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Nikki Haley Wants to Talk About Abortion
Just talk, though.
POLITICIANS USUALLY SCHEDULE big policy speeches when they have bold plans to roll out. Not Nikki Haley.
The GOP presidential contender went to the headquarters of Susan B. Anthony Pro-Life America on Tuesday to deliver a convoluted talk about talking.
At the outset of her remarks, Haley declared, “I am pro-life” and “I am unapologetic and unhesitant about it.” Anyone interested in pro-life issues and reproductive health might expect the woman who envisions herself as president to follow up on these preliminaries with some detailed thoughts about what it means, policy-wise, to be pro-life after last year’s Dobbs ruling overturned Roe v. Wade. But that’s exactly what she didn’t do.
Instead of committing herself to any firm position on abortion, Haley pitched herself as an arbitrator on the subject.
She dismissed the “kind of gotcha bidding war” in abortion politics focused on questions like “How many weeks are you for? How many exceptions are you for?” because “these questions miss the point if the goal is saving as many lives as possible,” something she believes can be done through finding broad “consensus” on the issue. But by refusing to answer the questions about particulars, Haley misses the point of how and why the government is involved in regulating this procedure at all. Or why a group like Susan B. Anthony Pro-Life America exists.
DAYS BEFORE HALEY’S SPEECH, SBA issued a bold statement from the organization’s president, Marjorie Dannenfelser: “We will oppose any presidential candidate who refuses to embrace at a minimum a 15-week national standard to stop painful late-term abortions.” The message was a response to the Trump campaign’s assertion that policy decisions about abortion should be left to the states, a position that Dannenfelser characterized as “morally indefensible . . . for a self-proclaimed pro-life presidential candidate to hold.”
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“Life is a matter of human rights, not states’ rights,” she said.
But Haley, in addition to casting away questions about gestation dates and abortion exceptions, resisted the sort of hard-line approach Dannenfelser advocated. “I don’t judge someone who is pro-choice any more than I want them to judge me for being pro-life,” she said. As she continued, she articulated a position that actually harmonizes quite well with Trump’s: “Today, each state is finding its own consensus, as they should.”
SBA APPARENTLY DIDN’T parse Haley’s speech very carefully.
After her remarks, the organization issued a statement that said, “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 when they can feel excruciating pain.”
Except that Haley said no such thing, at least in public. And she’d like to keep it that way.
Afterward, a spokesperson for Haley clarified that she has not called for a 15-week national restriction, even as SBA released a statement applauding Haley’s pledge to do so. An SBA spokesperson told POLITICO that Haley “has assured us that she will commit to 15 weeks.”
Later, a person familiar with the conversation, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said Haley privately told SBA officials “exactly what she said in her speech today,” and did not commit to a 15-week law, but rather only to “find a consensus to ban late-term abortion.”
AS FOR HER COMMENTS on finding a life-saving “American consensus” on the issue, Haley’s remarks suggest that she thinks that consensus is against federal abortion bans. 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. Today, there are around 45 pro-life senators, depending on how you count them. There haven’t been 60 Republican senators since 1910. It could happen one day. But it hasn’t happened in over a hundred years, and it’s unlikely to happen soon.
We have to face this reality. The pro-life laws that have passed in strongly Republican states will not be approved at the federal level.
It sure sounds like Haley is dumping cold water all over SBA’s chief priorities here. The next few lines of her speech only prompt more head-scratching.
That’s just a fact, notwithstanding what the Democrat fearmongers say. They say Republicans are about to ban all abortions nationwide and send women to prison. These wildly false claims, amplified by a sympathetic media, are not designed to do anything other than score political points.
They know as well as anyone that no Republican president will have the ability to ban abortion nationwide, just as no Democratic president can override the laws of all fifty states. It’s just not going to happen.
But that does not mean we can’t save as many lives as possible.
I do believe there is a federal role on abortion. 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 went on to talk about the “common ground” she sees nationally on lower-temperature subtopics like adoption, conscience protections for healthcare providers, and access to contraception; she believes that the American public is against both elective late-term abortions and jailing women who obtain abortions. While some of those issues are subject to far greater debate than she acknowledges, her account is fair enough.
But even so, if you are confused about what Haley believes to be good policy on abortion, you should be. Because here is what she’s saying.
She’s unapologetically pro-life, but she is not willing to go so far as publicly supporting a national ban on abortions after 15 weeks.
Republican legislators should determine abortion laws as they see fit in the states, but it’s “fearmonger[ing]” to suggest that those legislators may ever find a way to enact those policies at the federal level.
As a pro-life member of the GOP, she believes the federal government should have some kind of consensus-based abortion policy, but she also says GOP pro-life policies will never attain national consensus.
Haley’s name can only be firmly marked down in the column under the category for supporting “saving lives” and helping mothers and babies. These positions are about as vague (and therefore noncommittal) as any cunning politician could hope to be.
It’s no great wonder, then, that Haley would rather play moderator in our cultural conversation about abortion, especially in the course of the GOP primaries, than advocate any clear position of her own. She doesn’t have one.