Top anti-abortion activists are still lobbying Donald Trump for a 15-week ban, which they believe should be the Republican Party’s norm.
Their attempts come as Trump not only refuses to support a ban but also portrays some abortion legislation as electorally poisonous. And it is motivated by a desire to avoid the politically awkward spectacle of having to reject the man who not only gave their movement’s greatest victory, but is also likely to be the Republican presidential nominee.
“We will oppose any presidential candidate who refuses to embrace at a minimum a 15-week national standard to stop painful late-term abortions while allowing states to enact further protections,” Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of SBA Pro-Life America, has said of the organization’s 2024 approach.
Dannenfelser termed Trump’s meeting with Dannenfelser, Family Research Council President Tony Perkins, and Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) earlier this month “terrific,” and described Trump’s presidency as “the most consequential in American history for the pro-life cause.” According to two people familiar with the discussion, anti-abortion leaders presented Trump polling on the issue, and they departed with the conclusion that Trump had not ruled out adopting a national law.
But, so far, the former president has claimed credit for overturning Roe v. Wade while refusing to commit to any precise future abortion policy, save one that includes exclusions for victims of rape and incest and cases where the mother’s health is at peril. While movement leaders continue to push for him to support federal legislation, some admit that it may not happen this cycle.
“I believe we’ll end up with a message along the lines of, ‘While we support federal legislation unequivocally, the reality is, most of the action in the near term will take place at the state level, as well as defunding Planned Parenthood and a comprehensive ban on taxpayer funding, all of which will build momentum for federal legislation, and pivoting to the fact that Democrats are the real extremists,” said Ralph Reed, a longtime Christian conservative.
The drive to persuade Trump to support a 15-week ban exemplifies the bigger challenges the anti-abortion movement has faced early in the 2024 GOP primary season, with at least one notable Republican candidate also causing concerns.
Former UN Ambassador Nikki Haley claimed on Sunday that establishing a nationwide abortion ban is “not realistic,” contradicting prior assertions that she would seek “national consensus” before pursuing any federal abortion policies. She has hesitated to identify the stage of pregnancy at which she would support such a restriction, while having signed a prohibition after 20 weeks into law while governor of South Carolina.
Sen. Tim Scott (R-SC) stumbled over concerns regarding federal abortion limits when he launched his exploratory committee last month, but quickly clarified that he would support a federal ban on abortion after 20 weeks of pregnancy. He told the Christian Broadcasting Network earlier this month that he would support a 15-week ban, placing him in line with anti-abortion activists’ current norm. Graham has also proposed a 15-week moratorium in the Senate.
Others, such as former Vice President Mike Pence and Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, have adopted more stringent abortion prohibitions to demonstrate their commitment to the cause, though DeSantis has confined his statements on abortion policy to what he supports in Florida.
Trump, on the other hand, has been evasive in his statements. In an interview with Newsmax, Trump recently stated his support for a countrywide ban. “We’re in a position now where we can get something that the entire country can agree on, and that’s only because I got us out of the Roe v. Wade situation where the pro-life people had nothing to say,” Trump added.
However, in an interview with the Messenger, he noted that “many people in the pro-life movement” believe that a six-week restriction, like as the one signed into law by DeSantis, is “too harsh.” And, in a statement on his social networking site on Wednesday, he conspicuously declined to specify the week beyond which abortions should be prohibited.
Some anti-abortion leaders have expressed frustration and puzzlement in response to his words.
“Who would argue that preventing abortion at six weeks, when the heartbeat is easily detectable, is too harsh?” “I’m not sure where he heard that because it’s not coming from the pro-life movement,” said Kristan Hawkins, president of Students for Life, a relatively new but important anti-abortion group.
Students for Life has contacted campaigns about a presidential primary survey that they would like all candidates to complete by June. It is mulling an endorsement, is actively organising students for the Iowa caucuses, and briefed Republican National Committee members on abortion at the organization’s last summer conference.
“We want to know where the candidates stand, especially if a candidate you know wins and then betrays us,” Hawkins added. “On this issue, we need an unapologetic champion.” If you’re running for federal office, I believe you should be willing to admit that abortion is a federal matter. And I believe it is the bare minimum for anyone running for president for whom we would contemplate supporting voter turnout. “
SBA Pro-Life America has visited with other 2024 candidates, including Vivek Ramaswamy and Haley, who gave a speech at the SBA Pro-Life headquarters in Arlington, Va., in addition to Trump at Mar-a-Lago. Haley declined to promise her support for the group’s 15-week policy goal during her remarks at the group’s office late last month, despite SBA leadership indicating afterwards that she had privately informed them she would. This week, Dannenfelser said Haley’s denial of the viability of such a national law was “not acceptable.”
Meanwhile, Haley’s advisers have stated that she will not ask for a specific week restriction.
Trump has personally and publicly recognised that the GOP’s rhetoric on abortion is politically difficult and may have harmed the midterm elections. And, while he has claimed credit for overturning Roe v. Wade, he has been careful not to overstate his case. Republicans who support no exceptions for abortions, according to Trump, are extremist. He privately expressed sorrow for endorsing Doug Mastriano, a staunch abortion opponent, in the Pennsylvania gubernatorial primary.
While some Republicans blamed abortion for the party’s dismal showing in the 2022 midterm elections, recommendations for the future vary. Republican Party leaders, such as RNC Chair Ronna McDaniel, have said that Republicans should not skirt the issue of abortion, but rather force Democrats to define their positions. The organisation has promoted polling that shows voters support a 15-week ban but not some of the more draconian state laws that have been enacted.
Others have argued that the party should be less defensive and apologetic. Pence, who has not yet formally entered the race but has been attending events across the country, has made his anti-abortion stance a centrepiece of his campaign. He congratulated DeSantis for signing Florida’s six-week abortion ban.
The issue has taken over the early primary season and may soon become considerably more prominent. This July, a summit in Iowa will be organised by the Family Leader, a significant evangelical Christian advocacy group in the state. The event is co-sponsored by SBA.
“I think if you’re a Republican running for president and you show up for that event, you better be willing to be specific about what kind of federal limit you’d support,” said Bob Heckman, a veteran Republican strategist who now advises SBA Pro-Life America but is not speaking on its behalf.
Some important social conservatives are publicly condemning Trump’s recent statements in Iowa, where the caucuses will be the first measure of candidates’ popularity with voters. Instead of waiting for Trump to change his tune, they’ve began to look to other contenders.
“I don’t see it playing out well,” Family Leader president Bob Vander Plaats said of Trump’s current policy position. For a huge number of Republican caucusgoers, “the sanctity of human life is a barometer,” Vander Plaats added, citing prior GOP caucus winners Ted Cruz, Rick Santorum, and Mike Huckabee, all of whom adopted hard-line anti-abortion stances.
“If we can trust you on the life issue, we believe we can trust you on a lot of other issues,” Vander Plaats explained.
Vander Plaats recently sat down with DeSantis for a 212-hour meal in Tallahassee, which he termed as a “getting to know you” session. He and other anti-abortion groups appear delighted with the governor’s candidature, especially after he signed the six-week ban into law. However, DeSantis has also raised concerns in recent weeks, particularly when he refused to mention the six-week law when speaking to conservative groups, including a day after signing the legislation when speaking to Liberty University students.
And, ahead of his upcoming presidential announcement, DeSantis has failed to declare what kind of national abortion policy he would support as president, instead concentrating on his own decision as governor to enact a restrictive law for Florida. DeSantis did not respond to AWN’s question about whether he would support a national ban in Iowa last week. The governor of Florida is scheduled to appear at the Florida Family Policy Council’s annual banquet in Orlando on Saturday.
Vander Plaats also met with Haley on Tuesday and recently hosted Vivek Ramaswamy, a multi-millionaire biotech entrepreneur and anti-woke activist, for lunch at his home. Vander Plaats has met with Pence several times since the 2024 primary season began, and he also met with former Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson at the Family Leader’s offices. Scott and Vander Plaats have spoken on the phone and are still attempting to arrange a meeting. Trump and the Iowa evangelical leader haven’t met since the 2020 campaign, according to Vander Plaats, causing friction between the two.
“Trump is basically saying that our own governor’s abortion bill is too harsh,” said Steve Deace, an Iowa-based conservative commentator, referring to Gov. Kim Reynolds’ support for a Florida-style abortion law.
Deace, who has been a harsh critic of Trump’s 2024 candidature, questioned who the former president was aiming to appeal to by defying the anti-abortion movement’s norms — after previously establishing himself as their saviour.
“I promise you, there is not a single voter in America — not a single carbon-based life form in this country who is thinking to themselves, ‘You know, I was really on the fence about Donald Trump after everything I’ve seen about him since 2015, but he now has this really nuanced abortion position, so I changed my mind.'”
“If you are voting on abortion, Donald Trump is either the person who ended your beloved Roe vs. Wade or the person who ended your dreaded Roe vs. Wade,” Deace explained. “There is nothing more or less. Some attempts to deviate from that are now fruitless.”