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No, Nikki Haley Isn't Reasonable on Abortion
Don't fall for the slick 'pro-woman' messaging
During the GOP presidential debate last week, Nikki Haley worked hard to distinguish herself from the other Republican candidates on abortion. The former South Carolina governor said that conservatives need to “stop demonizing” the issue, which she called “personal for every woman and man.”
In response, Haley has been lauded by the Wall Street Journal and other politicians for her supposedly reasonable and moderate approach. On CBS’ “Face the Nation” this weekend, for example, South Carolina Rep. Nancy Mace said that Haley came across as the only ‘pro-woman’ Republican in the debate: “The only candidate on the stage that talked about how we should protect women and not demonize them was Nikki Haley.”
But Haley’s position on abortion isn’t less radical than that of her competitors; she’s just good at making it sound like it is. That’s why she’s just as dangerous as any other candidate on abortion—maybe even more so, given her slick messaging.
Haley knows that Americans oppose abortion bans, so she’s crafted her talking points to convince voters that she’d be less restrictive than other Republicans. When talking about federal abortion legislation, for example, Haley characterized the idea as unrealistic, noting that “no Republican president can ban abortions.” But Haley didn’t say she opposes a national abortion ban, just that she doesn’t believe it’s possible to pass one.
In fact, in a speech earlier this year for the anti-abortion group Susan B. Anthony Pro-Life America, Haley made clear, “I do believe there is a federal role on abortion.” During the debate, Haley also called for finding “consensus”—a term that’s become a conservative code word for ‘abortion ban’.
“When it comes to a federal ban, let's be honest with the American people and say it will take 60 Senate votes. It will take a majority of the House. So in order to do that, let's find consensus. Can't we all agree that we should ban late term abortions?”
Let’s take a closer look at that messaging: Because voters oppose abortion bans, Republicans have been replacing the word ‘ban’ with ‘consensus’ or ‘standard’ when talking about abortion. And ‘late term abortions’ is not a medical term, but a talking point—and conservatives have been changing what’s considered ‘late term’ for some time now. (In May, for example, Jeanne Mancini, the president of March for Life Action, classified any abortion after 12 weeks of pregnancy as “extreme late-term.”)
Given all that context, what Haley was really saying in the debate is that she supports a national abortion ban at whatever point she deems ‘late’. How is that different from the other candidates’ explicit call for a national 15 week ban? The language may be different, but the consequences would be the same.
Haley also tried to position herself as moderate on abortion by repeating something she’s said multiple times on the campaign trail:
“Can't we all agree that contraception should be available? And can't we all agree that we are not going to put a woman in jail or give her the death penalty if she gets an abortion?”
It’s a scary state of affairs when ‘I’ll allow you birth control and won’t kill you’ is something a candidate says to show they’re the reasonable one of the bunch.
Haley is deliberately redefining the ‘middle’ on abortion to ensure that she fits squarely into it. Even more dangerous: By saying birth control should be legal and women shouldn’t get the death penalty for abortion, Haley is suggesting that these things were on the table to begin with.
What scares me most about Haley, though, is that her pitch to be the ‘reasonable’ Republican on abortion seems to be working. Pundits love it, mainstream outlets are touting her strategy, and she has the benefit of being the sole woman running in an election that’s becoming a referendum on reproductive rights. Haley knows better than to make the mistake of going on total offense—unlike Mike Pence and his Handmaids Tale fever dream. And she understands it’s not possible to putter around hoping people will stop talking about abortion, like Ron DeSantis is.
Just by virtue of not being yet another man saying a stupid thing about women’s bodies, she’s ahead of the game. But despite all the sweet ‘pro-woman’ messaging, Haley’s policies are no different than any of those men’s. She just hides it better.