GOP presidential candidates forced to weigh in on the Kate Cox Texas abortion case

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. 

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” in comments to NBC News Tuesday.

“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 these restrictive abortion bans passed by Republican state legislatures — and putting some GOP politicians in uncomfortable positions as they attempt to play down what has been a losing issue for them at the polls. 

Cox, a mother of two, found out just after Thanksgiving that her developing fetus has 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 mother. 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 added 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 that approach has found her some supporters in her party who say Republicans need to find a better message on the issue in order to beat Democrats. As governor in 2016, Haley signed a law banning most abortions beginning at 20 weeks of pregnancy.

During 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 that he signed in Floriday, which had exceptions for rape, incest, life of the mother 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 Monday the responsibility should lie with the doctor. 

“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 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 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.”

The campaigns for former President Donald Trump and former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie did not return requests for comment. 

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 pressed by NBC News Tuesday. Cornyn said he wouldn’t comment because he wasn’t “a state official,” and Cruz simply directed all questions to his press office.

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