Nikki Haley, the only woman in the GOP field, lays out her abortion stance

Republican lawmakers in numerous states have effectively outlawed the procedure despite polls showing such moves are deeply unpopular.

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Nikki Haley’s speech to an anti-abortion group on Tuesday illustrated how Republicans are still struggling to navigate the issue ahead of next year’s presidential election.

Haley, a candidate for the 2024 Republican nomination, spoke at the headquarters of Susan B. Anthony Pro-Life America in what her presidential campaign billed as a “major policy speech on abortion.” However, the former South Carolina governor, who has so far failed to gain much traction in early polls, largely shied away from specifics while discussing the procedure, saying she wanted to help build “consensus” instead.

The issue is a fraught one for Republicans. Polls consistently show that a majority of Americans believe abortion should be largely legal, but GOP lawmakers have effectively outlawed the procedure in more than a dozen states. On Monday, North Dakota became the latest state to enact strict restrictions on abortion.

Former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley onstage with a row of American flags as a backdrop.
Former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley delivers a speech against abortion on Tuesday in Arlington, Va. (Alex Wong/Getty Images)

In a wide-ranging 20-minute speech that touched on her husband’s adoption, her own struggles with becoming pregnant and the debate over the taking down of the Confederate flag when she was governor, Haley described herself as “unapologetically” anti-abortion. At the same time, she said she would not “address every single question or angle” and would instead “aim to start a constructive conversation.”

Haley mostly avoided specific policy proposals but did cite a few about which she felt most Americans would agree. She said that “contraception should be more available, not less” and that women who get abortions should not be jailed or subjected to the death penalty. She also pushed for a ban on “elective late-term” abortions, though late-term abortion is not a medical term. Abortions later in pregnancies are also very rare, making up about 1% of all abortions in the U.S., according to the Kaiser Family Foundation, and are usually tied to health complications.

The former ambassador to the United Nations urged the crowd not to judge or hate people who favor abortion rights, but she repeatedly criticized Democrats and the media during the same address. She did not offer her stance on abortion laws at the federal level, sidestepping the issue by saying she didn’t believe it was realistic to expect Congress to approve any sort of nationwide ban in the near future.

Protesters at an anti-abortion rally in St. Paul, Minn., hold signs that read: Killing baby girls in the womb is not women's equality, and what if the government funded adoptions rather than abortions.
Protesters at an anti-abortion rally in St. Paul, Minn. (Michael Siluk/UCG/Universal Images Group via Getty Images)

Republicans have struggled to come up with a coherent message on abortion since the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade last summer in a blockbuster decision that allowed states to outlaw the procedure. Following a state Supreme Court seat loss in Wisconsin this month, the Wall Street Journal’s conservative editorial board — which cheered the overturning of Roe — wrote that “Republicans had better get their abortion position straight, and more in line with where voters are or they will face another disappointment in 2024.”

Haley’s speech could potentially appeal to big-money GOP donors looking for someone with a more moderate stance on the issue. Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C., struggled with the topic after announcing his exploratory committee for the presidency, before eventually saying he would sign “the most conservative pro-life” ban that could get through Congress.

Former President Donald Trump was rebuked by Susan B. Anthony Pro-Life America last week for saying that abortion policy should be left to individual states instead of being banned federally. Several days later, Trump — the early favorite for the Republican nomination next year — boasted to an Iowa audience via video about his work restricting abortion, including the appointment of three of the Supreme Court justices who voted to overturn Roe.

A new Yahoo News/YouGov poll found that 52% of Americans favored the idea of Congress passing a law that “keeps abortion as legal and accessible nationwide as it had been under Roe v. Wade,” versus 30% opposed. Support for a nationwide ban after 15 weeks of pregnancy was split at 39% to 39%, with 22% of respondents not sure. A ban on abortion after six weeks of pregnancy, like the one quietly signed by Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis earlier this month, had just 28% support, versus 52% opposition.

Cover thumbnail photo: Al Drago/Bloomberg via Getty Images