Trump declines to endorse a national abortion ban and says it should be left to the states

Former President Donald Trump pumps his fist as he arrives for a GOP fundraiser, Saturday, April 6, 2024, in Palm Beach, Fla. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)

Former President Donald Trump pumps his fist as he arrives for a GOP fundraiser, Saturday, April 6, 2024, in Palm Beach, Fla. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky) Lynne Sladky

Republican presidential candidate former President Donald Trump adjusts his cap as he watches play on the 18th hole green during the final round of LIV Golf Miami, at Trump National Doral Golf Club, Sunday, April 7, 2024, in Doral, Fla. (AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell)

Republican presidential candidate former President Donald Trump adjusts his cap as he watches play on the 18th hole green during the final round of LIV Golf Miami, at Trump National Doral Golf Club, Sunday, April 7, 2024, in Doral, Fla. (AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell) Rebecca Blackwell

Republican presidential candidate former President Donald Trump, center, and son Eric Trump, second left, watch play on the 18th hole green during the final round of LIV Golf Miami, at Trump National Doral Golf Club, Sunday, April 7, 2024, in Doral, Fla. (AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell)

Republican presidential candidate former President Donald Trump, center, and son Eric Trump, second left, watch play on the 18th hole green during the final round of LIV Golf Miami, at Trump National Doral Golf Club, Sunday, April 7, 2024, in Doral, Fla. (AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell) Rebecca Blackwell

By JILL COLVIN

Associated Press

Published: 04-08-2024 12:01 PM

NEW YORK — Former President Donald Trump said he believes abortion limits should be left to the states, in a video released Monday declining to endorse a national ban after months of mixed messages and speculation.

“Many people have asked me what my position is on abortion and abortion rights,” Trump said in the video posted on his Truth Social site. “My view is now that we have abortion where everybody wanted it from a legal standpoint, the states will determine by vote or legislation or perhaps both. And whatever they decide must be the law of the land — in this case, the law of the state.”

Trump, in the video, did not say when in pregnancy he believes abortion should be banned — declining to endorse a national cutoff that would have been used as a cudgel by Democrats ahead of the November election. But Trump’s endorsement of the patchwork approach leaves him open to being attached to the strictest proposed state legislation, which President Joe Biden and his reelection campaign have already been working to do.

In the video, Trump again took credit for the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to end Roe v. Wade, saying that he was “proudly the person responsible for the ending” of the constitutional right to an abortion and thanking the conservative justices who overturned it by name.

While he again articulated his support for three exceptions — in cases of rape, incest and when the life of the mother is at risk — he went on to describe the current legal landscape, in which different states have different restrictions following the court’s Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization ruling on June 24, 2022, which upended the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision.

“Many states will be different. Many will have a different number of weeks or some will have more conservative than others and that’s what they will be,” he said. “At the end of the day it’s all about will of the people.”

The announcement declining endorsement of a national ban drew immediate condemnation from SBA Pro-Life America, one of the country’s most prominent groups opposed to abortion rights.

“We are deeply disappointed in President Trump’s position,” said the group’s president, Marjorie Dannenfelser, in a statement. “Unborn children and their mothers deserve national protections and national advocacy from the brutality of the abortion industry. The Dobbs decision clearly allows both states and Congress to act.”

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Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, one of Trump’s congressional backers and supporter of a 15-week national ban, said he “respectfully” disagreed with Trump over abortion being an issue for the states.

Biden’s campaign said Trump was “endorsing every single abortion ban in the states, including abortion bans with no exceptions.”

“And he’s bragging about his role in creating this hellscape,” campaign spokesperson Ammar Moussa said on X.

In a statement, Biden said Trump has played a part in being “responsible for creating the cruelty and the chaos that has enveloped America since the Dobbs decision,” a situation he said is reflected in women “being turned away from emergency rooms, forced to go to court to seek permission for the medical attention they need, and left to travel hundreds of miles for health care.”

Making an electoral argument, Biden said Trump is “worried that since he’s the one responsible for overturning Roe the voters will hold him accountable in 2024,” while Biden is “determined to restore the federal protections of Roe v. Wade.”

Trump had suggested last month in a radio interview that he was leaning toward supporting a national abortion ban at around 15 weeks of pregnancy — early in the second trimester.

“The number of weeks now, people are agreeing on 15. And I’m thinking in terms of that,” he said on WABC radio. “And it’ll come out to something that’s very reasonable. But people are really, even hard-liners are agreeing, seems to be, 15 weeks seems to be a number that people are agreeing at.”

At the same time, Trump seemed reluctant to embrace a federal ban.

“Everybody agrees — you’ve heard this for years — all the legal scholars on both sides agree: It’s a state issue. It shouldn’t be a federal issue, it’s a state issue,” he said.

Republican-led states have ushered in a wave of new restrictions following the overturning of Roe v. Wade in 2022. More than a dozen GOP-controlled states have banned abortion outright, while others have outlawed the procedure on increasingly diminishing timelines.

Other reproductive-related procedures have faced restrictions, including in vitro fertilization, which quickly became a talking point in the campaign after the Alabama Supreme Court ruled this year that frozen embryos can be considered children under state law. Trump said he strongly supports IVF availability. Alabama lawmakers and Republican Gov. Kay Ivey agreed to protect IVF providers from legal liability.

Democrats believe the fight over abortion rights helps them at the polls and have outperformed expectations in elections since. Voters in seven states have sided with abortion rights supporters on ballot measures, and abortion is expected to be on the ballot in more states this year, including Florida, Maryland and New York.

Trump had long argued that the Supreme Court’s decision overturning Roe gave those who oppose abortion rights “tremendous power to negotiate.” He said he wanted to use that leverage to strike a deal that he hoped would “make both sides happy” and bring the country “together” — even though the issue is one of the most contentious in American politics, with some opponents viewing abortion as murder and proponents seeing it as a fundamental women’s right.

Trump has tried to thread the needle on abortion throughout the campaign. He routinely takes credit for appointing the Supreme Court justices who overturned Roe v. Wade, which he has called a “moral and unconstitutional atrocity,” and has called himself the “most pro-life president in American history.”

But he has also repeatedly criticized fellow Republicans for being too hard-line on the issue, blaming candidates who did not allow for exceptions in cases of rape, incest and when the life of the pregnant person is at risk for the party’s losses that November.

“A lot of politicians who are pro-life do not know how to discuss this topic and they lose their election. We had a lot of election losses because of this, because they didn’t know to discuss it. They had no idea,” he said at the Concerned Women of America 2023 Leadership Summit.

In the video, Trump told Republicans that they 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, which is currently and very sadly a nation in decline.”

Instead, he has tried to paint Democrats as the ones who are extreme on the issue.

“It must be remembered that the Democrats are the radical ones on this position,” he said in the video.

Democrats and Biden’s campaign, meanwhile, have been spotlighting the issue as they work to draw a contrast with Trump.

Polling has consistently shown that most Americans believe abortion should be legal through the initial stages of pregnancy. About half of U.S. adults said abortions should be permitted at the 15-week mark, according to an Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research poll conducted last June.

Data compiled by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show that the vast majority of abortions from 2012 to 2021 were performed within the first 13 weeks of pregnancy.

The Supreme Court’s 1973 Roe v. Wade decision established the constitutional right to abortion until the time of viability, at around 23 or 24 weeks into pregnancy.

Abortions later in pregnancy are rare and are often performed due to serious fetal abnormalities, when the life of the mother is at risk, or when women have faced significant delays accessing the procedure, according to the health policy research firm KFF.