Georgia Republican Senate nominee Herschel Walker said as recently as August that he opposes any exceptions to a ban on abortion, despite stating the opposite during his first and only debate against Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock last week.
The comment is the latest in a string of examples of Walker attempting to walk back his strict position on abortion, an issue that has become a flashpoint in this year’s midterms after the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade in June. With Democrats seizing on the issue, many Republican candidates have attempted to backtrack on the strict positions they took earlier in their careers or during their primary campaigns. And Republicans in Washington have taken conflicting positions on whether they would bring up a federal abortion ban should they win the Senate and House in November.
During Friday’s debate, Walker said that he supports Georgia’s law, which bans abortions after about six weeks but makes exceptions for cases of rape or incest, pending a timely police report, and in some cases where the pregnant person’s health is at risk. And when the moderator asked about his support for a national ban on abortions without exceptions, Walker shot back, “That’s not true.”
In an August forum, however, Walker was asked about how he responds to people angry over the Supreme Court’s decision. Although the audio is at times difficult to hear, Walker indicated that if people wanted exceptions to stringent abortion laws, he was opposed.
More on key Senate races
“So, I said, ‘I believe in life.’ I believe in life. And I said, you know, if anyone wants to have an exception, I said, ‘Not in my book,’” Walker said. “I said, ‘I’m sorry. I feel bad for anyone that’s a victim of any kind of crime.’ I do. I feel like that. That is terrible and that’s horrible, but we deal with that as it comes.”
He added: “But right now, to say that it is OK for a woman to kill her baby when they said, ‘Thou shall not kill,’ and I said, ‘I can’t square, I can’t get around that.’ So, I will always vote for what my religious beliefs tell me. … Not what people tell me to do just to go along to get along.”
The comments came during an African American Voices of the Faith and Freedom Coalition roundtable with Walker in Austell, Georgia, on August 22. Ralph Reed, the founder of the Faith and Freedom Coalition, along with a range of other faith leaders, joined Walker for the roundtable.
Will Kiley, a Walker spokesperson, did not dispute the audio or respond to a question about Walker’s debate denial, but said, “Herschel has always been pro-life and will do whatever is necessary to save as many babies as possible.”
“As Herschel said in the debate, as Senator he would support what the people want because the Dobbs decision returned the issue to the states,” Kiley added.
The issue has become particularly potent for Walker, who now faces allegations that he paid for a woman to terminate her pregnancy and then, two years later, asked her to have the procedure a second time. CNN has not independently verified the claims and Walker has firmly denied them.
The US Senate race in Georgia has become one of the most closely watched in the country, with Democrats hoping to protect the seat Warnock won in a special election nearly two years ago. A survey released earlier this month, which was conducted after the allegations emerged, found Warnock with 52% support among likely voters to 45% for Walker, about the same as in a mid-September poll.
That same poll found that 57% of likely Georgia voters said abortion should either always be legal or legal with some limitations, while 39% said the procedure should either be illegal except for rape, incest or to save the pregnant person’s life or always be illegal.
Although many Republicans have sought to soften their positions as the general election approaches, Walker has been one of the most blatant, at times claiming not to have said what he said on camera.
In an interview after the debate, NBC’s Kristen Welker told Walker, “Early in this race, though, you had indicated you don’t want any exceptions.”
“No, no, no,” Walker said in response. “I said, I am for life. I never said I don’t have any exceptions. I said I am for life.”
In addition to the roundtable in August, Walker told reporters in May, “There’s no exception in my mind.”
“Like I say, I believe in life. I believe in life,” Walker added.
Earlier this year, Walker indicated in a questionnaire from a Georgia anti-abortion group that he supported no exceptions to stringent abortion laws. The group asked candidates whether Walker believed abortion “should be illegal,” for which the candidate checked yes. And then when asked for the exceptions he supported, Walker did not check any, indicating he supports none of them.
“I am 100% pro-life,” Walker wrote under the section’s “other” option. “As Georgia’s next Senator, I will vote for any legislation which protects the sanctity of human life, even if the legislation is not perfect. Every human life is valuable and absolutely worth saving.”
Warnock has been reticent to attack Walker over the abortion allegations against him, but during the debate last week, the Democrat used a broad attack to question Walker’s honesty.
“We will see time and time again, as we have already seen, that my opponent has a problem with the truth,” Warnock said. “And just because he says something doesn’t mean it’s true.”
Warnock, who supports abortion rights, also used the debate to repeat an argument he’s made on the trail: “A patient’s room is too narrow and small and cramped for a woman, her doctor, and the US government. … I trust women more than I trust politicians.”