In Iowa, Pence draws direct contrast with Trump on abortion
CLIVE, Iowa — Former vice president Mike Pence on Saturday sought to draw a direct contrast with former president Donald Trump over abortion, rejecting the idea that laws on the procedure should be left solely to each state as he spoke at an event featuring current and prospective presidential candidates.
Pence, who has made moves toward entering the Republican primary against the president under whom he served, directly referenced Trump in comments about abortion to reporters. “I do think it’s more likely that this issue is resolved at the state level, but I don’t agree with the former president, who says this is a states-only issue,” said Pence. “We’ve been given a new beginning for life in this country. I think we have an opportunity to advance the sanctity of life, move it ever closer to the center of American law.”
Pence said he thinks people should look to Congress in addition to their statehouses after the ruling in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, the Supreme Court decision that last year overturned Roe v. Wade, which had previously established a constitutional right to abortion.
Pence mentioned a federal ban after 15 weeks of pregnancy as an idea “that ought to be a part and parcel of debate.”
“The Supreme Court didn’t turn the issue of abortion over to the states; they turned it over to the American people,” Pence said.
Pence’s comments came at the Iowa Faith and Freedom Coalition’s spring kickoff event, the first gathering of current and potential presidential aspirants in the state expected to launch the Republican nominating contest next year with its caucuses.
The remarks underlined Pence’s ongoing efforts to establish himself as one of the staunchest opponents of abortion rights ahead of a potential presidential run and show some ways he is distinguishing himself from his former boss. Last summer, after the Dobbs decision, Pence said, “We must not rest and must not relent until the sanctity of life is restored to the center of American law in every state in the land.”
In a November interview with CBS News, Pence said, “Had I been a member of Congress, I would have supported” a 15-week ban that some congressional Republicans were proposing at the time.
A spokesman for Trump told The Washington Post earlier this week that the former president believes the issue should be left up to individual states.
“President Donald J. Trump believes that the Supreme Court, led by the three Justices which he supported, got it right when they ruled this is an issue that should be decided at the State level,” Trump campaign spokesman Steven Cheung said in the statement.
Trump’s position was panned by the antiabortion group SBA Pro-Life America. Its president, Marjorie Dannenfelser, said in a statement Thursday that “Trump’s assertion that the Supreme Court returned the issue of abortion solely to the states is a completely inaccurate reading of the Dobbs decision and is a morally indefensible position for a self-proclaimed pro-life presidential candidate to hold.”
Trump appeared at Saturday’s event here by video, with prerecorded remarks that touted his confirmation of three justices to the Supreme Court who helped overturn Roe. Trump also pointed out that he was the first sitting president to attend the March for Life in Washington.
“From my first day in office, I took historic action to protect the unborn,” Trump said. “I will stand proudly in defense of innocent life, just as I did for four very powerful, strong years,” he added.
Pence also claimed credit for the Supreme Court confirmations that led to the reversal of Roe.
“We appointed three justices to the Supreme Court of the United States who sent Roe v. Wade to the ash heap of history, where it belongs. You did that, Iowa,” Pence said during in-person remarks at Saturday’s event.
Trump’s campaign did not immediately respond Saturday to questions about Pence’s comments, what type of federal legislation he would support or whether he would support a ban on medication abortions.
Pence has not said whether he will run for president, but he has been traveling to early states such as Iowa. He told CBS News in an interview released Saturday that if he runs, he will make his announcement “well before late June.”
The Iowa event came the day after the Supreme Court preserved access to mifepristone, a drug taken by millions of women in the United States to terminate early pregnancies, by putting a hold on a lower-court ruling that said the Food and Drug Administration was wrong to make the drug more widely available.
“I respect the court’s decision about the procedural decision that was made yesterday, but I remain very hopeful,” Pence said of the move, adding that he thinks the drug should be banned.
Pence did not respond to shouted questions about whether he would support a six-week abortion ban. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) recently signed a bill to ban abortions after six weeks, when many women don’t know they are pregnant yet. He signed the bill behind closed doors and mentioned it for the first time publicly on Friday at the Heritage Leadership Summit, where he briefly stated, “We recently signed the heartbeat bill to protect life.”
DeSantis, who has also made moves toward entering the presidential race, did not appear at the Iowa event, instead addressing the Utah GOP organizing convention on Saturday.
Ruth Neubert, an independent voter from Oskaloosa, Iowa, who attended the gathering, said she believes decisions about abortion should return to the states. She said she does not agree with the six-week ban, but DeSantis is still her top choice.
Other 2024 hopefuls also touted their record on abortion at the event, a key gathering for evangelical voters in the state. Former Arkansas governor Asa Hutchinson said that under his leadership, Arkansas was the “most pro-life state in the nation.” As governor, Hutchinson signed a near-total abortion ban.
“This is an issue for the states, and I think for the pro-life movement, look, if it turns back into a federal issue, that same shoe could fit a different foot if someone else is in charge in the future,” tech entrepreneur and presidential candidate Vivek Ramaswamy told The Post in an interview. “Abortion, I think, is a form of murder, and I think that just as murder is regulated by state statues, so too it applies for this form of murder.”
Susan Glick, an undecided voter from Indianola, Iowa, said it is important for candidates here to discuss abortion, “because we believe that God is the author of life and we don’t really have the right to take that away,” but she said she doesn’t think it’s realistic for Congress to pass a federal ban.
“I would love to see governance nationally, but if that’s not a reality right now, then I’m okay with it to be left here in the state of Iowa,” said Kristi Judkins, executive director of Iowa Right to Life.
Since Roe was overturned, Democrats have frequently touted their efforts to protect abortion access. The debate has worked in their favor in many recent elections across the country, as abortion rights advocates have shown strength in key race and ballot initiatives, even in conservative states such as Kansas and Kentucky.
On Saturday, Democratic National Committee spokesperson Rhyan Lake issued a statement accusing Republicans attending Saturday’s event of pushing an “extreme agenda,” including “banning abortion.”
Judkins urged Republican presidential hopefuls not to shy away from the debate.
“More than ever, because of the overturning of Roe, and just what we’ve seen in our nation lately, we need a strong candidate that’s not going to back away from talking about it,” she said. “It’s not a fun topic to talk about, but that’s the only way we’re going to change culture, in my opinion, and the president has the best position to change culture.”