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Republican presidential candidates debate abortion after Ohio Issue 1 vote. Here's what the GOP hopefuls said.

Key takeaways from GOP debate
Tense GOP debate focuses on foreign policy and abortion rights 03:02

The Republican presidential candidates have had to grapple with their abortion stances in the post-Roe v. Wade political landscape that is increasingly galvanizing voters to the polls — most recently on display after the measure to enshrine abortion in Ohio's constitution passed on Tuesday. 

Many of those views took center stage when candidates were asked about Ohio's election during the third GOP debate, hosted by NBC.

Ohio is a Republican-led state that Donald Trump won by large margins in 2020 and 2016, but voters in the Buckeye state indicated that abortion and reproductive rights are issues that go beyond party lines with the passage of Issue 1, which will enshrine reproductive rights in the state's constitution.

According to CBS News exit polls, one in five Republicans in Ohio voted to approve Issue 1 — that's more than twice as many that voted for President Biden in 2020 and more support came from moderate Republicans than conservative ones.

Smaller Group Of Candidates Attends Third GOP Presidential Debate
Republican presidential candidates (L-R) former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, Vivek Ramaswamy and U.S. Sen. Tim Scott (R-SC) participate in the NBC News debate.  Joe Raedle / Getty Images

Here are the reactions from Republicans from the debate and elsewhere: 

Ron DeSantis

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis said he understands "that some of these states are doing it a little bit different. Texas is not going to do it the same as New Hampshire. Iowa is not necessarily going to do it the same as Virginia."

"So you've got to work from the bottom up. You've got to do a better job on these referenda. I think of all the stuff that's happened in the pro-life cause they've been caught flat-footed on the referenda and they have been losing the referenda. A lot of the people who are voting for the referenda are Republicans who would vote for a Republican candidate," DeSantis said.

Nikki Haley 

Nikki Haley, who has seen a recent bump in polls, said during the debate, "We don't need to divide America over this issue any more."

Haley advocated for finding a consensus and cautioned against the likelihood of any bill making it through Congress.

"Let's agree on how we can ban late term abortions, let's make sure we encourage adoptions and good quality adoptions. Let's make sure we make contraception accessible. Let's make sure none of the state laws put a woman in jail or give her the death penalty for getting an abortion," Haley said.

Tim Scott 

Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina said he would support a federal 15-week national limit on abortion procedures.

"I would not allow states like California, Illinois, or New York to have abortion up until the day of birth," Scott said before urging Haley and DeSantis to join his commitment to a 15-week federal ban.

Chris Christie

Chris Christie pointed out the varying stances that each candidate held before asserting that abortion should be left to the states as the Dobbs decision declared.

"This is an issue that should be decided in each state. And I trust the people of this country state by state to make the call for themselves. Now, it's going to lead to a lot of divergence. In Oklahoma you can't get an abortion unless the life of the mother is at risk. In my home state of New Jersey it goes up to nine months that you get an abortion. I find that morally reprehensible, but that is what the people of our state have voted for. And we should not short circuit that process until every state's people have the right to weigh in on it," Christie said.

Vivek Ramaswamy 

Vivek Ramaswamy, an Ohio native and presidential candidate, cast his vote in Upper Arlington, Ohio, on Tuesday, and openly opposed Issue 1. He said at the debate that the Ohio vote stems from a Republican culture of losing.

"The Republicans did not have an alternative amendment or vision on the table. I know Ohio, I was born and raised and I lived there," Ramaswamy said, adding, "If in the state of Ohio, we talked about access to contraception, adoption, and also –  here's the missing ingredient in this movement – sexual responsibility for men. We live in an era of reliable genetic paternity tests that are 100% reliable, so we can say men deserve more responsibility so we can tell women we're all in this together. It's not men's right versus women's rights, it's about human rights."

Ramaswamy has said that he believes abortion is an issue that should be left to the states and asserted that he would not sign a federal ban into law should he be elected president. 

Asa Hutchinson

Former Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson, who is running for president as a Republican but did not make the debate stage, posted on X that the Ohio election was a rebuke of a GOP led by former President Donald Trump, not stricter abortion policy. 

"Last night the GOP lost Virginia legislative races and got beat in the Kentucky governor's election. National pundits attribute these loses to the debate on abortion restrictions; but I see it as a rejection of the GOP as controlled by Donald Trump. To win in 2024 we can't be the party of chaos; but rather commonsense conservatism," Hutchinson tweeted.

Donald Trump

Trump, who leads the GOP primary field by all indicators, did not attend the debate or mention abortion or Ohio's election during his event in Hialeah, Florida, Wednesday night. 

The former president has not offered a definitive stance on abortion, but he has been critical of a six-week ban — which was signed in Florida by DeSantis — and said it is a "terrible mistake." He has indicated that he supports exceptions in cases of incest and the life of the mother, and said that the Republican Party needs to learn how to talk about abortion.

CBS' Jake Rosen contributed to this report. 

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