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Trump declines to back nationwide abortion ban, says it should be left to the states

Former President Trump says abortion policy should be left to the states.
Megan Briggs
Getty Images
Former President Trump says abortion policy should be left to the states.

Updated April 8, 2024 at 11:02 AM ET

Former President Donald Trump on Monday made a long-awaited announcement on abortion policy, saying abortion should be left up to the states. He did not mention a nationwide abortion ban, which many of his supporters hoped he would endorse.

"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 said in a videoposted on Truth, his social media platform.

Trump's position on abortion had been unclear throughout the Republican presidential primary. Pressure had been mounting on him as the presumptive GOP nominee to make his views clear. Just weeks ago, Trump had said he would consider supporting a 15-week federal abortion ban.

The announcement comes as an increasing number of Republican-led states have worked to restrict abortion rights. Last week, the Florida Supreme Court allowed the state's six-week ban on abortion to go into effect on May 1. Six weeks of gestation is before most women know they're pregnant.

In his video, Trump claimed credit for the U.S. Supreme Court's overturning of Roe v. Wade, its 1973 decision that said women had a constitutional right to have an abortion. As president, Trump appointed three justices to the court, giving it a 6-3 conservative supermajority.

Trump's video also contained multiple lies, including mischaracterizations of legal scholars' views on Roe v. Wade, as well as mischaracterizations of Democratic stances on abortion.

A muddled Republican message

Trump's delay in announcing a clear policy reflects a Republican Party that has struggled to formulate a unified message on abortion. His announcement also shows that he is attempting to triangulate his views to appeal to the broadest possible audience.

In his video, Trump instructed voters to "follow your heart" on abortion, seemingly a nod to voters with more restrictive views than his. However, he also said "we have to win" — an acknowledgement that restrictive abortion policies are not popular among the broad electorate.

Since the overturn of Roe in 2022, voters have repeatedly voted in favor of greater abortion rights in state-level ballot measures, even in red states like Kansas and Kentucky.

That demonstrated popularity of abortion rights has complicated Republican politics, as candidates try to appeal to white evangelicals, who broadly oppose abortion, while also winning more voters with more moderate views.

Conservative reactions: tepid to "deeply disappointed"

Reactions to Trump's announcement from anti-abortion-rights groups have been mixed so far. Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the organization Susan B. Anthony Pro-Life America, said in a statement, "We are deeply disappointed in President Trump's position." She added that in saying abortion is a state-level issue, Trump "cedes the national debate to the Democrats."

Meanwhile, the group Students for Life of Action responded more positively, if tepidly. Group President Kristan Hawkins made it clear in a statement that the group supports Trump as an opponent of abortion rights.

But she added that she hopes that as president, Trump would move in a more restrictive direction: "We clearly have some work to do to educate the Trump Administration to come on the many ways that abortion has been made federal," she said. She later added, "Your state lines should never mean the beginning or end of your human rights."

The issue of abortion has become pivotal ahead of the 2024 presidential election. Voters will decide ballot measures about abortion in three states, including Florida, this November. In addition, several other states, including the battlegrounds of Arizona and Nevada, may also have such measures on the ballot.

Supporters of abortion rights are hoping that those measures will drive turnout among voters who support those rights, helping power Democrats to greater wins.

The Biden campaign has been emphasizing Trump's responsibility for Roe's overturn throughout this year's campaign. They responded to Trump's announcement Monday by quickly cutting and reposting the portion of Trump's video where he says he is "proudly the person responsible" for overturning Roe.

In a campaign statement, Biden also accused Trump of being misleading about his true position on abortion: "If Donald Trump is elected and the MAGA Republicans in Congress put a national abortion ban on the Resolute Desk, Trump will sign it into law."

Copyright 2024 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Danielle Kurtzleben is a political correspondent assigned to NPR's Washington Desk. She appears on NPR shows, writes for the web, and is a regular on The NPR Politics Podcast. She is covering the 2020 presidential election, with particular focuses on on economic policy and gender politics.