Nikki Haley Says Pledging a Federal Abortion Ban Wouldn’t Be ‘Honest’

The Republican presidential candidate Nikki Haley refused on Sunday to endorse a federal abortion ban at a specific number of weeks’ gestation, saying that to do so would be to lie to the American people about what is politically possible.

“I think the media has tried to divide them by saying we have to decide certain weeks,” Ms. Haley said in an interview on CBS News’s “Face the Nation.” “In states, yes. At the federal level, it’s not realistic. It’s not being honest with the American people.”

She was responding to a question from her interviewer, Margaret Brennan, about why she would not join another likely candidate, Senator Tim Scott of South Carolina, in endorsing a 20-week national ban.

Ms. Haley has said — and she repeated in the interview — that the Senate filibuster makes it impossible to pass a federal abortion ban as strict as the ones that many Republican-led states have passed since the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade last year, and that any anti-abortion president will therefore need to find a “national consensus.” (A Republican Senate majority could, if it chose, remove the filibuster.) But her comments on Sunday stood out for the explicitness of her rejection of committing to a gestational limit.

That refusal is particularly noteworthy because just last month one of the nation’s most prominent anti-abortion groups praised her for, it said, indicating that she would support a federal ban at 15 weeks. The group, S.B.A. Pro-Life America, has said it will not endorse a candidate who doesn’t pledge to go at least that far.

At no point had Ms. Haley made such a commitment publicly; in a speech at S.B.A. headquarters on April 25, she stuck to her “national consensus” line. But at the time the group told a reporter for The Hill that it had been “assured she would set national consensus at 15 weeks.”

In a statement late Sunday afternoon, Marjorie Dannenfelser, the president of S.B.A., claimed there was a consensus for a 15-week ban — something that has not been evident in elections or consistently in polls — and said: “The pro-life movement must have a nominee who will boldly advocate for this consensus, and as president will work tirelessly to gather the votes necessary in Congress. Dismissing this task as unrealistic is not acceptable.”

Ms. Haley, who signed a 20-week ban as the governor of South Carolina, is far from the only Republican trying to avoid specifics on abortion.

Former President Donald J. Trump’s campaign has said he wants to leave the issue to states. Former Gov. Asa Hutchinson of Arkansas has called himself “pro-life” while hedging on details. Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida, who is likely to enter the presidential race soon, recently signed a six-week ban in his state but has not gotten behind anything similar at the federal level.

One potential candidate, Gov. Chris Sununu of New Hampshire, went in the opposite direction on Sunday. In an interview on MSNBC’s “Inside With Jen Psaki,” Mr. Sununu, who describes himself as pro-choice but who signed a ban on most abortions after 24 weeks in his state, said the federal government should not be involved at all.

“Not only would I not sign a national abortion ban, but nobody should be talking about signing a national abortion ban,” he said.

Most candidates are walking a tightrope between social conservatives — who are an influential part of the Republican base and have been waiting decades for the opportunity to ban abortion nationwide — and the political reality that the Supreme Court’s Dobbs ruling and the wave of state-level bans that followed have turned anti-abortion policies into serious liabilities among Americans at large.

That has been made clear through a series of election results, starting with Kansas voters’ overwhelming rejection last August of an anti-abortion constitutional amendment and continuing through Wisconsin voters’ election last month of a liberal Supreme Court justice who pledged to support abortion rights.

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