Republican presidential candidates faced off at a presidential primary debate hosted by NBC News.Rebecca Blackwell/AP

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It took the GOP presidential candidates more than 90 minutes to address abortion rights during Wednesday night’s televised debate—even though they were gathering just one day after Ohio became the latest state to enshrine a constitutional right to access abortion. 

The candidates were forced to acknowledge that voters have resoundingly endorsed abortion rights on the state level all over the country—including in Kansas, Kentucky, and Montana—after the Supreme Court overruled Roe v. Wade last year.

South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott was the only candidate on the debate stage who said he would endorse a 15-week federal ban—a position that has become increasingly rare as the Republican candidates reassess their stances in the face of political headwinds, with the front-runner, former President Donald Trump (who, once again, skipped the debate), also refusing to say whether he’d support a federal ban. While running for president the first time, Trump said, “there has to be some form of punishment” for women who received illegal abortions—a statement he later walked back, stating that “the doctor or any other person performing this illegal act upon a woman would be held legally responsible, not the woman.”

The other four candidates seemed to implicitly concede to the reality that, as polls show, Americans overwhelmingly support abortion access. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who during the second debate said he would sign a 15-week ban, appeared to evade reiterating that position, saying instead that he stands “for a culture of life.” (He signed a six-week abortion ban into law in his state earlier this year.) 

“At the same time, I understand some of these states are doing it a little bit different,” he continued, adding that Republicans “have been caught flat-footed on these referenda, and they have been losing on these referenda.”

Former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie—who said earlier this year he wouldn’t support a federal ban—took a similar position, calling abortion “an issue that should be decided in each state.”

“I trust the people in each country, state-by-state, to make the call for themselves.” 

Former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, who previously pledged to sign a federal ban, focused instead on emphasizing that “no Republican president can ban abortions” alone, noting it would also take the support of Congress. When pressed, she said she “would support anything that would pass.”

She said that while she’s “unapologetically pro-life,” she doesn’t “judge anyone for being pro-choice and I don’t want them to judge me for being pro-life.” 

And, as usual, Vivek Ramaswamy zigged when others zagged—calling for “sexual responsibility for men,” which he characterized as “the missing ingredient in this movement.” (He has said he’s against a federal ban…but supports six-week state bans.) 

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