Former Vice President Mike Pence sought once more on Wednesday to define himself as the staunchest opponent of abortion in the Republican field, citing his faith and taking a swipe at the former United Nations ambassador Nikki Haley, who has tried to pull off a difficult balancing act on the issue.
“To be honest with you, Nikki — you’re my friend, but consensus is the opposite of leadership,” Mr. Pence said, criticizing Ms. Haley for saying there needed to be congressional consensus between Republicans and Democrats before the federal government could play a role in restricting abortion. “It’s not a states-only issue. It’s a moral issue.”
Ms. Haley, who often calls herself “unapologetically pro-life,” fired back that Mr. Pence was being dishonest about what was politically possible. “When you’re talking about a federal ban, be honest with the American people,” she said, arguing that the 60-vote filibuster threshold in the Senate meant that no Democratic or Republican president would be able to set abortion policy. “Do not make women feel like they have to decide on this issue.”
The exchange underscored the deep and emotional divide that has emerged among Republicans since the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade.
Since that ruling last year, Republican-led states have rushed to outlaw or impose stringent restrictions on abortion, to a fierce electoral backlash. Surveys show record numbers of Americans support at least some level of access to abortion, and some of the top Republican presidential candidates have waffled or struggled with their positions in light of that fact.
On the debate stage, candidates insisted they were “pro-life” but did not agree on whether to support a federal ban at 15 weeks’ gestation. Still, some tried to use the moment to break out.
“We cannot let states like California, New York, Illinois have abortions on demand,” said Senator Tim Scott from South Carolina, who also claimed falsely that those states allow abortion without limits until birth.