1 of 6 | Former Vice President Mike Pence answers a question from Iowa Faith and Freedom Coalition Chairman Ralph Reed during the organization’s fall gala on Saturday in Des Moines, Iowa. Photo by Joe Fisher/UPI
DES MOINES, Iowa, Sept. 16 (UPI) — Ten Republican presidential candidates weighed in on whether abortion access should be ruled on at the state or federal level at the Iowa Faith and Freedom Coalition Fall Gala in Des Moines on Saturday.
Candidates faced a Q&A-style sit down with leaders of the organization and Iowa officials as hundreds of potential donors listened in. The event was held at the Iowa Events Center.
Former President Donald Trump, North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum and former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie were the only candidates not in attendance. UPI confirmed that all Republican presidential candidates were invited to speak.
The questions varied from candidate to candidate, but one question was asked to all of them except entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy: “Do you support a federal abortion ban?” Each candidate supported an abortion ban after 15 weeks or pregnancy if not sooner but they were split on passing a federal ban.
State or federal abortion ban
Former Vice President Mike Pence, who has been attending IFFC events since 2010, gave the clearest response in favor of a federal 15-week ban.
“I believe we owe it to the American people to elect a president that will fight for a minimum standard in Washington, D.C.,” Pence said. “We ought to ban abortion across the United States from the point that a baby can feel pain in the womb. We need to stand for the unborn all across America. As president, I promise you’ll have a champion for life in the Oval Office.”
Asa Hutchinson, Will Hurd and Perry Johnson said they would also sign a federal ban.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis said he would “focus on both state and federal” but was unclear whether a federal ban is a priority of his. He touted signing the “Heartbeat Protection Act” earlier this year. The bill bans abortion when there is a detectable heartbeat, which is often at six weeks of pregnancy.
DeSantis added that he would institute a program like Hope Florida nationwide. Hope Florida was spearheaded by Florida’s first lady Casey DeSantis. It is an online portal that connects parents in need of resources with churches, businesses and nonprofit organizations that can offer assistance.
“When a mother needs something the church snaps into action,” DeSantis said. “That is something I think we can do that would have broad support across the political spectrum.”
Former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley has been outspoken in opposition to pursuing a federal abortion ban. The audience had applauded candidates that favored a federal ban throughout the evening but when Haley made her case she also received applause.
“This issue is personal for every woman and every man. We need to treat it that way,” Haley said. “In order to pass a federal law we have to have a majority of the House, 60 Senate votes and the signature of the president. We haven’t had 60 in the Senate for 10 years.”
“My goal is ‘how can we save as many babies as possible,'” Haley continued. “The way to do that is to bring people together. Can’t we all agree we should ban late-term abortions? No woman who gets an abortion should get a prison sentence or the death penalty? I’m not going to be part of demonizing. We need to humanize this issue.”
Larry Elder agreed that leaving the issue to the states is the better path. He argued that the Supreme Court’s Dobbs decision played a role in Republicans performing “poorly” in last year’s midterms.
Tuberville’s military blockade
The topic of abortion remained the central focus as candidates were asked about the Department of Defense. IFFC Chairman Ralph Reed asked candidates whether they supported Sen. Tommy Tuberville‘s blockade of military promotions.
Tuberville has stood in the way of military promotions for several months over the department’s policy that provides accommodations for service members seeking abortion services.
“They are violating the law by funding abortion tourism with tax dollars,” DeSantis said. “On day one that policy goes in the trash where it belongs.”
Again it was Haley who broke from the party. Haley’s husband Michael is an officer with the South Carolina Army National Guard currently on deployment in Africa.
“The fact that they want to stop all military promotions — don’t they sacrifice enough?” she said. “Don’t use them as political pawns. If you want to stop it, have the House and Senate vote on it up and down. That’s no way to thank the men and women risking so much for the freedoms we hold dear. They deserve better than that.”
Hutchinson, who was a House manager during the impeachment of President Bill Clinton, said it is too early to call it an impeachment inquiry. But he believes the president has questions to answer when it comes to his family’s past business endeavors.
“What I see as a former federal prosecutor is that there’s unanswered questions and a lot of smoke when you look at the international dealings of the Biden family,” Hutchinson said. “I haven’t seen enough evidence yet but there is certainly enough evidence for an inquiry. President Biden has not sufficiently answered those questions.”
Pence similarly supports the inquiry, but he largely focused his response on minimizing the two impeachments of his former running mate Trump.
“What we endured during the Trump Pence administration, the Russian hoax for two years, impeached for a phone call — but when there’s smoke there’s usually fire in Washington, D.C.”
Iowa Faith and Freedom Coalition
IFFC Chairman Ralph Reed said his organization connects with more voters than any other organization outside of the Republican Party. It takes an active role in voter engagement and outreach, including registering voters.
“I don’t want to frighten anybody but we know when you vote, we know where you vote,” Reed said. “If you haven’t voted by election day we’re going to show up at your home again.”
According to Reed, IFFC volunteers and staff knocked on 8.5 million doors during the 2022 election cycle. The goal for 2024 is to visit 10 million households. On average, each “Christian household” is home to between 1.7 and 1.9 voters.
“That means when we run this program we’re going to reach 17 to 20 million evangelical, bible-believing voters,” he said. “We’re going to target 500,000 evangelical churches and register 100 new Christian voters in each of those churches. We’re going to create a margin so big they can’t steal it even if they tried.”
Reed, as he solicited donations, estimated that the cost of this effort nationwide will be about $75 million, including $2 million in Iowa. The cost to attend Saturday’s event was $700 for a table of 10.