Two debate podiums are placed in front of a pink background with protest signs reading Keep Abortion Legal

Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

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Right-wing media are bickering over a potential national abortion ban

As the first presidential election cycle post-Roe commences, right-wing media still can’t reach consensus on abortion restrictions

During the Wednesday primary debate, Republican Party presidential candidates largely expressed their support for anti-abortion legislation, but few used precise language to describe the potential national restrictions they would sign if elected. In line with the GOP’s split on reproductive rights, conservative media have yet to coalesce around a unifying message on abortion.

  • At the first GOP presidential debate, disagreements within the party on abortion bans became increasingly clear

    • Only former Vice President Mike Pence, Sen. Tim Scott (R-SC), and former Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson explicitly stated their commitment to signing a 15-week abortion ban. Meanwhile, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, frontrunner among the candidates on stage, demurred, refusing to take a solid stance on restrictions outside of vaguely asserting that he is “pro-life.” [Politico, 8/23/23]
    • North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum and former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley both expressed skepticism over a national abortion ban. Burgum argued that under the Constitution’s Tenth Amendment, abortion legislation must be decided at the state level. Haley argued that a 15-week national ban on abortion wouldn’t garner the 60-vote threshold needed to pass in the Senate and urged Republicans to find consensus on a less restrictive ban. [The Hill, 8/23/23]
    • This schism among GOP candidates reflects a greater trend of the anti-abortion movement, which has struggled to find its footing since Roe v. Wade was overturned last year. Following the Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Organization decision reversing Roe, the GOP failed to deliver a predicted “red wave” of 2022 midterm wins, and abortion-restricting state ballot measures have been overwhelmingly rejected. As a primary propaganda arm of the anti-abortion movement and Republican politics, right-wing media have also strained to reach consensus on abortion policy. [Media Matters, 1/4/23; 8/24/23]
  • Right-wing media cheered on candidates supporting a 15-week national ban and called out candidates who argued otherwise

    • Susan B. Anthony Pro-Life America President Marjorie Dannenfelser championed Pence, Scott, and Hutchinson, stating that they “offered a clear, bold case for national protections for the unborn.” The press release also explicitly stated that Burgum’s stance — that abortion is a state issue — was “unacceptable.” [Susan B. Anthony Pro-Life America, 8/23/23]
    • President of Students for Life of America Kristan Hawkins tweeted, “Burgum has it wrong. Abortion is a federal issue.” In a separate tweet, Hawkins wrote that she is “proud of the answers” DeSantis, Pence, and Scott gave. [Twitter/X, 8/23/23; 8/23/23]
    • Anti-abortion activist Frank Pavone responded to abortion comments Burgum made during the debate, asserting, “Yes, indeed, it is constitutional for there to be a federal protection for unborn children.” Pavone, who was stripped of his Catholic priesthood by the Vatican, went on to say in a video response that the Dobbs decision gave “responsibility and authority to federal legislators to protect the unborn.” [Twitter/X, 8/24/23]
    • A headline in the Washington Examiner stated, “Mike Pence and Tim Scott are right: A federal 15-week abortion law is good policy.” While the opinion piece cheered on Pence and Scott, the author also wrote that Burgum and Haley were “wrong” on abortion and pushed the claim that “Congress has the right to protect unborn children from abortion.” [Washington Examiner, 8/23/23]
    • Live Action founder Lila Rose tweeted that Haley urging Republicans to find consensus on abortion was a “sad attempt at gaslighting.” Rose continued, “Banning the killing of babies a no brainier.” [Twitter/X, 8/23/23]
    • The Twitter account for Susan B. Anthony Pro-Life America published a favorable post about Scott, commenting, “We must have a president of the United States who will advocate and fight for, at the minimum, a 15-week limit.” The tweet included a video clip of Scott’s remarks on a national abortion ban from Wednesday’s debate. [Twitter/X, 8/23/23]
  • Some in right-wing media pointed out that a 15-week national ban is neither realistic nor constitutional 

    • On Fox & Friends, co-host Ainsley Earhardt stated that Haley had a “winning moment” when speaking about abortion during the debate. Earhardt also pointed out that Republicans who urge for zero exceptions “are the ones that lost” in previous elections and urged the party to follow Haley’s lead in diluting abortion messaging, suggesting, “This could be an area where Republicans could really focus.” [Fox News, Fox & Friends, 8/24/23]
    • During an appearance on Fox News’ The Faulkner Focus, Steve Hilton said a back-and-forth exchange between Haley and Pence on abortion was “very, very impressive on Nikki Haley’s part.” The Fox News contributor continued to back Haley’s claims as having “real strength and intellectual honesty” and dismissed Pence’s 15-week stance as “total pandering.” [Fox News, The Faulkner Focus, 8/24/23]
    • A piece in the National Review assessed each of the debating candidates and concluded that Haley was “surprisingly aggressive” on abortion. The author lauded Haley for pointing out that a 15-week ban isn’t politically feasible, describing her as “raining on Mike Pence’s parade with simple Senate math on a federal abortion ban.” [National Review, 8/24/23]
    • Right-wing commentator Ann Coulter praised Burgum for being the “only Republican to take Nino Scalia's position on abortion and the constitution,” in reference to Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia’s Dobbs opinion. She also reiterated that abortion is “NOT A FEDERAL ISSUE!!!” [Twitter/X, 8/23/23]
    • In a video interview posted by Breitbart, Daily Wire host Candace Owens said Burgum “had a very sound and principled conclusion about why he would not support a federal ban on abortions.” She went on to say that Burgum’s defense of abortion as an issue to be decided by the states “was a really strong moment for him” even though she emphasized that she is “unapologetically pro-life.” [Breitbart, 8/23/23]
    • Tom McGrath, host of OAN’s Daily Feed program, claimed that “Burgum surprisingly made a big point” while discussing abortion. McGrath stated, “Abortion should be a states' rights issue even if you are pro-life,” and opined, “I get that Pence is trying to institute a national law at about six weeks, but our Constitution doesn't necessarily allow for that.” [One America News Network, OAN News, 8/24/23]