Though Mike Pence’s status as a hero to the pro-life movement is undisputed, one aspect of his view on abortion has largely escaped scrutiny: whether he thinks there should be exceptions to a ban on the practice.
While Donald Trump, who was pro-choice until 2011, has said he backs exceptions to abortion bans for pregnancies caused by rape or incest, as well as when an abortion would save the mother’s life, Pence’s comments on the exceptions issue as a US congressman, Indiana governor, and as a vice presidential candidate have been sparse.
Abortion rights opponents and supporters interviewed by BuzzFeed News agree that, as governor or president, Pence would likely sign any bill that limited abortions, whether it contained no exceptions or three exceptions. It is, however, unclear what exceptions, if any, he personally believes in. Candidate surveys and public statements reviewed by BuzzFeed News suggest that Pence’s views appear to have shifted between 2010, when he was a congressman, and 2012, when he ran for governor.
“I’m pretty certain his only exception is life of the mother,” said Micah Clark of the American Family Association of Indiana, a group that opposes abortion, in an interview with BuzzFeed News. “He opposes taxpayer funding and he opposes abortion for any reason other than life of the mother. Maybe rape or incest but I’m not sure about that. But a lot of people, and I know this was his position in Congress, would vote for almost any pro-life bill whether it has certain exceptions or not to advance the issue.”
The Trump campaign did not reply to a request for comment about Pence’s position on abortion-ban exceptions.
In March, Pence signed a bill banning abortions sought because of race, gender, or a disability diagnosis that included an exception for the life of the mother. In 2014, he signed a bill that prohibited private insurance coverage of abortions with exceptions for rape, incest, and life of the mother.
But as a congressman in 2010, filling out a questionnaire from the group Indiana Right to Life, Pence answered the question, “Under what circumstances do you believe abortion should be legal?” by selecting option ‘A’, which was “Abortion should never be legal.”
Two years later, as a gubernatorial candidate in 2012, Pence responded to the same question by selecting option ‘B’ (“Life of the mother only”) and not option ‘C’ (“Rape and/or incest”). In October of that year, the Indianapolis Star reported that Pence’s campaign told the paper that he supported exceptions in cases of rape, incest, and life of the mother. The paper said that Pence’s campaign did not reply to a request for comment on the disparity between that answer and the survey at the time.
Then, Pence was responding to a controversy surrounding Richard Mourdock, a Republican Senate candidate. Mourdock had argued in a debate the night before the Star story that “even when life begins in that horrible situation of rape, that it is something that God intended to happen." The remarks provoked widespread criticism, including from Pence, who said he “strongly” disagreed and that Mourdock should apologize.
Clark, of the American Family Association of Indiana, said that it was possible that, with his 2012 answer about only granting an exception for the life of the mother, Pence was trying to “draw a distinction” between himself and pro-life Democrat John Gregg, who is running for governor again this year. Asked about the change in Pence’s answer, Clark said, “I think if there’s evidence that he backpedaled on the abortion issue, it would shock people. Because he’s been so consistent in Congress and as a governor, it’s just never happened that we know of.”
Clark said he thought Pence’s position was probably similar to the one Marco Rubio outlined during the Republican primary, when the Florida senator said that he personally did not support abortion under any circumstances but would sign any bill that restricted abortion, even if it included exceptions.
Mike Fichter, the president of Indiana Right to Life, the group that wrote the survey, did not reply to requests for comment. Jeannette Burdell, who runs a local chapter of the group in St. Joseph County, told BuzzFeed News that the group was “pleased with Gov. Pence’s pro-life record.” She provided a link to the 2012 survey with Pence’s answer about exceptions, but declined to comment on the change from his 2010 answer.
A review of the rest of Pence’s record doesn’t clarify his position. In 2011, he introduced an amendment to cut off funding for Planned Parenthood; the amendment provided exceptions for rape, incest, and the life of the mother. On the other hand, Pence has also co-sponsored so-called personhood bills, such as the 2011 Life at Conception Act, which would have guaranteed “equal protection for the right to life of each born and preborn human person,” without mention of exceptions.
Pence has long been a champion of the anti-abortion movement, and a 2003 speech Pence gave on the House floor offers insight into his conviction on the issue. In arguing that “for roughly 3,000 years in Western civilization… abortion was immoral and unethical” prior to the Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision, Pence approvingly cited the ancient Greek physician Soranos’ belief that it was only permissible when the mother’s life was in danger.
“In fact, the Ephesian, Soranos, often described as the greatest ancient gynecologist from whom we obtain the word and the practice of gynecology was, as history records, deeply opposed to Rome´s prevailing free abortion practice,” Pence said. “Soranos found it necessary to think first of the life of the mother and resorted to an abortion when he thought the life of the mother was in danger, but it was otherwise unacceptable.”
He continued, “At the time of Soranos, Greek and Roman law afforded little protection to the unborn until Christianity took root in the Roman Empire, and then it changed. And from that point forward, after the spread of Christianity in the Roman Empire, infanticide and abortion were treated as equally criminal acts, alongside murder.”