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Trump Says ‘It’s Up to the States’ as He Backs Away From National Abortion Ban

By Mel Leonor Barclay and Shefali Luthra
The 19th, April 8, 2024

Former President Donald Trump on Monday declined to support a nationwide abortion restriction, saying that “it’s up to the states to do the right thing,” and enact whatever restrictions they see fit.

In a four-minute video posted to his social media platform Monday morning, Trump tried to walk back comments that he was considering a 15- or 16-week national abortion ban; at the same time, he celebrated the end of Roe v. Wade and federal abortion rights. In the video, Trump said the issue is in the hands of the states — “by vote or legislation or perhaps both” — embracing a patchwork of abortion policies across the nation.

For voters weighing reproductive rights, Trump’s announcement ends weeks of speculation about whether he would champion a national ban on the campaign trail, but makes clear that the former president remains proud of his role in ending the national right to abortion and welcomes states enacting restrictive policies.

At the same time, Trump’s announcement leaves key questions unanswered on an issue that has become pivotal for many voters. He didn’t rule out restricting abortion through executive power, an approach top conservative groups have been studying for months. This avenue has been their primary focus, rather than action in Congress. And, while the former president said he supports access to in vitro fertilization (IVF), he did not say how or if he would take action to protect that access.

Leading reproductive rights advocates reacted to Trump’s announcement by arguing that the former president can’t be trusted. His waffling on this issue is meant to “distract from the truth about what he will do if elected,” said Reproductive Freedom for All President and CEO Mini Timmaraju.

President Joe Biden said in a statement that voters should be under no illusion that Trump would veto a national abortion ban if one arrived at his desk.

Anti-abortion advocates have urged the president and Republican candidates in competitive races to get behind a 15-week limit as a starting point that many voters would support. They’ve blamed recent defeats in races that featured abortion on Republicans not staking out a clearer anti-abortion position. Trump’s announcement Monday makes clear that the former president does not see this as a winning strategy and that he plans to urge voters to set aside reproductive rights when weighing their votes.

“You must follow your heart on this issue. But remember, you must also win elections to restore our culture and in fact, to save our country,” Trump said in the video.

The presumptive 2024 Republican presidential nominee had said last week that he would release an abortion policy plan. It’s unclear if his campaign will share more details in addition to Monday’s video.

In the clip, Trump starts off by talking about IVF, illustrating just how much a recent decision by the Alabama Supreme Court and its immediate impact on access has reverberated across the nation and brought the fertility treatment to the center of political debate. Major abortion opponents such as Susan B. Anthony Pro-Life America remain critical of IVF as it is practiced in America — in particular, its reliance on developing multiple embryos to ensure that patients will have enough for a successful pregnancy, and discarding those that remain unused. Trump-aligned organizations such as The Heritage Foundation have also called for greater restrictions on IVF. The court’s ruling relied on a legal theory known as “fetal personhood,” which is favored by a large share of abortion opponents.

Trump joined other Republicans rushing to contain the political fallout of the Alabama decision, telling voters that the “vast majority” of Republicans are also supportive of access. “We want to make it easier for mothers and families to have babies, not harder,” Trump said.

Trump noted that Alabama lawmakers passed a law meant to shield IVF providers from the state court’s ruling. But the law, which did not undo the court’s holding that embryos deserve the same legal protections as people, has not fully restored access to the fertility regimen: Last week, one hospital in the state said it was ending its IVF offering because of the ruling.

As he has done in the past, Trump mischaracterized Democrats’ stance on abortion, attempting to paint them as radical. Trump claimed that Democrats’ policies would allow “even execution after birth,” which is not true and would qualify as murder. Many state laws and ballot measures allow abortion up until the point of fetal viability — when doctors determine the fetus can survive outside the womb, usually around 22 to 25 weeks — with exceptions for rare and life-threatening cases.

In the video, posted on Trump’s Truth Social platform, the former president did not indicate whether he would seek to enforce the Comstock Act, an 1873 morality law that some conservatives — including many of Trump’s former advisers — have suggested he should use to prevent the mailing of medication abortion or some forms of contraception. That law, which is still on the books but has not been leveraged in decades, was written to curtail the mailing of anything “intended for producing abortion.”

Trump added that, “like Ronald Reagan, I am strongly in favor of exceptions for rape, incest and life of the mother.”

Patients seeking abortions, physicians, sexual violence experts and legal analysts have all noted that legal exceptions to abortion bans rarely work in practice, in part because of their often-onerous logistical requirements and because of the fear of incurring the draconian penalties often associated with state laws.

A resident of Florida, Trump has not indicated how he would vote on the state’s pending ballot measure that would enshrine abortion rights into that state’s constitution up to fetal viability. The measure, which is opposed by the state’s Republican governor, Ron DeSantis, would secure access in the nation’s third most populous state and a key access point in the South.

If the measure fails, Florida will remain under the six-week abortion ban that will take effect in a few weeks — a major victory for the anti-abortion movement.

Anti-abortion leaders on Monday gave varied reactions to Trump’s announcement. Susan B. Anthony Pro-Life America President Marjorie Dannenfelser said her group is “deeply disappointed in President Trump’s position,” and that “saying the issue is ‘back to the states’ cedes the national debate to the Democrats.”

Kristan Hawkins, who leads the anti-abortion group Students for Life and supports strict national restrictions, said in a social media post that Trump’s remarks show that at least he is more supportive of their cause than Biden.

“Unlike President Biden, President Trump began his remarks on abortion by celebrating ‘the ultimate joy in life’ – children and family. That kind of love and support for the bedrock of society, the family, will be a welcome change in the White House,” Hawkins wrote.

Editor’s note: This article was originally published by The 19th.

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FM Editors
FM Editors
Faithfully Magazine is a fresh, bold and exciting news and culture publication that covers issues, conversations and events impacting Christian communities of color.

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