Trump's abortion record complicates his attempt to sound moderate

Former President Donald Trump is attempting to project himself as a moderate on abortion, but his own previous statements and governing record provide a number of complications for that strategy.

The clear frontrunner for the 2024 GOP nomination, Trump spoke at length on the issue during an interview that aired Sunday on NBC News' Meet the Press.

Why it matters

Republicans have struggled to find a winning message on abortion rights. Last year's decision by the Supreme Court to overturn Roe v. Wade and strip millions of Americans of abortion access was extremely unpopular and has led to immense blowback for Republicans at the ballot box, including in states Trump won twice like Ohio and Kansas.

Trump said he felt his fellow Republicans spoke “very inarticulately” on the subject. Yet he avoided specifics on what he would do if reelected — including whether he’d sign a ban at the federal level, how many weeks of pregnancy he would allow before a ban went into effect and whether the issue should be decided by the states or Congress.

Trump also reiterated the false claim that babies are sometimes killed after being born in states run by Democrats, attempting to paint his opponents as the radicals on the issue. "It's already a crime to kill babies, but not necessarily a crime to forgo sophisticated medical intervention in cases where severe fetal abnormalities leave a newborn with no chance of survival," the Associated Press explained in a 2019 fact-check of Trump's comments on the issue.

The former president went on to insist that he could find a solution that would be acceptable to both sides of the issue.

“Let me just tell you what I’d do. I’m going to come together with all groups, and we’re going to have something that’s acceptable,” Trump said, adding, “I think both sides are going to like me.”

Trump’s record on abortion

A potential issue with Trump pledging to bring together both sides is his extensive history with reproductive rights. He appointed three Supreme Court justices who all voted to overturn abortion protections in the country — fulfilling a campaign promise — and bragged in May that "I'm the one who got rid of Roe v. Wade."

A judge Trump appointed to the district court also ruled against the use of a popular abortion drug earlier this year.

Trump's pledge to get everyone in a room and find consensus on an issue is reminiscent of his comments on health care throughout the 2016 campaign and his four years in office, stating that an "incredible" policy that would cover every American was always just a couple weeks or months away from being unveiled. Trump left office without ever introducing such a plan.

The Republican frontrunner also took aim at Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis during the interview, calling his rival's decision to quietly sign a bill banning abortions after six weeks of pregnancy back in April "a terrible thing and a terrible mistake." Other states have also put six-week bans into effect, which medical experts say is essentially an outright ban because the vast majority of individuals don't know they're pregnant until later.

Such bans are only possible at the state level due to the overturning of Roe. Trump faced criticism from anti-abortion groups earlier this year for his criticism of the six-week ban.

During his long career in the public eye, Trump has taken various positions on abortion. While considering a run for president in 2000, Trump declared he was "very pro-choice" despite saying he personally abhorred the procedure.

And while publicly taking credit for the Supreme Court's decision to overturn Roe, he reportedly told others in private that the decision would be "bad for Republicans," according to The New York Times.

How Americans feel about abortion rights

A Yahoo News/YouGov poll earlier this year found that six-week bans had just 28% support nationwide, versus 52% opposition.

That same poll found that 52% of Americans favored the idea of Congress passing a law that “keeps abortion as legal and accessible nationwide as it had been under Roe v. Wade,” versus 30% opposed, with support for a nationwide ban after 15 weeks of pregnancy was split at 39% to 39%, with 22% of respondents not sure.

Meanwhile, Politico reported in June that the Supreme Court's decision to overturn Roe had made Americans much more supportive of abortion rights.

In Virginia, Democrats hope that voters' hostility to abortion restrictions will carry them to victory in the closely-watched state legislature elections this November. Virginia's Republican governor, Glenn Youngkin, favors a 15-week abortion ban, but has largely focused on other issues while campaigning for GOP candidates.

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