MANCHESTER, N.H. — Abortion — and how far Republicans were willing to go in banning it — was once again thrust to the front of the presidential campaign, as the GOP candidates were forced to address a particularly controversial case in Texas.
Almost none of the candidates who commented on the matter this week were willing to outright say they disagreed with Texas’ decision to deny Kate Cox an abortion, but they also weren’t jumping to defend the Republican politicians in the state.
Former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley called for more “compassion” Tuesday in comments to NBC News.
“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,” Haley said, emphasizing that she is “pro-life.” “We have to humanize the situation and deal with it with compassion.”
Cox has made national headlines, galvanizing abortion rights supporters who say her case shows the harm in such restrictive abortion bans passed by Republican state legislatures — and putting some GOP politicians in uncomfortable positions as they try to play down what has been a losing issue for them at the polls.
A mother of two, Cox found out just after Thanksgiving that her developing fetus had trisomy 18, a rare chromosomal disorder likely to cause stillbirth or the death of a baby shortly after it’s born. It also poses health risks to the woman. A Texas lower court granted a request from Cox and her husband to block Texas’ abortion ban from applying to her case, but on Monday, the Texas Supreme Court ruled against her.
Cox, who was roughly 21 weeks pregnant, traveled out of state shortly before the state Supreme Court’s ruling to receive the procedure.
Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, a Republican, threatened legal action against medical professionals who may have helped Cox, “including first degree felony prosecutions.”
“I think that Texas is going to go back and have their ... medical board look at this and say, ‘How should we deal with this?’ Haley said Tuesday. “I think every state’s going to do that.”
Haley’s message on abortion has emphasized trying to find consensus and not “demonizing” women, and it has found her some supporters in her party who say Republicans need to find a better message on the issue to beat Democrats. As governor in 2016, Haley signed a law banning most abortions beginning at 20 weeks of pregnancy in South Carolina.
At a CNN town hall Tuesday night, moderator Jake Tapper asked Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis for his thoughts on Cox. Without addressing her case directly, he said, “We have to approach these issues with compassion.”
“These are very difficult issues, and nobody would wish this to happen on anybody,” DeSantis said. “If you’re in that situation as a mother, that’s an incredibly difficult thing to have to deal with.”
He then went on to talk about the six-week abortion ban he signed in Florida, which had exceptions for rape, incest, the life of the woman and fatal fetal abnormalities.
He said that “having those exceptions were things that made sense.”
“I understand they’re very difficult and these things get a lot of press attention,” he said. “But that’s a very small percentage that those exceptions cover. You know, there’s a lot of other situations where we have an opportunity to realize really good human potential, and we’ve worked to protect as many lives as we could in Florida.”
Former Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson, another GOP presidential candidate, told NBC News on Monday the responsibility should lie with doctors.
“The criteria should be if the life of the mother is at risk, and that should be determined by the health care professionals in their medical judgment,” Hutchinson said. “There should be clear rules so that they’re not intimidated for making a good health decision.”
But Vivek Ramaswamy took a different stance in comments to NBC News on Monday.
“What I have said is that this is an issue reserved to the states, and as a U.S. presidential candidate, I have been crystal clear on that,” he said.
Ramaswamy later added that the “winning approach for the Republican Party” is to have a policy that says “men bear sexual responsibility for their decisions that give the woman sole option to make the man responsible for raising a child as the principal financial caretaker.”
Former President Donald Trump's campaign didn’t reply to a request for comment Tuesday on Cox.
On Wednesday, former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie was more direct than his GOP opponents, and he criticized their responses.
"It seems to me this should have been a pretty easy decision, and the Texas Supreme Court got it wrong," Christie said in remarks at a town hall in Londonderry, N.H.
"The four remaining major candidates have gotten asked about this. Donald Trump won’t comment on it. Nikki Haley got asked about it and she said we should deal with this with compassion," Christie said.
The Cox case has tested even some of Texas’ own politicians. Republican Sens. Ted Cruz and John Cornyn — who are both strong opponents of abortion — refused to comment on it when NBC News pressed them about it Tuesday. Cornyn said he wouldn’t comment because he wasn’t “a state official,” and Cruz simply directed all questions to his press office.