Several Republican presidential candidates praised restrictions on abortion rights at a conference of Christian conservatives on Friday, illustrating how the issue still animates the party one year after the US Supreme Court struck down nationwide constitutional protections for the procedure.
Former Vice President Mike Pence, who has emerged as one of the party's most vocal and high-profile opponents of abortion rights, called on all candidates to support a federal ban on abortions after 15 weeks of gestation if elected.
"I want to say from my heart, every Republican candidate for president should support a ban on abortion before 15 weeks as a minimum nationwide standard," he told the Faith & Freedom Coalition in Washington.
The event, which former President Donald Trump will address on Saturday, coincides with the first anniversary of the Supreme Court's landmark Dobbs decision, which overturned the 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling that had legalized abortion.
The June 24, 2022, decision was widely celebrated among Republicans at the time and led to 14 states imposing near-total bans on abortions.
Average Americans supportive of abortion rights
Public opinion polls show the public supports legal abortion. The Dobbs decision has been cited as a major reason for Republicans' underperformance in the 2022 congressional elections, when the Democrats won the Senate and lost fewer seats in the House of Representatives than expected.
Many Republicans want to soften the prevailing stance on the issue to try to win over swing voters in competitive elections.
That trepidation was hardly on display at Friday's large gathering of evangelicals, a group that will be a key voting bloc for Republicans in early voting states such as Iowa and South Carolina.
Apart from Pence, the other Republican candidates did not plunge deeply into policy specifics.
Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, who is second in opinion polls to the front-runner Trump, referred to a six-week abortion ban that he signed in his state earlier this year. That ban upset some prominent donors, and Trump later said in an interview that "many people within the pro-life movement feel that was too harsh."
"It was the right thing to do," DeSantis said of his decision to sign the bill.
South Carolina Senator Tim Scott criticized Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen, who said in May that eliminating women's access to abortion would have "very damaging effects" on the US economy by keeping some women from completing their education.
Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson pledged to sign federal legislation restricting abortion access should it pass Congress.
Trump has attempted to ally himself with opponents of abortion rights, while also dodging specific questions on legislation he would or would not support.
While Trump was not at the conference on Friday, he was by many measures the most looming presence.
Former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, who has been the most consistent critic of Trump among major candidates, was met with boos at several points in his speech, particularly when he took swipes at the leading Republican in the 2024 primary race.
"We love Trump!" members of the crowd started chanting at one point.