Republican presidential candidate Nikki Haley delivered remarks April 25 calling for a "national consensus" on abortion, embracing some general policy positions on the subject, but she stopped short of endorsing specific gestational limits at the federal level.
Haley, a former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations and South Carolina governor, is currently the only woman who has entered the race for her party's nomination in 2024, as Republicans grapple with the issue of abortion following the U.S. Supreme Court's Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Organization decision in June. The high court overturned the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision that had declared abortion a constitutional right, and instead returned the matter of regulating or restricting abortion back to legislators.
In remarks at the headquarters of the group Susan B. Anthony Pro-Life America, which works to elect anti-abortion candidates, Haley cited her husband's story of adoption as a child and Haley's own struggles with fertility as some of the driving factors behind her own pro-life views.
SBA has called for Republican candidates to embrace a 15-week federal minimum standard on abortion limits, and criticized the GOP field's current frontrunner, former President Donald Trump, for advancing the position that regulating abortion should be left to the states. SBA called that position "morally indefensible" in an April 20 statement.
In her address, Haley called abortion "a sensitive topic that deserves our attention."
"It's one that too many politicians either demagogue or hide from," Haley said. "I won't demagogue or hide from it. I'm here to speak about it directly and openly. I won't address every possible question or angle. Rather, I aim to start a constructive conversation about where we go from here in our divided country."
Haley said post-Dobbs, each state is finding its own consensus, "as they should." But the next president, she said, should seek a "national consensus" on the difficult and personal subject.
"Nationally, however, the task is much harder," she said. "As a practical matter, you only achieve consensus when you have a House majority, a 60-vote Senate majority, and a president who are all in alignment. We are nowhere close to reaching that point."
"That does not mean we can't save as many lives as possible," Haley said.
"I do believe there is a federal role on abortion," she said. "Whether we can save more lives nationally depends entirely on doing what no one has done to date -- finding consensus. That's what I will strive to do. In fact, I believe common ground already exists."
Haley said there is national consensus on efforts including protecting the conscience rights of health care workers who do not wish to participate in abortion procedures on moral or religious grounds, providing additional resources to women facing unplanned pregnancies, and facilitating more adoptions so more children grow up in loving adoptive families like her husband's rather than remaining stuck in the foster care system.
Haley also rejected efforts to criminalize women who undergo abortion, taking particular aim at a proposal by an anti-abortion lawmaker in her native South Carolina that would have subjected them to the death penalty, a measure condemned by pro-life leaders.
"That's the least pro-life position I can possibly imagine," Haley said.
While stressing the importance of compassion on the subject and civil discourse, Haley also called her record on abortion "long and clear," noting she has supported "every pro-life bill that came before me.” She pointed to her signature as governor on South Carolina's "Born Alive Infant Protection Act” protecting infants who survive failed abortion attempts, as well as signing a ban on abortions after 20 weeks gestation with exceptions, such as risks to the mother's life or some circumstances where a doctor says a baby cannot survive outside the womb.
"I'm not done yet,” Haley said.
In a statement provided to OSV News following Haley's address, Marjorie Dannenfelser, SBA's president, said that Haley "understands that the topic of abortion is not going away and that you must lean in, not lean back."
"The American people deserve a compassionate debate centered around the humanity of both mother and child," Dannenfelser, who is Catholic, said. "She promised to not demonize either side of this issue but to approach it with the careful consideration that is needed. States have every right and should protect life. But Ambassador Haley also understands that as a nation we must build a national consensus to save as many lives and serve as many women as possible."
Although Haley did not specifically embrace the 15-week limit SBA has called for during her remarks, Dannenfelser said her group is "clear on Ambassador Haley's commitment to acting on the American consensus against late-term abortion by protecting unborn children by at least 15 weeks when they can feel excruciating pain."
"We appreciate her leadership on this defining moment for human rights, and we urge every presidential candidate to share their vision moving forward," Dannenfelser said.