On abortion, Trump preferred politics over principles. Will it matter?

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By journalsofus.com

When Donald J. Trump ran for president in 2016, leaders of the anti-abortion movement extracted a series of promises from him in exchange for supporting his nomination.

They demanded Supreme Court justices overturn Roe v. Wade. They insisted that he defund Planned Parenthood. They pushed for a vice president who would be a champion of their cause. And every time he said yes.

But that was then.

With Roe v. Wade on the “ash heap of history,” as anti-abortion leaders like to say, they are no longer the ones making the decisions. His movement remains powerful in Republican-controlled state houses and conservative courts, but it is weaker nationally than it has been in years. Many Republican strategists and candidates see their cause, even the old term “pro-life,” as politically toxic. And on Monday, his biggest defender, the man they call “the most pro-life president in history,” chose politics over principle and launched a series of vitriolic attacks against some of his top leaders.

With his clearest statement yet on the future of abortion rights since the fall of Roe in 2022, Trump laid bare how poor a messenger he had always been for the anti-abortion cause. When Trump first flirted with a presidential run in 1999, she was clear about his position on abortion: “I’m very pro-choice,” he said. He reversed that stance a dozen years later: “Just very briefly, I’m pro-life,” he told attendees at the Conservative Political Action Conference in 2011.

His support changed again after the Supreme Court decision. While he boasted of naming three of the justices who overturned Roe, he blamed the movement for Republican losses in the midterm elections. He mused aloud about the idea of ​​a federal ban, but declined to give it the kind of ringing endorsement that anti-abortion leaders wanted.

In his four-minute video statement on Monday, Trump said states and their voters should decide abortion policies for themselves, in language that sounded like a pitched battle to staunch abortion opponents. He supported access to fertility treatments such as IVF and supported exceptions to the abortion ban in cases of rape, incest and the life of the mother.

His comments were short on details. Trump dodged the question of whether he would support a federal abortion ban if the legislation came to him as president. He did not say whether he supported state bans that made no such exceptions, or whether he would vote for a measure enshrining abortion rights in his home state of Florida. And he did not address the experiences of women who have faced impossible decisions and medical crises in states where the procedure is now banned.

“You have to follow your heart or, in many cases, your religion or your faith,” he said. “Do what is right for your family and do what is right for yourself.”

Trump later said he believed his statement calmed what he considered a toxic issue for his party by freeing Republicans to run on more politically favorable issues, including what he described on social media as “the horrible border, the inflation, the bad economy and death and destruction of our country!

Some of the most staunch anti-abortion advocates said that, as much as Trump wanted to neutralize the politics of the issue, he couldn’t leave behind what his presidency had unleashed. States across the country are locked in battles over the details of their restrictions on the procedure, as Democrats push ballot measures across the country to enshrine abortion rights in state constitutions. Stories about women being denied the procedure continue to dominate the news. And the Supreme Court is expected to rule in June on restricting access to a prominent drug used in abortion procedures.

Although Trump’s views on whether he would sign a national abortion ban remain opaque, his allies and supporters are pressing ahead with plans to restrict abortion rights with proposals and executive actions that could go beyond a national ban in a possible second Trump administration.

“Saying that the abortion issue belongs to the states is not going to make it disappear from national elections,” Leonard A. Leo, a longtime leader of the Federalist Society who played an influential role in Trump’s election for office, said in an interview. the Supreme Court. .

However, Trump’s comments underscored how the anti-abortion movement has struggled to find its place in the post-Roe era. For decades, abortion opponents had one central goal: overturning Roe. They now face a political landscape radically reshaped by that decision and a presumptive Republican presidential candidate who no longer views them as an undeniable asset but as a potential political liability.

Over the weekend, leaders of anti-abortion groups began receiving word that a statement from Trump was coming. They called everywhere to try to find out what he would say.

Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of Susan B. Anthony Pro-Life America, the leading anti-abortion group, said she spoke with Trump on Monday morning. Her group had obtained many promises from Trump in 2016 and frequently visited the White House. But she had failed in her attempt to get Trump to support a 15-week federal ban.

“Their concern is only political,” Dannenfelser said in an interview. “It is a huge disappointment. “It is a total eclipse of reason, and that only happens in abortion policy for Republicans.”

Trump’s vice president, Mike Pence, called his former boss’s announcement “slap in the face”to anti-abortion voters who supported Trump in two previous elections. “Too many Republican politicians are too willing to wash their hands of the battle for life,” he wrote on social media.

Trump reacted to the criticism with a series of scathing attacks on Dannenfelser and Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, who also questioned the former president’s commitment to the anti-abortion movement on Monday. Trump took full credit for the decision to overturn Roe, disregarding the decades of work by activists and lawyers to build a conservative movement to undermine Roe.

“Lindsey, Marjorie and others fought for years, without success, until I came along and got the job done,” he posted on his social media site, Truth Social. “We cannot allow our country to suffer further damage by losing elections on an issue that should always have been decided by the States, and now will be!”

Those who were less publicly critical did not face the same wrath. Kristan Hawkins, president of Students for Life, said Trump was “very clear in affirming the family” in her statement. She was confident that, if elected, Trump would staff his administration with aides who would work to further limit abortion rights and access across the country.

“I hope you will stick to this statement,” he said, “and then move forward and begin making pro-life appointments, naming your chosen pro-life vice president, promising that you will only appoint pro-life leaders to the Department. of Justice, Health and Human Services, Department of Education, FDA, EPA, across the entire Cabinet line.”

None of the critics said they planned to withhold their support for Trump in November, an indication that the former president may not pay too high a price for not taking a more aggressive federal position.

The idea of ​​a 15-week ban was always more political than policy. Such a proposal would not end many abortions. Nearly 94 percent of abortions occur before 13 weeks of pregnancy, according to data collected by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Such a ban would also be unlikely to gain enough support in the Senate to pass. And it wouldn’t affect The 18 states where abortion is practiced. It is currently prohibited before that time of pregnancy.

But he was unpopular among independent and moderate voters. KFF surveya nonprofit focused on health policy, found that six in 10 voters opposed a federal ban after 16 weeks, a finding disputed by many anti-abortion advocates but not other Republican strategists.

“He actually hit all the right notes in this statement,” said Nicole McCleskey, a Republican pollster who has conducted focus groups on abortion. “She landed where most Americans are.”

Democrats disagree. They point to polls showing that most Americans support some form of abortion rights and want those rights restored in federal law. From the White House to the candidates in negative racesDemocrats were ready to strike with a flurry of attacks blaming the former president for what some called the “cruelty and chaos” caused by abortion restrictions.

“Donald Trump made clear once again today that he is, more than anyone in America, the person responsible for ending Roe v. Wade,” President Biden said in a statement. “Having created chaos by overturning Roe, he’s trying to say, ‘Oh, it doesn’t matter. Don’t punish me for that. I just want to win.'”

Democrats argued that Trump’s silence on the issue was actually an endorsement of outright bans in states like Texas, where abortion is prohibited in almost all circumstances. His effort underscores the difficulty Trump may face as he attempts to distance himself from an issue that will likely remain in the headlines throughout Election Day and beyond.

“He fully understands how unpopular his party’s position is on this issue and how unpopular his actions were,” said Mini Timmaraju, president of Reproductive Freedom for All, an abortion rights group formerly known as NARAL Pro-Choice America. . “He’s trying so hard to do both and we can’t let him get away with it.”

Just hours after Trump’s statement, the Biden campaign released a digital ad highlighting the story of a Texas woman who was denied an abortion, developed sepsis and may never be able to have another child.

In the ad, the text appears on the screen. “Trump did this,” it reads between her sobs.

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