Activists at March for Life in front of the Supreme Court in January, the first march since the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade. Michael S. Williamson/The Washington Post

Leading antiabortion groups, fresh off their historic victory with the demise of Roe v. Wade, are drawing up plans for a new goal in the 2024 presidential election: Ensuring the Republican nominee promises to back nationwide restrictions on abortion.

One of the most influential groups, Susan B. Anthony Pro-Life America, is likely to ask candidates to sign a pledge supporting a federal minimum limit on abortion at no later than 15 weeks of pregnancy.

“If any GOP primary candidate fails to summon the moral courage to endorse a 15-week gestational minimum standard, then they don’t deserve to be the president of the United States,” said Marjorie Dannenfelser, the president of SBA Pro-Life America, who was instrumental in extracting antiabortion promises from former president Donald Trump during his 2016 campaign.

The Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank, is exploring holding candidate forums or debates, where the issue of abortion would be front and center. And Students for Life Action is developing a survey asking candidates whether they’ll promise to appoint cabinet members who oppose abortion, such as in the justice and health departments; if they’d sign legislation to restrict abortions early in pregnancy; their stances on abortion pills and more.

“Our biggest challenge right now is making sure we get everyone on the record and for them to understand that we expect substantial action to be taken,” said Kristan Hawkins, the president of Students for Life Action. She added: “We want to make sure that every candidate knows that they’re going to have to be ready to make their case for life.”

The Supreme Court’s decision last June striking down constitutional protection for abortion rights means such questions are no longer merely hypothetical. If Republicans win enough House and Senate seats in a future election, they could feasibly pass some kind of federal abortion limit – and activists are determined to nail down presidential candidates on whether and to what extent they’d go along with it.


Exactly where to land on the issue may not be easy for all GOP presidential hopefuls. Former president Donald Trump jumped into the race first, and though he put a conservative supermajority on the Supreme Court, he frustrated antiabortion groups with comments blaming GOP losses last November on “the abortion issue,” particularly candidates who opposed exceptions for rape and incest. Trump cheered the Supreme Court decision last summer but didn’t respond to questions about where he stands on national restrictions on abortion.

Abortion Texas

Linda Banes left, and Ethelene Marshall stand with anti-abortion demonstrators as they gathered to sing and pray outside Planned Parenthood in Houston on June 24, 2022, after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v Wade. Brett Coomer/Houston Chronicle via Associated Press file

Abortion rights groups scored major victories during last year’s midterm elections, even in some conservative-leaning states, and are aiming to build on that momentum. Democrats contend the results show the public is on their side, and nearly two-thirds of adults say abortion should be legal in most or all cases, according to a new survey from the Public Religion Research Institute, a nonpartisan group that surveyed Americans’ attitudes toward abortion last year.

Antiabortion leaders blame the midterm results on some Republican candidates who failed to paint Democrats as extreme or who shied away from talking about abortion – and now they’re warning upcoming GOP presidential contenders to take firm stances on the issue. They were particularly critical of Mehmet Oz, a Republican who lost his Senate race in Pennsylvania and said “there should not be involvement from the federal government in how states decide their abortion decisions,” instead citing local politicians.

Most of the Republican field is expected to be unified in opposing abortion. But divisions are likely to emerge when drilling down into specific policies, such as how early in pregnancy to restrict abortion, what exceptions should be allowed, and whether some of those decisions should be left up to states.

Even antiabortion groups differ in how far to push GOP candidates, with some saying they’d be on board with a candidate who expresses support for a 15-week limit and others wanting to press for at least a “heartbeat” ban after the fetal cardiac activity detected, typically around six weeks. It’s unlikely such limits would pass Congress any time soon, given such a bill would need the support of a majority of House lawmakers and 60 senators, unless a future Republican-controlled Senate ditched the filibuster for the hot-button issue.

In addition to likely asking candidates to sign a pledge, Dannenfelser said her group is aiming to be involved in candidate forums in Iowa and South Carolina, at a minimum. The group has long assessed candidates’ records and public statements on abortion and spent millions in each election cycle, though it usually doesn’t make endorsements in the primary, except Rick Santorum in 2012. Armed with a budget that’s expected to be “significantly more” than last election cycle’s $78 million, the group is planning its ground game in presidential and Senate battleground states, which includes traditional door-knocking, digital ads, and mailers.


Both the Heritage Foundation and its political arm, Heritage Action, want to hear presidential candidates come out in support of what abortion opponents call “heartbeat legislation” or an abortion ban even earlier in pregnancy. Roger Severino, a vice president at the Heritage Foundation, said the group will be pushing candidates to be clear about their positions and is working to try to host candidate debates or forums as a venue for them to do so.

“We see the dynamics on the Republican side to be a race for who will be the most articulate spokesperson for life and will provide the policy proposals to save the most unborn lives as possible,” said Severino, who led the federal health department’s civil rights office during the Trump administration.

Abortion Border Towns

Anti-abortion signs are displayed outside Bristol Women’s Health Clinic on Thursday, Feb. 23 in Bristol, Va. Earl Neikirk/Associated Press file

Meanwhile, Students for Life Action is hammering out a survey to send to candidates once more have announced their presidential ambitions. Its questions will likely include whether the candidate would be willing to sign into law specific bills banning abortion early in pregnancy, how they’d crack down on abortion pills and whether they would defund Planned Parenthood. The group also may ask about protections for healthcare workers and pharmacists who raise conscience objections to abortion, as well as questions about judicial and cabinet appointments.

State-level groups could also turn up the pressure. The Family Foundation of Virginia typically doesn’t host presidential forums, since it’s one of the later primary states, but it is discussing doing so this year, said president Victoria Cobb. She added that she’s “not convinced that there’s only one path that pro-lifers will accept,” but that candidates have to “be willing to push the issue forward.” Texas Values Action typically puts out a candidate questionnaire, and in last year’s midterm elections, the survey included multiple abortion-related asks.

“Now that the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that abortion is not a constitutional right, there will be a lot of focus on how a candidate has handled the pro-life issue in his or her state or if they’ve been in some other elected position at any other level,” said Jonathan Saenz, the president of Texas Values Action, whose group typically endorses candidates in the primary and likely will again in the 2024 presidential election cycle. “Their record will be looked at very closely.”

Most of these groups are still firming up their plans since it’s early in the election cycle, but the emerging pressure campaign underscores that abortion will be a top-tier issue in the GOP primary. The Republican National Committee wants to see candidates seize the post-Roe moment, passing a resolution in January formally urging GOP lawmakers to “go on offense in the 2024 election cycle.” Democratic pollsters say their party has a few messages: to paint this position as extreme and argue the government should be kept out of Americans’ private medical decisions.


Only two other candidates besides Trump have announced they’re running for president in what’s expected to be a crowded Republican field.

Former U.N. ambassador Nikki Haley announced her candidacy last month. As South Carolina’s governor, she signed a law in 2016 prohibiting the procedure at 20 weeks of pregnancy unless the mother’s life is at risk or if a doctor determines the fetus cannot survive outside of the womb. In a recent Today Show interview, she didn’t say whether she’d support a limit at 15 weeks, saying there should be “consensus” found on abortion while indicating she didn’t support a “full-out federal ban because I don’t think that’s been put on the table.” The campaign didn’t respond to specific questions about whether Haley supports certain national limits.

Wealthy entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy has announced a long-shot bid. “Vivek is pro-life. As a constitutional matter, he strongly agrees with the outcome of Dobbs and believes this is an issue for the states, not the federal government,” Tricia McLaughlin, a senior adviser to the candidate, wrote in an email.

But plenty of others are making moves toward a potential presidential bid.

That includes former vice president Mike Pence, who supported antiabortion measures as a member of the House and governor of Indiana. In November, he said he would have supported legislation from Sen. Lindsey O. Graham, R-S.C., to prohibit most abortions after 15 weeks if he was in Congress. And his organization, Advancing American Freedom, is calling on Congress to pursue antiabortion bills, including “heartbeat” legislation and legislation defining a fetus as a person and declaring it has the same rights available to other people.

“Others may need to sign a pledge to convince voters of their pro-life credentials, but Mike Pence has been in the fight to defend the unborn for more than 30 years and his record on life is unmatched,” an adviser to Pence wrote in an email.


Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis has privately indicated he intends to run, and last year signed a limit on most abortions after 15 weeks. Now, Republican lawmakers in his state are pushing to restrict the procedure after six weeks of pregnancy, a bill that DeSantis has signaled he’d sign. DeSantis representatives didn’t respond to questions about his stance on national abortion restrictions.

Since the summer, antiabortion groups have been scrambling to build on their 49-year crusade to overturn Roe v. Wade, saying that was just the beginning, as abortion rights groups work to counteract state-level bans on abortion.

At a gala this month in Naples, Fla., Hawkins told a crowd of dozens of Students for Life Action donors and others that the fight over abortion was far from over, describing overturning Roe v. Wade as once seeming like an “insurmountable challenge.”

“I can’t ignore the moment that we’re in,” she said. “The battlefield is larger than it’s ever been before.”

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