Donald Trump is facing new blowback from anti-abortion activists for refusing to commit to national abortion restrictions and for calling Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis' signing of a six-week ban on the procedure a “terrible mistake.”
Speaking Sunday on NBC's “Meet the Press,” Trump repeatedly declined to say whether he would support a federal ban on abortion. He said he could “live with” the procedure being banned by individual states or nationwide through federal action, though he said "from a legal standpoint, I think it’s probably better” to be handled at the state level.
Regarding the bill signed by DeSantis, which bans abortions before many women know they are pregnant, Trump said, “I think what he did is a terrible thing and a terrible mistake.”
So far, the former president has dominated the 2024 field while at times spurning the anti-abortion groups that traditionally have huge influence in Republican primaries. But Trump’s direct attack on DeSantis, whom he’s long treated as his chief rival, could give the Florida governor new fodder as he tries to regain momentum in his campaign and solidify his second-place standing.
Posting on X, formerly known as Twitter, DeSantis campaign spokesman Bryan Griffin wrote of Trump: “If you want to appease Democrats, here’s your guy. If you want to defeat the Democrats in 2024, (DeSantis) is the only choice.”
The country's largest anti-abortion organization, which backs a national ban on abortions at 15 weeks of pregnancy, quickly released a statement saying anything less restrictive "makes no sense.”
“We’re at a moment where we need a human rights advocate, someone who is dedicated to saving the lives of children and serving mothers in need. Every single candidate should be clear on how they plan to do that," said Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of Susan B. Anthony Pro-Life America.
Evangelicals and other social conservatives who strongly oppose abortion make up the majority of those who participate and decide the winner in Iowa, where the Jan. 15 caucuses are first on the Republican nominating calendar. Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds this summer signed an abortion ban similar to Florida's. Reynolds has not endorsed a candidate.
Trump has called himself the “the most pro-life president in American history" and noted that three of his picks for the Supreme Court formed the conservative majority that overturned Roe v. Wade, which had guaranteed a federal right to abortion.
Interviews with GOP voters and activists over the past several months suggest a split between people who point to Trump's record during his term and others who want Trump to endorse a national abortion ban.
Trump has so far declined to go along with some of his rivals, including his onetime vice president, Mike Pence, who is pushing for national bans that would take effect relatively early in a pregnancy. He’s warned Republicans against locking themselves into positions that are unpopular with a majority of the public and has argued that the Supreme Court’s decision gives abortion opponents the right to “negotiate” restrictions where they live rather than rely on federal bans.
The Supreme Court ruling left the decision of whether and how to restrict abortion to the states, creating a patchwork of laws across the country, with most Republican-led states imposing new restrictions and states led by Democrats passing protections. Twenty-five million women of childbearing age now live in states where abortions are more difficult to get since before the ruling.
Trump also has approached the issue from a political stance, saying that the court's ruling and Republicans' push for abortion restrictions hurt the GOP in the 2022 midterm elections and that GOP candidates need to do a better job of explaining the issue.
Republicans in some key states, including those backing his rivals, expressed displeasure.
Among them was South Carolina state Rep. John McCravy, who sponsored the most recent, restrictive abortion measure, which bans the practice in his state after around six weeks of pregnancy. South Carolina will be among the early states to choose a nominee.
“I was certainly disappointed with what I heard from President Trump today concerning the Florida Heartbeat Bill,” McCravy told The Associated Press, after watching Trump’s interview. “It sounded completely out of step with his staunch support for life while he was president.”
McCravy has endorsed South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott in the 2024 GOP presidential primary but told AP last week, “Trump would probably be a close second, noting his Supreme Court appointments and his attending the March for Life rally in Washington.
“Hopefully he will re-think and clarify his position concerning life and the Heartbeat Bill after the political fallout which is sure to come,” McCravy said.
One of the anti-abortion leaders in the battleground state of Arizona posted a segment of the “Meet the Press” interview on X. Cathi Herrod, president of the Center for Arizona Policy, wrote that Trump “has abandoned the pro-life movement.”
“Watch this in its entirety," Herrod wrote. "He criticizes Ron DeSantis for signing heartbeat bill. Won’t commit to a position. Unacceptable. Time to move on.”
Kristen Waggoner, CEO of the conservative legal organization Alliance Defending Freedom, also took issue.
“Laws protecting the unborn are not a ‘terrible mistake.’ They are the hallmark of a just and moral society,” she wrote on X. “Governors who protect life should be applauded, not attacked.”
Burnett reported from Chicago. Associated Press writers Jonathan J. Cooper in Phoenix, Meg Kinnard in Columbia, South Carolina, and Michelle L. Price in New York contributed to this report.
Sara Burnett, The Associated Press