TUCSON, Ariz. — Republican Senate hopeful Kari Lake took criticism from both flanks of the abortion debate during a visit to the University of Arizona Thursday evening, as she and other candidates navigate the fallout from this week’s state Supreme Court decision upholding the state’s Civil War-era abortion ban.

Lake’s flip-flop on the law — which she called a “great law” in 2022 but now opposes and is pushing fellow Republicans to repeal — illustrates the tricky political position she and other Republicans find themselves in on abortion policy ahead of the 2024 election. 

Former President Donald Trump released a video on abortion policy last week, hoping to deflect criticism over his Supreme Court appointees’ role in the end of Roe v. Wade and allay fears about a national ban by describing it as a states’ rights issue. But that still leaves Republicans playing defense on unpopular state-level abortion bans now active because of that 2022 Supreme Court ruling — including Lake, who describes herself as “Trump in heels” and faced criticism at her Thursday campaign stop. 

During the event, organized by the University of Arizona’s College Republicans, Lake opened up her town hall to questions from the crowd and was quickly confronted on abortion. 

“The Republican Party has taken such a staunch stance on no abortion,” a student said before referencing the state’s Supreme Court’s Tuesday ruling. “Why such drastic change in the way you talk about it?” asked the student, prompting snaps and claps from a sub-section of the crowd, some of whom were wearing t-shirts that read “college Democrats.” 

The student’s confrontational question mirrored the tack Lake’s probable Democratic challenger, Rep. Ruben Gallego, has been taking against Lake on a daily basis, referencing her comments from 2022. 

On Thursday, Gallego rolled back the tape on his X account, sharing an audio recording of Lake praising the law and citing it by name. “We are going to have a great law that’s already on the books. I believe it’s Ars 13-3603,” says Lake in a 2022 interview.  

Since the ruling, Lake has taken steps to clean up her past comments. She posted her own abortion policy video, à la former President Donald Trump, and has made calls to state lawmakers to push for the repeal of the Civil War-era abortion ban in the Arizona state legislature. 

But Lake’s evolving attitude is also getting attention from opponents of abortion rights. 

“We thought when you said you supported the 1864 ban, you meant it,” said a middle-aged man in the crowd at the student union. “When the Supreme Court came out and delivered that miracle to this country and freed us from evil, you changed your mind,” added the man, calling the Arizona state Supreme Court’s decision a gift from heaven.

“I want to know what you say to people who trusted you and believed in you and believe that you are as much in love with babies in this world as them, and that Arizona has undergone a miracle. Why are you against America, that miracle?” asked the man. 

In her response, Lake outlined her political calculus. 

“First of all, I am pro-life and I love — I want to save as many babies as possible. But you do realize that that law is not going to survive November?” asked Lake. “There’s a ballot, on the November ballot, that is written by Planned Parenthood that will eventually lead to abortion up to nine months,” Lake said. The ballot measure would limit abortion at 24 weeks of pregnancy, but opponents have said a broad exception to protect patients’ physical and mental health would allow patients to demand later abortions. Backers of the measure say that misrepresents the rare reality of late-term abortions and why they happen.

Lake went on to strike an empathetic tone when responding to the “miracle” man’s gripe. 

“The voters of the state will vote for that [the constitutional amendment] if there’s not an exception for a 10-year-old, who’s the victim of incest,” said Lake. 

“I want to save every baby. I can’t imagine any circumstance that I would choose an abortion. But I’m not standing in the shoes of a woman who’s been beaten by … her pimp. I’m not standing in her shoes, and neither are you,” Lake continued. 

Lake also received loving questions and praise from local conservatives and College Republicans during the event who still see her as an ally.

“If you read a story about what happened here tonight, just know how the media operates. We’ve had a great conversation, don’t you think?” Lake said to applause from some of the crowd, adding: “It hasn’t all been easy questions. The media tomorrow will have a headline about one of the questions that was more negative. And they’ll spin the whole thing negatively.”

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