At the same time, she has previously said she would support any restriction on the procedure that can pass while sidestepping calls for a particular limit. At a forum on Friday for 2024 candidates hosted by evangelical organization the Family Leader, Haley was asked to be more specific about which types of laws she supports.
The fine line she has tried to walk has brought criticism from both ends of the political spectrum, with some antiabortion activists skeptical of her answers and Democrats attacking Haley as extreme despite her talk of compromise.
“Nikki Haley is no moderate — she’s an anti-abortion MAGA extremist who wants to rip away women’s freedoms just like she did when she was South Carolina governor,” said Ammar Moussa, the director of rapid response for President Biden’s reelection campaign.
The former U.N. ambassador has gained steam in the 2024 race in recent months, showing particular momentum in New Hampshire, an early nominating state where many Republicans support abortion access. But she and other candidates also face pressure from the party’s social conservatives to back restrictions — especially in Iowa, the first state in the GOP nominating process.
At Friday’s forum — attended by Haley, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and biotech entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy — Family Leader president Bob Vander Plaats noted that former president Donald Trump has started criticizing the six-week bans he helped enable with Supreme Court appointments that overturned Roe v. Wade.
“If you were governor of South Carolina and that came to your desk, would you sign a heartbeat bill?” Vander Plaats asked Haley, referring to the point roughly six weeks into a pregnancy when early embryonic heart activity might be detected.
“Yes,” Haley said. “Whatever the people decide.” A six-week ban took effect in South Carolina this summer after the state Supreme Court upheld it.
Republicans still struggle to find a winning strategy on abortion
Earlier this year, asked if she would sign a six-week abortion ban as president, Haley deflected, telling CNN’s Jake Tapper, “I will answer that when you ask Kamala [Harris] and Biden if they would agree to 37 weeks, 38 weeks, 39 weeks. Then I’ll answer your question.”
Vander Plaats on Friday suggested Haley’s stance on abortion could be a vulnerability in Iowa, where Republicans passed a ban on abortions after roughly six weeks. He told the candidates assembled for the forum that “it’s only fair to address what I believe is your highest hurdle, from what I’m hearing.” Then he pushed Haley to explain her attention-grabbing answers on abortion during the GOP debates.
“I had some pro-lifers say, that sounded like a pro-choice answer,” Vander Plaats said. “Can you assure them why that’s not a pro-choice answer?”
Haley cited her support for antiabortion measures when she was governor of South Carolina, before the Supreme Court ended a nationwide, constitutional right to abortion. She helped pass a 20-week abortion ban there and supported mandatory waiting periods and ultrasound tests before the procedure.
Then she reiterated her message on consensus from the debates. “I’m trying to bring more people to us to have the conversation of how do we save as many babies as possible and support as many moms as possible,” Haley told the hundreds who turned out for the Family Leader’s forum at the Des Moines Marriott Downtown.
Earlier Friday, she picked up a notable endorsement from an Iowa antiabortion leader. Marlys Popma, former president of Iowa Right to Life, declared at one of Haley’s town halls that she had walked in undecided but was now ready to back Haley.
DeSantis, who signed a six-week abortion ban in Florida, is centering his campaign in Iowa and appealing heavily to evangelical voters such as the ones who turned out for Friday’s forum. He’s rebuked Trump for criticizing six-week bans. But even he often sidesteps questions about national restrictions, suggesting it’s better handled at the state level.
Vander Plaats emphasized on Friday, however, that he hopes to see a Republican president advance national restrictions.