Kari Lake clarifies her stance on abortion

Kari Lake, the Arizona Republican candidate running for Senate, has proclaimed abortion “the ultimate sin,” said abortion pills should be illegal, and praised laws to restrict reproductive rights in other conservative-led states. In August, Lake was in Ohio to campaign for a ballot measure that would have made it more difficult to pass a constitutional amendment enshrining the right to abortion.

Now, Lake, in an exclusive interview with NBC News, is seeking to moderate her position in a way that acknowledges the tricky spot that Republicans find themselves after the Supreme Court overturned the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision that enshrined abortion rights nationally. 

Lake said she believes Arizona will settle on a rule that offers access to abortion up to 15 to 24 weeks. She called the state’s current 15-week limit “a good law,” and told NBC News that she does not support Arizona’s controversial territorial rule, a near-total ban on abortion that is under dispute in the courts. As recently as November 2023, Lake responded to a question about her previous support for the territorial ban, saying, “I haven’t changed.”

A state ballot initiative is poised to go before voters later this year. 

“It’s probably going to be the 15th week or whatever is in this ballot initiative,” Lake said of where she expects Arizonans to land. “I trust the people of Arizona to vote on this, if that’s what happens, and get this right.”

She praised the 15-week rule as “something that Americans can get behind because it gives people options, gives women options, and makes sure that there are carve-outs.” 

“The vast majority of Americans and Arizonans hold the view that abortion should be legal and that late-term abortion should not be legal,” she added, “with exceptions for rape, incest, and obviously the health of a mother.” 

Along with Republicans in other battleground states, Lake has come out against a federal abortion ban and opposes restrictions on access to in vitro fertilization.

“I hope that the court will strike that down,” she said of an Alabama court ruling that prompted fertility clinics to shut down and Republicans to race to temper the political fallout.

Still, Lake maintains there is no role for federal lawmakers in the equation, calling it a question “the states should be deciding,” and declined to weigh in on whether she would vote to protect IVF nationwide if she is elected.

“If one state has a ban, another state will have abortion, and so women are going to be able to access abortion,” she added.

Democrats are working to make reproductive rights a defining issue in the race, as they did during Lake’s 2022 campaign for governor. A new high-stakes legal battle over abortion pill mifepristone is set to take place this year, returning the issue to the forefront.

Amid this, Lake is trying to make an argument for Republicans that there is a path forward to talking about abortion.  

Lake said she wants to back up Republicans’ family policy rhetoric with policies that make a difference in people’s lives. She is focused on finding solutions to ease the burden of mothers and pregnant women, she said, and vowed to work across the aisle to help pass baby bonuses, more child tax credits, and paid family leave.

“What we need to do is really start supporting women and giving them true choices,” Lake said. “We need to prioritize. We talk about being pro-family, and it’s about time we put the money where our mouth is.”

“Congress has spent almost $200 billion in Ukraine and wanted to send another $75 billion recently,” she added. “Instead, we can invest that money into American families through baby bonuses, prenatal care, parental resources and classes and child care.”

She said the funds to pay for her proposals “would come through tax incentives and tax cuts.”

“This is where I can actually help in the Senate, by pushing some really great legislation that would actually provide baby bonuses for families, extend and beef up child tax credits to provide more tax incentives, and tax cuts for moms and dads and babies,” Lake told NBC News.

She touted paid family leave so that new parents can spend more time with their newborns without worrying about returning immediately to work. “I think we should incentivize this for companies and new families,” Lake explained.

Other measures proposed by Lake include “financial support, grant money for prenatal care and parenting resources and classes.” She argued that passing an agenda to help ease the economic plight of families is simply a matter of discerning priorities.

“We bail out companies all the time, but we never help families,” Lake continued. “We need to help families. And I’m willing to do that if Democrats want to do that.”

Republicans have historically shown less interest in directing government spending toward childcare or other measures that help balance the cost of having children. 

But with abortion increasingly restricted in half of the nation’s states, more Americans are worrying about how to afford the cost of a child. 

The issue has emerged as a political liability for the party, with voter backlash against new restrictions on abortion in Republican-controlled states credited with limiting GOP gains in recent elections.

Since the Supreme Court’s ruling, statewide ballot questions on abortion have yielded victories for abortion rights advocates in red-leaning states such as Ohio and Kansas, with efforts underway to get protections on the ballot in 2024 in at least a dozen more.

In a year where Donald Trump, the Republican former president credited with bringing about the end of Roe v. Wade, continues his march toward the GOP nomination, the party faces a daunting reality. 

Lake, an anti-establishment firebrand, has worked to mend ties with the Republican Party and, in January, earned the endorsement of the Republican National Republican Senatorial Committee. 

That institutional firepower is now trained on attacking Lake’s Democratic opponent, framing the Arizona congressman running against her as someone out of step with voters and impugning his record with women.

“Ruben Gallego supports taxpayer-funded abortions up until birth and can’t name one restriction he supports on abortion,” NRSC Spokesman Tate Mitchell said.

Gallego’s campaign says it’s Lake that has the extreme position. “Kari Lake will say anything to get elected, but her actions are clear: She supports banning abortion without exceptions for rape or incest and will ban medication abortion. Arizonans won’t be fooled by her attempts to erase her record,” campaign spokeswoman Hannah Goss said.

Lake’s campaign has responded to criticism by Gallego by pointing to reports that he and his ex-wife split when she was still pregnant. His ex-wife, now the mayor of an Arizona city, has endorsed his run for the Senate and their split has been described as amicable.

“I’m the only woman in this race for U.S. Senate in Arizona who has actually given birth, experienced pregnancy, and experienced the joy of motherhood,” said Lake. “That makes me more qualified to talk about pregnancy than Reuben Gallego, my opponent, a man who walked out on his wife when she was nine months pregnant, so I’m not going to be mansplained by him.”

There has been a push from some Republicans to support families financially in recent years, with polling that shows public attitudes shifting in this direction, especially among American conservatives. But no clear path to bringing these ideas into law.

Lake cited Hungary as a model to argue that better supporting families could be a way to reduce abortion, without using the law to limit its access. 

“They managed to cut the number of abortions in half in Hungary,” she said. “They never touched any laws. The laws didn’t change, didn’t matter. And Viktor Orban said, we decided to just encourage individuals to start a family.” 

Even Trump has tilted towards the need for policies that help make it easier to grow a family. After pushing to grow the child tax credit while in office, Trump last year made baby bonuses for couples who have children part of his pitch for a 2024 agenda. (Critics said his tax credit policies in office failed to help families whose earnings were so low that they owed little in federal taxes.)

Orban, whose populist agenda has drawn conservative praise, is set to meet with Trump at Mar-a-Lago next week, according to reports. 

Lake’s political opponents have seized on her past positions, attacking her for calling for a “carbon copy” of a six-week abortion ban in Texas to be put before the Arizona legislature during her run for governor in 2022, and for her comments in an interview where she called Arizona’s territorial ban “a great law.”

For Republicans, “this is a toxic issue,” said Barrett Marson, a Republican strategist in Arizona. “She can read the polling and see that she has to walk back — she has to be much more open to what is going on.” 

“But the problem is her words from 2022 will come back to haunt her,” Marson continued. “2022 Kari Lake is 2024 Kari Lake’s worst enemy.”

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