week abortion ban into law in 2021.
Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, who ran for president in 2016 and will join Trump later this month at a campaign stop in his state, introduced a 15-week abortion ban in September 2022.
And Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, who also ran in 2016, introduced a 20-week abortion ban in 2021. Sen. Josh Hawley of Missouri has said he will not support a federal ban on abortions.
Where some Republicans outside Congress have said little about support for federal abortion restrictions, former Vice President Mike Pence has not shied away from the topic.
Pence has not said when he will make a final decision on whether to run for president, but in a recent interview with CBS News, he shared his views on the abortion law.
“I will certainly support any pro-life legislation that Congress will bring up,” Pence said, but added that he believes the issue “will probably be solved one state at a time.” He also argued the Supreme Court justices confirmed during the Trump administration, which paved the way for the Dobbs decision.
On the day of the Dobbs decision, Pence tweeted“we must not rest and must not yield until the sanctity of life is restored to the center of American law in every state in the land.”
But while some candidates may fight to expand the abortion ban during the primaries, strong support for reducing abortion rights puts Republicans at odds with most Americans. In aafter the Dobbs decision, 59% of Americans disapproved of Roe being overturned. That included 62% of independents, but only 22% of Republicans.
An aggressive anti-abortion stance could hurt the Republican nominee’s prospects in key battleground states. In Pennsylvania, where Democrats swept statewide offices in the midterms, abortion was the No. 1 issue. It was also the top case in Michigan, where not only did Democrats win statewide, but voters passed a constitutional amendment to protect abortion rights.
Although some GOP candidates lost in battleground states, other Republicans who signed more restrictive abortion laws, such as DeSantis and Gov. Greg Abbott of Texas, won re-election by significant margins.
While Democrats relied on pro-abortion messaging, Republicans did not; on ads alone,but hundreds of millions of dollars. In some battleground races, Democrats outspent Republicans by more than 10-1.