WATCH: Former US president Donald Trump making a risky bet on abortion as he seeks re-election

Donald Trump, in a video message, made no mention of a national abortion ban and said abortion rights should be left up to the states. File picture: Elijah Nouvelage / AFP

Donald Trump, in a video message, made no mention of a national abortion ban and said abortion rights should be left up to the states. File picture: Elijah Nouvelage / AFP

Published Apr 10, 2024


Donald Trump's hotly awaited position on abortion stresses his re-election strategy, even while angering an important part of his base — conservatives who oppose the procedure.

After giving mixed signals for months, the Republican presidential hopeful clarified his position Monday on an issue that is pivotal to the race for the White House.

In a video message he made no mention of a national abortion ban and said abortion rights should be left up to the states.

These remarks left some conservative Republicans baffled and furious.

“President 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,” said his former vice president Mike Pence, an Evangelical Christian who helped him woo the religious right in his 2016 victory.

Lindsey Graham, an influential Republican senator who is close to Trump, said he disagreed with the former president and argued that “there should be a national minimum standard limiting abortion at 15 weeks”.

The US Supreme Court overturned the federal right to abortion in 2022 in a shock ruling that Trump has taken credit for because he appointed three conservative justices who helped make it possible.

The decision jettisoning the longstanding Roe v. Wade ruling left abortion rights up to individual states. Some Republican-led states have enacted near-total bans and there is a powerful movement in the party to get a national ban on the books.

“We are deeply disappointed in President Trump's position,” said Marjorie Dannenfelser, the president of the anti-abortion Susan B. Anthony group.

The bet

Trump, who has flip-flopped on supporting or opposing abortion access over the course of his political career, had suggested in March that he would come out in favor of a national ban after 15 or 16 weeks of pregnancy.

In backing off from this, Trump wants to avoid alienating women voters worried about abortion bans.

The Supreme Court ruling of 2022 has cost the Republicans politically. The party turned in a disappointing performance in the midterm elections of that year, and conservatives have repeatedly lost in referendums and other votes concerning abortion.

On his platform Truth Social, Trump called on his disgruntled allies to "get on with helping Republicans to WIN ELECTIONS, rather than making it impossible for them to do so!"

He added: "Many Good Republicans lost Elections because of this Issue."

In coming out with his new position — seeking to thread the needle between satisfying his hard-right base and not alienating centrists — Trump is making a bet.

It is that even though Evangelical Christians are angry with him now for not coming out stronger against abortion, they will still vote for him over his likely rival, President Joe Biden.

"As a pro-life conservative, I get the disappointment. But Trump is right," conservative commentator Marc Thiessen wrote Tuesday in a piece in The Washington Post.

"If Democrats succeed in using the threat of a federal abortion ban to keep control of the Senate in November, then the pro-life cause could suffer an irreparable blow," said this former aide to president George W Bush.

Thiessen said polls show most Americans want abortion to remain legal.

In any case Trump hopes to steer the campaign debate away from abortion so he can focus on his bread and butter issues for attacking the Biden administration — inflation, immigration at the border with Mexico and crime.

But it far from clear that Trump can shape debate this way, as abortion remains in the headlines and state after state passes legislation or otherwise rules on the procedure.

On Monday, for instance, the highest court in Arizona, which Biden narrowly won in 2020, upheld a law from 1864 that imposed a near total ban on abortion.

Democrats have capitalized on their defense of access to abortion and will keep hammering away at this re-election tactic — depicting Trump as a danger to abortion rights.

“Another day, another unwanted Trump lie. We're not fooled and neither are voters,” said Alexis McGill Johnson, the president of Planned Parenthood.

“He's responsible for the abortion access crisis and if given another chance, he'll push even harder to advance a national ban,” she said.