Campaigning in a Post-Roe World

We have witnessed the first presidential debate in a post-Roe v. Wade climate. 

The eight Republican candidates — sans the party’s frontrunner, former President Donald Trump — participated in the Republican National Committee’s first debate of their party’s presidential primary process on Aug. 23 in Milwaukee. 

During the debate on the pro-life question — thrust again into the electorate’s consciousness after the U.S. Supreme Court’s June 2022 decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization that struck down the nearly 50-year-old Roe v. Wade abortion precedent — only three candidates vowed to sign a federal abortion limit. 

Former Vice President Mike Pence, South Carolina Senator Tim Scott, and former Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson said they would support a federal 15- week gestational period for legalized abortion. 

These candidates believe that the Supreme Court’s move to send the abortion argument back to legislatures did not just mean to the statehouses, but that the ruling could also cover Congress as well. 

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley, North Dakota Governor Doug Burgum, former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, and entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy have not backed the 15-week ban. 

Trump has not committed to a specific, or even any, federal limit on abortion post-Dobbs, except to say that he would “look at” a 15-week abortion ban if it passed Congress and explore options. 

In an Aug. 23 statement, Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of SBA Pro-Life America, said the debate “made it clear who is and is not prepared to be a National Defender of Life. 

“Some were bold in sharing the plight of the unborn in half the country where brutal late-term abortions continue at any point in pregnancy for any reason,” Dannenfelser said. “They understand that where you live should never determine whether you live.” 

The White House wasted no time getting its message out with a new commercial pouncing on Republicans’ pro-life positions. 

“On Wednesday, MAGA Republicans came to the debate stage and boasted about their support to strip women of the right to make their own health care decisions,” President Joe Biden’s campaign manager Julie Chávez Rodriguez said in a statement on Thursday. 

The ad is part of a $25 million campaign targeting women in battleground primary states. 

So clearly the battlelines are being joined over the abortion question. 

Getting a federal 15-week ban appears to be a nonstarter, with Congress being so closely divided along party lines. 

That leaves the abortion question where it stands right now: on a state-by-state basis.