Updated Apr 8, 2024 - Politics & Policy

Trump bets he can afford conservative backlash on abortion


Trump at the 2020 March for Life rally. Photo: Yuri Gripas/Abaca/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Former President Trump issued a formal statement on abortion Monday with a simple calculus in mind: his position might infuriate conservative activists — but they'll vote for him in November anyway.

Why it matters: Trump has spent months privately wrestling with how to insulate himself from Democratic attacks on abortion, knowing that the issue could be one of his biggest vulnerabilities in the 2024 election.

  • By declining to endorse a national ban on abortion — and suggesting he would leave legislation up to individual states — Trump is seeking to blunt the potency of the Biden campaign's messaging.
  • He's also trying to thread a needle with conservatives: taking credit for the Supreme Court striking down Roe v. Wade, while resisting a national ban because "we must win" elections to get anything done.

What they're saying: SBA Pro-Life America, the leading anti-abortion group, said in a statement that "we are deeply disappointed in President Trump's position."

  • Former Vice President Mike Pence went a step further, saying in a statement, "Trump's retreat on the Right to Life is a slap in the face to the millions of pro-life Americans who voted for him in 2016 and 2020."
  • Doug Stafford, chief strategist for Sen. Rand Paul's (R-Ky.) PAC, tweeted: "I'm not sure a major candidate has ever produced a worse statement on Life than the one I just watched." He later deleted the post.
  • Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), a top Trump ally who has introduced legislation to restrict abortion at the federal level after 15 weeks, said he "respectfully" disagrees with the former president.

The latest: Trump lashed out at Graham and SBA president Marjorie Dannenfelser on Truth Social Monday afternoon, arguing that Republicans who are "unrelenting" on abortion "are handing Democrats their dream of the House, Senate, and perhaps even the Presidency."

The intrigue: Some Republicans in Congress are breathing a sigh of relief, hoping that Trump's resistance to a national ban will put to bed the thorny abortion questions that dominate competitive races.

  • "Maybe the most helpful thing he's done in a while — smart. No federal ban," one swing-district House Republican told Axios' Andrew Solender.
  • A senior GOP aide also called Trump's position "smart" and said most Senate Republicans support leaving abortion to the states, according to Axios' Stef Kight.

Between the lines: Biden officials still see plenty to work with, including Trump's inconsistent history on abortion and the fact that his latest statement effectively endorsed strict abortion bans in dozens of states.

  • As recently as last month, Trump said that a national 15-week abortion ban with exceptions could be "very reasonable."
  • The former president also continues to boast about his role in the Supreme Court's rejection of abortion rights under Roe v. Wade — including in Monday's video, which the Biden campaign immediately seized on.
  • "Trump is scrambling. He's worried that since he's the one responsible for overturning Roe the voters will hold him accountable in 2024. Well, I have news for Donald. They will," President Biden said in a statement.

What to watch: Within hours of Trump's statement, the Biden campaign launched a new TV ad in battleground states featuring a Texas woman who developed sepsis after a miscarriage because she was denied an abortion.

  • "Every single day, between now and November, we will make sure every American knows Donald Trump is to blame for this national nightmare," Biden campaign manager Julie Chavez Rodriguez said in a statement accompanying the ad.

Go deeper: Trump claims "bloodbath" as Biden seizes on abortion

Editor's note: This story has been updated with additional comments from Trump about Sen. Lindsey Graham and Marjorie Dannenfelser.

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