Pence leans into abortion issue, pulls away from Trump, in South Carolina speech

Former Vice President Mike Pence, who is eyeing a bid for the White House in 2024, celebrated the end of federal abortion protections in a speech Wednesday night in South Carolina, while subtly pulling further away from former President Donald Trump.

In a speech in an early-voting state that would be central to his strategy for winning the Republican presidential nomination, Pence touted his work as vice president casting tie-breaking votes in the Senate, pushing to end funding for Planned Parenthood clinics and being the first vice president to address the Right to Life March.

“As we gather tonight we must recognize we have only come to the end of the beginning,” Pence said at the Florence Baptist Church in reference to the Supreme Court overturning Roe v. Wade. “We must resolve that we will not rest, we will not relent, until the sanctity of life is restored to the center of American law in every state in the nation.”

In addition to vowing to end abortion in all 50 states, Pence also promised to push for increased support for crisis pregnancy centers across the country, and to seek to outlaw the mailing of abortion pills to women seeking to terminate their pregnancies.

Mike Pence
Former Vice President Mike Pence. (Siavosh Hosseini/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images) (SOPA Images via Getty Images)

Perhaps most notably, however, the staunchly pro-life former vice president to Trump delivered a campaign-style speech that made only a fleeting mention of the “Trump-Pence administration.”

Pence’s latest presidential toe-dipping came just hours before the Jan. 6 committee was set to hold another hearing Thursday to shine a light on Trump’s alleged inaction as his supporters ransacked the Capitol in an attempt to block the peaceful transfer of power. As they stormed the building and learned that Pence had refused to go along with the scheme to block the certification of the Electoral College count, many of them chanted, “Hang Mike Pence!”

The speech in Florence, however, was just the start of a series of campaign stops scheduled for the coming days, including one in Arizona, where Pence and Trump have endorsed different Republican candidates for governor.

The Democratic National Committee laced into Pence ahead of Wednesday night's speech, painting him as out of step with the majority of the country on abortion.

“Mike Pence is leading Republicans’ charge to make abortion illegal across the country, punish doctors, and now apparently taking issue with abortion pills,” DNC spokesperson Ammar Moussa said in a statement.

Trump’s support within the Republican Party has sagged to its lowest point since before he won the GOP presidential nomination in 2016. In part as a result of the Jan. 6 committee hearings and Trump’s refusal to move on from his defeat to Biden in 2020, that softening of support appears to have created an opening for Pence, who many Republicans had largely written off as a presidential contender.

Mike Pence
Pence at an event in Columbia, S.C. His speech there in April was his first since the end of his vice presidency. (Sean Rayford/Getty Images) (Sean Rayford via Getty Images)

Earlier Wednesday, before a meeting of the House Republican Study Committee, Rep. Chip Roy, R-Texas, praised Pence for defying Trump on Jan. 6 and supporting the Constitution, and he was applauded by the conservative group, according to reports.

“Let me just say the vice president is a real moral force. He’s a real true leader and he’s earned the respect of Republicans and other Americans all over this country,” Rep. Andy Barr, R-Kentucky, said as he left the meeting, according to NBC News.

As Pence demonstrated Wednesday, he’s hoping Republican voters cheering the end of national abortion rights will agree with that assessment — and let the memories of Trump fade into history.

Brian Kemp, right, and Mike Pence
Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp, right, and Pence greet supporters on the eve of the general primary election in Atlanta, May 23. (Elijah Nouvelage/AFP via Getty Images) (ELIJAH NOUVELAGE via Getty Images)