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Wisconsin Senate candidate shifts abortion position amid GOP struggles on issue

Republican Senate candidate Eric Hovde, who is looking to unseat Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), told reporters Thursday that women should have a “right to make a choice” early in pregnancy — a departure from a previous, more hard line position on abortion.

“As it pertains to abortion, look, I’m very clear on that issue: I believe in exceptions. I believe in the beauty of life. I think women early on in a pregnancy should have a right to make a choice,” Hovde told reporters, without defining “early.” He added: “I think there’s a point where, once a baby can be born healthy and alive, that’s unconscionable that baby would be terminated.”

In August 2012, during an earlier campaign for the Senate, Hovde told the Wisconsin State Journal that he was “totally opposed to abortion,” a position he also voiced during a radio interview. Hovde also said that year that he considers himself “pro-life” and that Roe v. Wade should be overturned.

Hovde’s shift comes during an election cycle when many Republicans are struggling with the issue of abortion and some have moderated their positions. Protecting access to reproductive care has been a winning issue for Democrats in elections held following the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in 2022 to overturn Roe v. Wade, and Democrats up and down the ballot have been leaning into it during this election year.

Moreover, since the court’s decision, every state ballot measure that has sought to preserve or expand abortion access has been successful, while jurisdictions that have sought to restrict abortion access have failed — even in states that skew conservative.

The overturn of Roe had an immediate impact on Wisconsin. After the decision, the state halted all abortion procedures because the federal action allowed an 1849 state law to go into effect that conservatives in the states interpreted as calling for a ban on abortions. The state, however, allowed abortion services to resume in December 2023 after a judge ruled that the law permits medical abortions.

In a statement Friday, Jackie Rosa, a spokesperson for Baldwin’s Senate campaign, said Hovde “has made his position on abortion abundantly clear: he supported the overturning of Roe v. Wade, which led to millions of Wisconsin women living under a near-total abortion ban, without exceptions for incest and rape.”

A spokesman for Hovde declined to expand Friday on the candidate’s latest remarks.

“That’s his position, and his comments speak for themselves,” said spokesman Ben Voelkel.

Last month, a spokesman for Hovde told a local Wisconsin news station that Hovde supports an abortion ban with exceptions for rape, incest and when the mother’s life is in danger. In comments to reporters Thursday, Hovde also said he has been consistent in his belief about exceptions.

On Thursday, Hovde also reiterated his support for birth control, saying that “if a woman wants access to birth control, get access to birth control.”

Hovde said he supports in vitro fertilization, a procedure that has come under scrutiny after the Alabama Supreme Court ruled that embryos formed in the process should be considered people. When that ruling was issued, many Republicans nationwide sought distance themselves from it.

“Obviously, I want anybody that wants to have a child to have a child,” Hovde said.

In recent months, Republicans have struggled to come up with a united message on reproductive rights while Democrats — particularly those running in swing states like Wisconsin — are reminding voters that Republicans ended nationwide access to abortions. That messaging also proved successful for Democrats in the 2022 midterms.

As The Washington Post has reported, One Nation, an arm of the GOP Senate campaign machine helmed by Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), circulated a polling memo last year arguing that GOP candidates shouldn’t call themselves “pro-life” anymore or say the Supreme Court pushed the issue to the states with Dobbs. The memo also said that any candidate who does not support exceptions for rape, incest and the life of the mother will be vulnerable.

Former president Donald Trump, who appointed three of the conservative Supreme Court justices that ruled to overturn Roe, has bragged about his role in the decision, saying in January that “nobody has done more” for that effort than him. But he has also toed a delicate line on the issue. Trump and his campaign have repeatedly said he supports exceptions for rape, incest and the life of the mother, and added it was “an issue that should be decided at the State level.”

Trump has yet to issue a firm plan on abortion rights and has been vague when asked at what point in pregnancy the procedure should be banned. Earlier this week at a campaign rally, when asked about a Florida court’s decision to pave the way for a six-week ban, Trump told NBC News he would be “making a statement next week on abortion.”

Amy B Wang contributed to this report.

This post appeared first on The Washington Post

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