Trump Put Politics Before Principles on the Subject of Abortion. How Important Is It?

Anti-abortion leaders demanded pledges from Donald J. Trump in exchange for supporting his 2016 presidential campaign.

They wanted Supreme Court judges to overturn Roe. He was ordered to defund Planned Parenthood. They sought a pro-cause vice president. Each time, he agreed.

That was then.

Anti-abortion leaders argue Roe v. Wade is on the “ash heap of history,” thus they no longer rule. Their movement is strong in Republican-controlled statehouses and conservative courts, but weaker nationally than in years. Republican strategists and politicians consider their cause, especially “pro-life,” politically poisonous. On Monday, its biggest cheerleader, the “most pro-life president in history,” chose politics over values and ranted against some of their senior leaders.

Mr. Trump revealed his ineffectiveness as an anti-abortion communicator in his strongest stance on abortion rights since Roe’s 2022 demise. In 1999, Mr. Trump declared, “I’m very pro-choice,” when he considered running for president. “Just very briefly, I’m pro-life,” he told Conservative Political Action Conference attendees in 2011.

The Supreme Court ruling changed his support again. He boasted about picking three judges who overturned Roe but blamed the movement for Republican midterm defeats. He contemplated a federal ban but did not approve it, as anti-abortion activists desired.

In his four-minute video address on Monday, Mr. Trump said states and their people should decide abortion regulations, sounding like a free-for-all to abortion opponents. He supported IVF and abortion ban exceptions for rape, incest, and motherhood.

Details were lacking in his statements. Mr. Trump avoided answering whether he would support a federal abortion ban as president. He did not answer if he supported state bans without exceptions or would vote for a Florida abortion rights proposal. He ignored women who have faced hard decisions and medical emergencies in states where surgery is outlawed.

“You must follow your heart, or in many cases, your religion or faith,” he stated. “Do what’s right for your family and yourself.”

After his statement, Mr. Trump said he believed it freed Republicans to run on more politically favorable issues, including “the Horrible Border, Inflation, Bad Economy, and the Death & Destruction of our Country!”

Many staunch anti-abortion supporters argued that while Mr. Trump tried to minimize the politics of the issue, he could not escape what his administration had unleashed. As Democrats promote ballot proposals to entrench abortion rights in state constitutions, states are fighting over existing abortion limits. Stories of women refusing the operation dominate the news. The Supreme Court is set to rule in June on restricting abortion medicine access.

Even though Mr. Trump’s views on a nationwide abortion ban are unclear, his aides and supporters are pressing forward with legislation and administrative steps that might go beyond a national ban under a second Trump administration.

“Saying the abortion issue belongs in the states will not make it disappear from national elections,” Leonard A. Leo, a veteran Federalist Society leader who influenced Mr. Trump’s Supreme Court picks, said in an interview.

However, Mr. Trump’s remarks showed how the anti-abortion movement has suffered post-Roe. Overturning Roe was abortion opponents’ main objective for decades. That decision changed the political environment, and the likely Republican presidential nominee now regards them as a political liability.

Anti-abortion leaders learned of Mr. Trump’s remarks over the weekend. They phoned around to learn its words.

The head of Susan B. Anthony Pro-Life America, the main anti-abortion group, said she talked with Mr. Trump on Monday morning. Her group routinely visited the White House in 2016 after Mr. Trump made several promises. But it failed to persuade Mr. Trump to support a 15-week nationwide ban.

“His concern is political only,” Ms. Dannenfelser said in an interview. “Very disappointing. This is a total eclipse of reason, occurring primarily in Republican abortion politics.”

His vice president, Mike Pence, termed the declaration from his former boss a “slap in the face” to anti-abortion supporters who supported Trump in two previous elections. He commented on social media, “Too many Republican politicians are all too ready to wash their hands of the battle for life.”

After the criticism, Mr. Trump slammed Ms. Dannenfelser and South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham, who also questioned the former president’s anti-abortion stance on Monday. The conservative movement built by activists and attorneys over decades was ignored by Mr. Trump, who took full credit for overturning Roe.

“Lindsey, Marjorie, and others fought for years, unsuccessfully, until I came along and got the job done,” he wrote on Truth Social. “We cannot let our country suffer further damage by losing elections on an issue that should always have been decided by the States, and now will be!”

Fewer public critics were not as criticized. Students for Life president Kristan Hawkins said Mr. Trump was “very clear affirming the family” in his comments. If elected, Mr. Trump would choose aides who would work to curtail abortion rights and access nationwide, she was sure.

“I hope he sticks with this statement,” she said, “and then moves forward and starts naming pro-life appointments, naming his pro-life vice president pick, pledging to only appoint pro-life leaders to the Department of Justice, Health and Human Services, Department of Education, F.D.A., E.P.A., down the entire cabinet line.”

None of the critics said they would boycott Mr. Trump in November, suggesting the previous president may not pay a significant price for failing to take a more assertive federal posture.

The 15-week restriction was always political, not policy. The idea would not stop many abortions. Nearly 94% of abortions occur before 13 weeks, according to CDC data. Such a restriction would not likely pass the Senate. The 18 states that ban abortion before that date would not be affected.

It was unpopular among independents and moderates. According to KFF, a nonprofit health policy group, six in 10 people rejected a federal ban beyond 16 weeks. Many anti-abortion supporters disagree, but not Republican strategists.

According to Republican pollster Nicole McCleskey, who has led abortion focus groups, “he hit all the right notes in this statement, actually.” “He landed where most Americans are.”

Democrats disagree. According to surveys, the majority of Americans favor abortion rights and want them reinstated into federal law. Democrats slammed the former president for the “cruelty and chaos” produced by abortion restrictions from the White House to down-ballot politicians.

“Donald Trump made it clear once again today that he is—more than anyone in America — the person responsible for ending Roe v. Wade,” President Biden stated. “Having caused the chaos of overturning Roe, he’s saying, ‘Oh, never mind. Please don’t punish me. I want to win.

Democrats said that Mr. Trump’s silence supported outright bans in areas like Texas, where abortion is virtually always illegal. Their effort highlights Mr. Trump’s difficulties in separating himself from a subject that will undoubtedly dominate headlines until Election Day and beyond.

“He understands acutely how unpopular his party’s position is on this and how unpopular his actions were,” said Mini Timmaraju, president of Reproductive Freedom for All, previously NARAL Pro-Choice America. “He’s very determined to have it both ways, and we can’t let him.”

Within hours following Mr. Trump’s remark, Mr. Biden’s team issued a digital ad about a Texas woman who was denied an abortion, had sepsis, and may never have another child.

Flashing lettering appears in the commercial. “Trump did this,” it reads above her cries.


Trump to issue a statement on abortion today’s Monday morning.

Women threatened by abortion restrictions advocate for Biden due to concerns for their health.

Big Announcement, Florida’s 6-week abortion ban set to be enforced within 30 days, court decides.


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