Republican presidential hopefuls seeking support from evangelical voters in Iowa again staked out their positions on abortion Saturday in the wake of a Supreme Court order that shielded access to abortion pills, less than a year after the US Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade. The event in Clive, Iowa, hosted by the Iowa Faith and Freedom Coalition’s spring kickoff – one of the state’s leading conservative political advocacy groups – gave former Vice President Mike Pence and others a chance to define their stances amid an intensifying 2024 primary. Pence sought to draw a contrast between himself and Donald Trump over abortion after the former president received backlash recently from anti-abortion group Susan B. Anthony Pro-Life America. A Trump campaign spokesman said in a statement to The Washington Post that abortion was an issue that should be decided at the state level. But following the criticism, the campaign softened its stance, saying that Trump believed “it is in the States where the greatest advances can now take place to protect the unborn.” “I do think it’s more likely that this issue is resolved at the state level, but I don’t agree with the former president, who says this is a states-only issue,” said Pence, who told CBS News in an interview clip that aired Saturday that he will announce whether he plans to run for president “well before late June.” “We have an opportunity to advance the sanctity of life, move it ever closer to the center of American law,” the former vice president said in Iowa. “People should look to their statehouses to make that change but I think looking to the Congress of the United States, creating a minimum protection, fifteen weeks that is supported by some 70% of the American public at the federal level, I think these are all ideas that ought to be a part and parcel of the debate.” “The Supreme Court didn’t turn the issue of abortion over to the states, they turned it over to the American people,” Pence said. The backlash Trump received reflects the frustration among anti-abortion activists that the former president has not made abortion a key policy area of his reelection campaign and the tightrope that many Republicans are walking on the issue. Trump did not mention abortion last fall in a speech kicking off his third presidential run and later said he believed the “abortion issue,” which he argued was “poorly handled by many Republicans,” was to blame for the GOP’s underperformance in the November midterms. Trump, who pleaded not guilty earlier this month in Manhattan criminal court to 34 felony criminal charges of falsifying business records, addressed the Iowa forum virtually on Saturday. He touted the hundreds of anti-abortion federal judges that were confirmed during his administration and the three Supreme Court justices he appointed. Tech entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy, who launched his long-shot campaign for the GOP nomination in February, told CNN he did not endorse a federal abortion ban – staking out a position on an issue that many GOP 2024 hopefuls have shied away from. “This has always been an issue for the states. Roe v. Wade got it wrong. Now we’ve got it right, and we have to stand on principle. Now its an issue for states,” Ramaswamy said. Other declared GOP presidential candidates who spoke at the event included former Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson, conservative talk radio host Larry Elder and businessman Perry Johnson. South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott, who launched a presidential exploratory committee earlier this month, also spoke, as did former Texas Rep. Will Hurd and former Hawaii congresswoman and 2020 Democratic presidential candidate Tulsi Gabbard. Iowa Attorney General Brenna Bird and the chairman of the Iowa Republican Party, Jeff Kaufmann, served as moderators. Notably absent from the list of speakers are Republican presidential candidate Nikki Haley and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who is fueling speculation about a presidential run. Haley spokesperson Ken Farnaso cited scheduling conflicts, and a DeSantis spokesperson pointed to a Utah GOP convention on Saturday where the Florida governor delivered the keynote address when asked why he wasn’t attending. The politics of abortion The Republican Party has struggled at times since the overturning of Roe v. Wade to maneuver the politics of abortion. Democrats had a stronger-than-expected showing in the 2022 midterms as candidates tapped into supporters of abortion rights who were motivated in the wake of the high court’s ruling. Conservative candidates have lost several recent competitive races, including a Wisconsin Supreme Court election earlier this month, in which abortion was a key issue. “There is a spectrum of pro-life, and they’re all going to have to find their way, and I will guarantee you, by the time we are done and we have our field and it’s September or October, you are going to have some space and some gradation in a pro-life stance,” Kaufmann told CNN on Friday before the event. “Certainly, you are going to see variations of the pro-life stance when it comes to exceptions,” he added. “And each of the candidates are going to have to weigh where they’re at personally and how they decide to package and message that to individuals.” Conservative states across the nation have moved to ban or severely restrict abortion since the Supreme Court eliminated federal protections last summer. DeSantis signed a bill last week behind closed doors that would ban most abortions in Florida after six weeks of pregnancy, which is before many even know they are pregnant. Pence commended DeSantis for signing the bill and praised the ruling earlier this month by a Texas federal judge to suspend the US Food and Drug Administration’s approval of the medication abortion drug mifepristone, which the medical community has deemed safe and effective. The US Supreme Court on Friday protected access to the drug as the appeals process play out by freezing the Texas decision and a subsequent appellate ruling that placed restrictions on its usage. Haley, who is slated to give a speech focused on abortion on Tuesday in Virginia, said this week in Iowa that she didn’t want to “get into that game” of defining at what point in a pregnancy she would support an abortion ban. Scott, who has formed a presidential exploratory committee, has said he would sign legislation banning abortion at 20 weeks if he were elected president. When pressed by NBC News whether he would support a six-week abortion ban, Scott said, “If I were president of the United States, I would literally sign the most conservative pro-life legislation that they can get through Congress. This story and headline have been updated with additional information.