In abortion speech Haley urges common ground, distances herself from other GOP Presidential candidates

Nikki Haley, candidate for US President discusses abortion on Fox News April 25, 2023. PHOTO videograb from Twitter @NikkiHaley

Republican presidential candidate Nikki Haley compared her approach to enacting antiabortion legislation to her removal of the Confederate flag from the grounds of the South Carolina State House, suggesting Tuesday, April 25, 2023, she could build consensus on an issue that has divided the country.

Nikki Haley delivers speech on abortion April 25, 2023, at Northern Virginia headquarters of Susan B. Anthony Pro-Life America. PHOTO: Twitter @NikkiHaley

But in her address about abortion at the Northern Virginia headquarters of Susan B. Anthony Pro-Life America, which was billed as a “major policy speech,” Haley largely steered clear of specific policies, including how strict a ban she would like to see on the procedure. Haley said the federal government should be involved but did not identify exactly how that ought to happen. Such details have been at the center of many of the most contentious disagreements on abortion.

The focus was instead on how her life and career informed her position and the need to find common ground.

“We found consensus on a very tough issue. Republicans and Democrats worked together and made progress by talking to each other as human beings. We saw past our differences and united to move forward as one state and one people,” Haley said, reflecting on her 2015 move as governor of South Carolina to remove the Confederate flag.

Nikki Haley speaking at rally March 3, 2023. PHOTO: videograb from pinned tweet @NikkiHaley

She added, “What was true then with the flag can be true now with abortion. This shouldn’t be about one movement winning and another one losing, this shouldn’t be about picking sides, scoring points, or stoking outrage.”

Haley’s speech came as she and other Republican candidates and officials are grappling with the best way to talk about abortion after the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, which had established a constitutional right to abortion. The decision has been a galvanizing force for Democratic candidates in elections last fall and earlier this year, putting many Republicans on the defensive even as they face pressure from their base to seek new restrictions on abortion.

“I won’t address every single question or angle, rather I aim to start a constructive conversation about where we go from here in our divided country,” she said. Haley did not take questions at the event and said questions about the exact number of weeks for a ban and exceptions “miss the point if the goal is saving as many lives as possible.”

Since launching her campaign for president in February, the former U.N. ambassador and South Carolina governor has rarely mentioned her removal of the flag – a defining moment during her governorship – which came after a white supremacist killed nine people attending Bible study at a historically Black church in Charleston. But it was a key part of her Tuesday address.

Haley said Tuesday that she does “believe there is a federal role on abortion.” She added: “I want to save as many babies and help as many moms as possible. That is my goal. To do that at the federal level, the next president must find national consensus.”

She did not detail what action ought to be taken. She did, however, suggest there is a limit to what can be achieved in Washington. “The pro-life laws that have passed in strongly Republican states will not be approved at the federal level,” she said.

Such legislation wouldn’t be able to pass on a national level, she noted, without “a 60-vote Senate majority and a president who are all in alignment. We are nowhere close to reaching that point.”

After the Supreme Court returned decisions about abortion to the states, Haley said the moment is “a return to the way the issue was decided in our country for over two centuries.”

A spokesman for Donald Trump’s campaign told The Washington Post last week that the former president feels abortion should be left up to the states. His position prompted criticism from former vice president Mike Pence and SBA Pro-Life America.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who has made moves toward entering the race, recently signed a ban on abortion after six weeks of pregnancy, a point before many know they are pregnant. Pence has said he would sign a six-week ban nationwide.

Haley listed areas where she said “common ground already exists” – including that babies born after a failed abortion deserve to live, that women should not be pressured into having an abortion, that the country should do better on adoption, that antiabortion doctors and nurses should not have to violate their beliefs, that abortion should not be allowed up until the time of birth, and that contraception should be more readily available.

But some of those points are not seen by others as areas of broad agreement. In January, all but one House Democrat voted against the Born-Alive Abortion Survivors Protection Act, legislation aimed at compelling doctors to provide care to infants who survive an abortion attempt. It is rare that infants survive an attempted abortion, and some experts say that infants have full rights already and that there are protections in place from a 2002 law. Republicans frequently attack Democrats for supporting abortion until the time of birth, but a Washington Post fact check found that such attacks are disingenuous and that abortions past the point of viability are extremely rare.

“And we can all agree that women who get abortions should not be jailed. A few have even called for the death penalty. That’s the least pro-life position I can possibly imagine,” Haley added.

As governor, Haley signed a bill in 2016 banning most abortions at 20 weeks. The bill did not provide exceptions for rape or incest but did allow an exception to protect the life of the mother. Since launching her campaign for president, she has avoided attaching herself to specific policy proposals or directly saying how many weeks she believes would be appropriate for an abortion ban.

In her speech, she said that “as a state legislator, I voted for every pro-life bill that came before me.”

SBA Pro-Life America said it will oppose any presidential candidate who does not “embrace at a minimum a 15-week national standard.”

Haley did not mention a 15-week bill in her remarks, but following the speech, SBA Pro-Life America President Marjorie Dannenfelser said in a statement: “We are 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.”

A Haley campaign official said that she did not say she would support a 15-week ban in conversations with SBA, and that she reiterated what she said in her speech about finding consensus on a variety of antiabortion measures – including seeking consensus on a ban on late-term abortions.

An SBA spokesperson said Dannenfelser’s statement of what Haley assured them was accurate. Both spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss private conversations.

Democratic National Committee spokesperson Rhyan Lake said in a statement following the speech that “2024 Republicans are clamoring to prove they’d be the most extreme, anti-choice nominee in history in a desperate chase to out-MAGA each other.”

In her speech, Haley said she is antiabortion because her husband, Michael Haley, was adopted from foster care and because of her own challenges having children. She has cited the impact of both elements of her life in past remarks and interviews but expanded on them in the address.

“My husband is reason number one that I stand for life,” she said, adding that his “birth parents lived in poverty; his father was an alcoholic and in and out of prison. His mother suffered a traumatic brain injury.”

Haley detailed the difficulties she faced getting pregnant. “I had many challenges as a teenager and in my college years. I went through numerous surgeries,” she said. “We went through countless sessions of fertility treatments.”

The former ambassador said she has “a friend who was raped” and she knows the “anguish she went through” worrying that she would have an unwanted pregnancy. “I will never downplay these difficulties as I fight for life, and I won’t demonize those who disagree with me,” she said.



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