Trump is at odds with a major pro-life group: a look at how his position on abortion has evolved

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Even though former President Donald Trump’s Supreme Court nominees were instrumental in overturning Roe V. Wade, the 2024 presidential candidate is in hot water with a pro-life organization after his recent comments about abortion.

In a statement from the Trump campaign published in the Washington Post on Thursday, April 20, campaign spokesman Steven Cheung said that Trump believes abortion should be decided at the state level.

“President Donald J. Trump believes that the Supreme Court, led by the three justices which he supported, got it right when they ruled this is an issue that should be decided at the state level,” the statement read. 

Susan B. Anthony Pro-Life America, which has encouraged state-level and federal lawmakers to change abortion policies, called Trump’s comments “a morally indefensible position for a self-proclaimed pro-life presidential candidate to hold” and suggested it is incorrect to assert that the Supreme Court decision declared abortion a state issue. 

“Life is a matter of human rights, not states’ rights,” SBA Pro-Life America President Marjorie Dannenfelser said in a statement. 

“Saying that the issue should only be decided at the states is an endorsement of abortion up until the moment of birth, even brutal late-term abortions in states like California, Illinois, New York, and New Jersey,” Dannenfelser continued. “The only way to save these children is through federal protections, such as a 15-week federal minimum standard when the unborn child can feel excruciating pain.”

Dannenfelser added that SBA Pro-Life America will “oppose any presidential candidate who refuses to embrace at a minimum a 15-week national standard to stop painful late-term abortions while allowing states to enact further protections.”

Trump’s shift during the 2016 presidential campaign

Before Trump got involved in politics, the businessman rarely commented publicly on the issue of abortion. However, during a 1999 interview on NBC, he said that he supported legal abortion while maintaining that he hated abortion. 

“I’m very pro-choice,” Trump said in 1999. “I hate the concept of abortion. I hate it. I hate everything it stands for. I cringe when I listen to people debating the subject. … I just believe in choice.”

Trump’s public position on abortion evolved when he tested the waters for a presidential run in 2011 and began calling himself pro-life. Although he opted against running in the 2012 presidential election, he ran on a pro-life platform during the 2016 presidential campaign. At that time, he often said it should be a state issue. 

On March 30, 2016, Trump said in a statement released by his campaign that the issue of abortion is “unclear and should be put back into the states for determination,” adding that “like Ronald Reagan, I am pro-life with exceptions, which I have outlined numerous times.” Later that day, his campaign released a statement that said if there was a ban on abortion, “the doctor or any other person performing this illegal act upon a woman would be held legally responsible.”

During the campaign, Trump promised to appoint pro-life justices but also made clear that he did not know what position they would take on Roe v. Wade. He told Fox News his appointments would “be pro-life” but added “we’ll see about overturning” the landmark court decision legalizing abortion. He later pledged to support a nationwide 20-week ban on abortion.

Presidency and the 2022 midterms

During Trump’s presidency, Roe v. Wade was still in effect, which prevented states and the federal government from imposing certain abortion restrictions. However, his administration took several actions to advance the pro-life cause.

The most monumental action Trump took was to appoint three Supreme Court justice nominees who ultimately voted in favor of overturning Roe V. Wade. He also used his executive power to restrict foreign aid funding of abortion and to prevent Title X funding from going to the abortion industry. As president, Trump also signed an executive order to protect infants who were born alive after a failed abortion.

After Trump left office following his 2020 loss to President Joe Biden, the next major nationwide election was the 2022 midterms, in which voters would determine which party controlled the House of Representatives and the Senate. Although Republicans gained a narrow majority in the House, they lost the Senate and did much poorer nationwide than many analysts had expected. 

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When speaking about the reasons for the unimpressive midterm results, Trump put the blame on the pro-life position of Republican candidates.

“It was the abortion issue, poorly handled by many Republicans, especially those that firmly insisted on no exceptions, even in the case of rape, incest, or life of the mother, that lost large numbers of voters,” the former president said.

This comment also provoked criticism from members of the pro-life movement.

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