Republican Rep. Nancy Mace of South Carolina is calling on her GOP colleagues to adopt a more centrist approach to abortion ahead of the 2024 election cycle.
“I know that if we’re going to win hearts and minds, we can’t be assholes to women,” Mace said during an interview with Yahoo News this week. She argued that Republicans should, instead, embrace a more “compassionate and compelling message” that is both “pro-woman and pro-life.”
“They can do both,” she said.
Mace, whose district includes much of South Carolina’s East Coast, including Charleston and Hilton Head Island, has been an outspoken proponent within the Republican Party of reproductive rights. She pointed to a string of abortion-related defeats for the GOP since the Supreme Court’s decision last spring to overturn Roe v. Wade as proof that abortion “is an issue that we have to address head on.”
First, there was the wave of successful ballot measures on abortion rights that passed during the 2022 midterm elections, even in traditionally conservative states.
Then last month, Judge Janet Protasiewicz, who campaigned on her support for abortion access, won a hotly contested race for a seat on the Wisconsin Supreme Court by 11%, giving Democrats a majority on the bench in the key swing state and showing, again, that the issue of abortion is top of mind for many voters.
And just last week, South Carolina’s state Senate voted 22-21 to reject a near-total abortion ban. It was the third time since the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade that a near-total abortion ban has failed to pass in the state’s GOP-led chamber.
The only five women in the state Senate — three Republicans, one Democrat and one Independent — joined together to lead a multi-day filibuster against the bill. State Sen. Penry Gustafson, a Republican, said that while she is pro-life, she opposed the bill because it left “no room for empathy, reality or graciousness.”
It’s this kind of position that, Mace argues, Republicans would be wise to adopt if they want to win in 2024.
“If we just bury our heads in the sand and ignore the issue, we're going to lose and we're going to lose big.”
The issue of abortion access is personal for Mace, who was raped when she was 16.
Mace first revealed her traumatic experience to the public in 2019, during a debate over South Carolina’s fetal heartbeat bill, when she was serving in the state Legislature.
She told Yahoo News that she hadn’t planned to share her story, but she felt compelled to speak out on behalf of victims of rape to ensure that the bill, which banned abortion after six weeks, would include exceptions for victims of rape and incest.
Since then, she said, her own trauma “has made me a different type of lawmaker because it really informs everything that I do.”
It’s why she’s currently working on legislation to address the massive backlog of untested rape kits across the United States, and why she’s been critical of a recent abortion ban signed by Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis that requires a pregnant person to show proof of rape or incest to qualify for abortion exceptions up until 15 weeks.
Based on her own experience, Mace said thinks the “restrictive strings” attached to the exceptions are unrealistic.
“In terms of reporting it to the police or getting evidence from a hospital, by the time I told my mom I was raped, it was too late,” Mace said. “There’s no way in hell you would’ve been able to get me to go to the police, no way.”
The South Carolina congresswoman has championed other issues related to reproductive rights, like access to birth control, and she’s been an outspoken critic of a Texas federal judge’s decision to overturn the decades-old Food and Drug Administration approval of widely used abortion drug, mifepristone.
While she may be a singular voice within her party, Mace notes that she’s not alone, pointing to legislation that conservative South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster signed into law last year, that would give women access to the birth control pill from their pharmacist without having to see a doctor.
She told Yahoo News that she’s now working on legislation “to cut the time in half and reduce the pricing for self-administered birth control and contraception.”
In addition to her own experience, Mace’s views are shaped by the attitudes of her constituents, which, she said, have shifted in the wake of the Supreme Court’s decision on Roe. While she was willing to support her state’s six-week abortion ban with exceptions in 2019, she now says she thinks the gestational limit on abortion should be 15-20 weeks.
Recognizing this shift is a key part of the approach that Mace argues her party must follow: “Be compassionate to women, be pro-life and win resoundingly.”
“We have to be able to read the room,” she said. “People aren’t where they were five years ago.”