WASHINGTON (AP) — Some of the Republicans seeking their party's 2024 presidential nomination have said the case of a Texas woman whose health deteriorated as she unsuccessfully sought an abortion should be handled with “compassion,” but they did not criticize the state's law.
It’s the latest indication that the candidates see the politics surrounding abortion as a delicate — and fraught — issue for the GOP after the Supreme Court's reversal of constitutional protections for the procedure helped power Democrats to unexpectedly strong performances in the 2022 midterms.
While campaigning Tuesday, both former United Nations Ambassador Nikki Haley and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis expressed sympathy for Kate Cox, a mother of two who sought an abortion after learning the baby she was carrying had a fatal genetic condition and suffering health complications of her own. Her request for an exemption from Texas’ ban — one of the most restrictive in the U.S. — was ultimately denied by the state Supreme Court, and Cox left the state to seek an abortion elsewhere.
Asked about Cox's case at a CNN town hall, DeSantis, who signed a six-week ban in his state earlier this year, said that “these are very difficult issues” and pointed to Florida’s exceptions allowing abortions when the mother’s life is in danger or for a “fatal fetal abnormality.”
“We have to approach these issues with compassion,” said DeSantis, though there have been reports in Florida of women who have not been able to obtain abortions under the exception because their doctors, facing steep penalties if they are wrong, were unwilling to perform the procedure. The window of time for women to make the wrenching choice is also limited.
Haley also spoke of compassion and suggested Texas' medical board review the case. But she notably did not call for the law to be changed.
“You know I’m pro-life. I welcome the states that have become pro-life. But this is exactly why I’ve said you have to show compassion and humanize the situation," said Haley, who signed abortion restrictions after about 20 weeks into law as South Carolina governor in 2016. “We don’t want any women to sit there and deal with a rare situation and have to deliver a baby in that sort of circumstance, any more than we want women getting an abortion at 37, 38, 39 weeks" — a rare occurrence generally due to grave medical complications.
President Joe Biden has called the Texas ruling “simply outrageous" and said what happened to Cox “should never happen in America, period.”
Many Republican lawmakers, meanwhile, have been reluctant to stake out clear positions on what restrictions they support, including bans on abortion even when doctors determine a pregnancy is not viable and a baby will not survive outside the womb.
Much of that reluctance may be due to public sentiment, which favors abortion rights. An Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research poll this past summer found that about two-thirds of Americans said abortion should generally be legal. Voters have either affirmed abortion access or turned back attempts to undermine it in all seven states where the question has been on the ballot since Roe v. Wade's reversal.
Former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie was alone among the 2024 Republican candidates in declaring that the Texas Supreme Court erred in denying the abortion. He said Texas legislators should change their law.
“I think the Texas Supreme Court was wrong. And I think that, in a situation like this, you’re not protecting any life because the child clearly has been diagnosed with having a fatal illness," Christie told The Associated Press on Wednesday. "So all you’re doing is putting the life of the mother at risk by making her carry it to term.”
Former President Donald Trump, who has taken credit for appointing the Supreme Court justices who helped overturn national abortion protections, has not issued any statement on the Texas case, and his campaign did not respond to messages Wednesday inquiring about his stance.
Another GOP presidential candidate, biotech entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy, has not spoken out about Cox’s case. He said in a video on X, formerly Twitter, on Tuesday night that the Supreme Court was correct to overturn Roe, that states should decide their own abortion restrictions and that Republicans should campaign on the idea of “sexual responsibility for men” by allowing any woman who carries a pregnancy to term to legally make the father solely responsible for caring for the child.
Cox's case and others like hers “prove exceptions don't exist in reality,” said Angela Vasquez-Giroux, vice president of communications and research for the national group Reproductive Freedom for All.
“If politicians like DeSantis and Haley really believed in exceptions and in compassion, they would have been fighting to find ways to work with doctors to clarify these laws and to help people facing these nightmarish situations in their own states to access care," she said. “They threw compassion out the window the moment they signed these bans.”
Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the national anti-abortion group SBA Pro-Life America, also called for “compassion and care and dignity” for the mother and child but said Texas' law gives doctors the ability to perform an abortion if they determine a woman has a life-threatening condition or is in risk of impairment of a major bodily function.
The Texas law, however, is vague on how close to death a patient must be to get the procedure, and lawmakers have refused to clarify and amend the measure.
Christie, who is anti-abortion, nonetheless believes regulations on the procedure should be left to the states, not the federal government.
He said the Texas case demonstrates “why so many people don’t trust certain members of my party with this issue, because either they are completely unmovable on it, no matter what the facts are, or they say nice words but are unwilling to take a position.”
Fernando reported from Chicago, and Price reported from New York. Associated Press writer Holly Ramer in Manchester, N.H., contributed to this report.
Meg Kinnard can be reached at http://twitter.com/MegKinnardAP