On Wednesday night, eight presidential hopefuls lined the stage of Milwaukee’s Fiserv Forum arena, kicking off the inaugural debate of the 2024 presidential election. The moderators, Bret Baier and Martha MacCallum, brought a wide range of topics to the table, including the education system, foreign policy, and even UFOs. The lively debate offered a peek into the upcoming campaign season, with new faces taking center stage and old voices reenforcing their experience. 

About 30 minutes in, MacCallum brought up what will undoubtedly be a key topic in the 2024 election: abortion. She called it a “losing issue” for Republicans since Roe v. Wade was overturned, despite 24 states having enacted abortion restrictions since the Dobbs decision, some of which are near-total bans, including in South Dakota. The pro-life movement has seen progress over the last year that many never dreamed they would witness in their lifetime. Thousands upon thousands of babies have already been saved thanks to the work of strong Republican leaders and organizations like FHA and our allies – this is not a losing issue, although it may be an uphill battle. 

MacCallum went on to ask candidates if they support a federal abortion ban rather than leaving states to their own devices, as the Supreme Court ruled in Dobbs. She opened the floor first to former governor of South Carolina, and the only woman on stage, Nikki Haley. 

“I am unapologetically pro-life, not because the Republican Party tells me to be, but because my husband was adopted and I had trouble having both of my children,” Haley began. “Having said that, we need to stop demonizing this issue […] let’s find consensus. Can’t we all agree that we should ban late term abortions? Can’t we all agree that we should encourage adoptions? Can’t we all agree that doctors and nurses who don’t believe in abortion shouldn’t have to perform them? Can’t we all agree that contraception should be available and can’t we all agree that we are not going to put a woman in jail or give her the death penalty if she gets an abortion? Let’s treat this like [the] respectful issue that it is and humanize the situation and stop demonizing the situation.” (emphasis added)

Haley seemed doubtful a federal ban would ever come to fruition in a divided Congress, but progress could still be made to support the pro-life movement federally while leaving individual abortion laws up to the states.

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, a leader among Republican elected officials on the pro-life front, spoke of his record with the heartbeat bill and his unwavering goal of protecting the unborn.

“We are not going to allow abortion all the way up till birth and we will hold [Democrats] accountable for their extremism,” DeSantis said in the debate. “I will support the cause of life as Governor and as President.”

After the debate, DeSantis spoke to Sean Hannity and clarified that if Congress were to pass a bill that prevents late-term abortions he would fully support it. “It’s the right thing to do,” he said simply.

Former Vice President Mike Pence emphasized his support for a federal ban on abortion, which has been his unwavering position for years:

“When the Supreme Court returned this question to the American people, they didn’t just send it to the states only,” Pence said. It’s not a state’s only issue. It’s a moral issue. And I promise you as President of the United States, the American people will have a champion for life in the Oval Office. Can’t we have a minimum standard in every state in the nation that says when a baby is capable of feeling pain, an abortion cannot be allowed? A 15-week ban is an idea whose time has come. It’s supported by 70% of the American people, but it’s going to take unapologetic leadership, leadership that stands on principle and expresses compassion for women in crisis pregnancies. I’ll do that as President of the United States.” (emphasis added)

Research backs Pence’s statement – an overwhelming majority of Americans believe abortions should be limited to the first trimester and support a 15-week national ban on abortions, although over 90% of abortions take place before that threshold, necessitating additional laws to truly protect the unborn.

North Dakota Governor Doug Burgum, a first-time presidential candidate, declared that he is firmly against a federal abortion ban. Here’s why: “It’s the 10th Amendment in the Constitution,” Burgum explained, holding up a pocket-sized version of America’s founding document. “It says that there were certain duties allowed to the federal government delegated to them by the states. The rest are left to the states, more importantly, or to the people. We need to get back to freedom and liberty for the people in this country and we can’t have Republicans who fight for 50 years for this great cause to return it back to the States and then the next day they turn around and go, “No, the Feds should do that.” Because the feds are stepping into people’s lives. They’re stepping into people’s businesses over and over. If we say that the feds should be in on this one, where do we stop? I say that we follow the Constitution and this is returned to the states. This is where it should be.”

Senator Tim Scott combated the laissez-faire position of several of his opponents, arguing that America’s founding documents leave ample room for federal protections of the unborn: “We cannot let states like California, New York, and Illinois have abortions on demand up until the day of birth. That is immoral. It is unethical, it is wrong. We must have a President of the United States who will advocate and fight for at the minimum a 15-week limit. I’m a hundred percent pro-life conservative. I have a hundred percent pro-life record. Our Declaration of Independence says our creator gave us inalienable rights that include life. That is a list. That is an issue we must solve.” (emphasis added)

Newcomer Vivek Ramaswamy did not have a chance to speak on abortion during the debate, but he previously told CNN that he does not support a federal abortion ban, although he is “unapologetically pro-life.” 

“If murder laws are handled at the state level, and abortion is a form of murder, the pro-life view, then it makes no sense for that to be the one federal law,” Ramaswamy said.

Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson did not take a clear stance on a federal abortion ban, although he made clear his commitment to pro-life legislation. “Let’s talk about it in terms of compassion, in terms of protecting life and also understanding how we have to enhance adoption services, how we have to enhance maternal care,” he said

As the fight against abortion continues to escalate, we urge you to strongly consider these candidates’ positions as you decide who to vote for in the Republican primary. This is not an issue to take lightly or to push to the side – it should be a determining factor in who you want elected in November 2024.