COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — Republican presidential candidate Nikki Haley said she sees a federal role in the debate over abortion rights but stopped short of endorsing a national ban on the procedure in a speech Tuesday at the headquarters of a leading anti-abortion group.
Haley also described the Supreme Court’s overturning of Roe v. Wade last year as a return to state-by-state regulations on the procedure — “the way the issue was decided in our country for nearly two centuries,” she said.
“I do believe there is a federal role on abortion,” Haley said at the Susan B. Anthony Pro-Life America headquarters in Arlington, Virginia. “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.”
Haley was not specific on what the federal role should be.
The speech by Haley, the former governor of South Carolina and U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, came just days after the Susan B. Anthony group blasted former President Donald Trump over his contention that abortion restrictions should be left up to individual states, not the federal government. The group has said it would not support any White House candidate who did not at a minimum support a 15-week federal abortion ban.
Introducing Haley on Tuesday, the group’s president, Marjorie Dannenfelser, said the post-Roe environment “demands powerful, national leadership on the most fundamental right each of us has: the right to live.” Commending Haley as such a leader, Dannenfelser said she “has decided something very important, and that is to lead, to go toward the issue, and not to run away.”
All of the candidates running in the Republican presidential primary or moving toward a bid have supported state bans on abortion, but most — like Haley — have been more cautious about staking a position on a nationwide ban or in naming an exact week in a pregnancy at which abortions should be restricted.
Part of that is a recognition that abortion restrictions may be popular in a Republican primary but present a conundrum for candidates in a general election. A majority of Americans say Congress should pass a law guaranteeing access to legal abortion nationwide, according to a poll by The Associated Press and NORC Center for Public Affairs Research taken shortly after Roe was overturned.
Haley on Tuesday criticized the focus on week-by-week restrictions and said the more important issue was finding an appropriate agreement on the issue.
“Everyone goes to the barricades and attacks the other side. They’ve turned a sensitive issue that has long divided people into a kind of gotcha bidding war,” she said. “’How many weeks are you for? How many exceptions are you for?’ And so on. But these questions miss the point if the goal is saving as many lives as possible.”
“You don’t save any lives if you can’t enact your position into law,” she continued. “And you can’t do that unless you find consensus.”
Haley also discussed her record on abortion, which she called “long and clear.” As a state House member, Haley said she voted for “every pro-life bill that came before me,” including a 24-hour waiting period for people seeking abortions. As governor, she signed a measure into law prohibiting abortions after 20 weeks — a measure that is still in effect as more restrictive measures in other states have been overturned in the courts.
Haley’s pitch was also personal, drawing on stories of her husband Michael’s adoption, her own struggles with infertility and a friend’s rape.
“I often think about what would have happened if Michael had not been so blessed, if his biological mother had chosen a different path,” Haley said. “My husband is reason No. 1 that I stand for life. Every day that I get to spend with the love of my life reminds me that I am blessed that someone saved his life.”
Haley also did something she’s rarely referenced in her campaign events, discussing her call in 2015 for the removal of a Confederate battle flag after the racist killings of nine Black churchgoers in Charleston, South Carolina, by a white supremacist.
“We found consensus on a very tough issue,” Haley said. “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. … It’s about saving babies and supporting moms. I’m fighting for all of them, and I will work with anyone to do that.”
Meg Kinnard can be reached at http://twitter.com/MegKinnardAP