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DeSantis defends record on abortion following rebuke from leading anti-abortion group

<i>Scott Morgan/Reuters</i><br/>Presidential candidate Ron DeSantis defends his anti-abortion stance.
Scott Morgan/Reuters
Presidential candidate Ron DeSantis defends his anti-abortion stance.

By Kit Maher and Shawna Mizelle, CNN

(CNN) — Ron DeSantis on Tuesday defended his record delivering “pro-life protections” as Florida governor following criticism from the Susan B. Anthony anti-abortion group over his reluctance to embrace a national ban.

DeSantis, who sought to burnish his conservative bona fides earlier this year when he signed a six-week ban in Florida, cast doubt on the possibility of passing federal abortion restrictions and instead said the focus should be on state efforts, a position that has put him at odds with several of his 2024 GOP presidential primary competitors.

“Different groups, you know, are gonna have different agendas, but I can tell you this: Nobody running has actually delivered pro-life protections. I have done that. I’ve stood up. I’ve said that I would stand for life, and we have done that, and we have delivered, and we’re proud of that,” DeSantis told CNN, gaggling with reporters at the Windmill Restaurant in Concord, New Hampshire.

In an interview with Megyn Kelly last week, DeSantis said he lacked confidence Congress would “do anything meaningful” toward a national abortion ban, and he has not committed to signing a national ban at any number of weeks as president.

“I’ve been a pro-life governor. I’ll be a pro-life president, and I will come down on the side of life,” DeSantis told Kelly. “We are running on doing things that I know I can accomplish.”

“I think the states have the primary jurisdiction over it,” DeSantis told Kelly. “I think there is a federal interest but I think the reality is that, you know, the country is divided on it.”

“You have different opinions, and that stuff gets filtered out. But clearly, right now, you are going to see different states go in different directions and I understand that,” DeSantis added.

His comments drew a rebuke from Marjorie Dannenfelser, the president of Susan B. Anthony Pro-Life America, who on Monday said the remarks “expressed a lack of will to enact national protections for unborn children.”

“Gov. DeSantis’s dismissal of this task is unacceptable to prolife voters. A consensus is already formed. Intensity for it is palpable and measurable. There are many pressing legislative issues for which Congress does not have the votes at the moment, but that is not a reason for a strong leader to back away from the fight. This is where presidential leadership matters most,” Dannenfelser said in a statement.

Abortion has been a sticking point for GOP presidential candidates who have walked a fine line between appeasing conservative primary voters while not alienating moderates. Former President Donald Trump, the clear front-runner for the nomination, has told allies and advisers that abortion isn’t a winning campaign issue for Republicans and has yet to say whether he supports a federal ban.

But others, including former Vice President Mike Pence and South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott, have called for national legislation in the wake of DeSantis’ comments to Kelly.

“Republicans should not be retreating on life. We need a national 15-week limit to stop blue states from pushing abortion on demand. @sbaprolife defends the most fundamental right: life. Without life, nothing else matters. It’s not a special interest. It’s the only interest,” Scott tweeted Monday.

DeSantis – whose campaign has signaled internal concerns about its financial position, cut staff and is significantly trailing Trump in the polls – has at times used abortion to draw a contrast with Trump, whose three Supreme Court nominees voted to overturn Roe v. Wade.

In mid-June, DeSantis said he was “surprised” that the former president called Florida’s six-week ban “harsh” in an interview with Christian Broadcasting Network’s David Brody.

“We were able to deliver the Heartbeat Bill, which was a big, big deal,” DeSantis said. “While I appreciate what the former president has done in a variety of realms, he opposes that bill. He said it was quote ‘harsh’ to protect an unborn child when there’s a detectable heartbeat. I think that’s humane to do.”

Asked if he thought Trump has gone “soft on abortion a little bit,” DeSantis said, “Well, I think so.”

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