Trump’s claim that he’s against a federal abortion ban is a lie

By Renėe Graham, Globe Columnist, Boston Globe, April 10, 2024.

Donald Trump wants to have it both ways.

When he isn’t warning of a “bloodbath’’ if he loses November’s presidential election or dehumanizing migrants with slurs plucked from fascism’s dictionary, Trump is patting himself on the back for helping to unsettle nearly 50 years of settled law on abortion rights.

“For 54 years they were trying to get Roe v. Wade terminated, and I did it and I’m proud to have done it,’’ Trump said in January, a reference to his three conservative Supreme Court nominees whose appointments to the bench doomed a constitutional right to abortion.

But while he loves taking credit for ending Roe, he had ducked questions about whether he favors a national abortion ban, which is high on the to-do list of Republicans. Though Trump recently hinted that he favors a 15-week ban, when the time came to make his long-awaited statement on abortion, he punted.

“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,’’ Trump said in a video statement posted Monday on his Truth Social site. “And whatever they decide must be the law of the land — in this case, the law of the state.’’ He also said that he supports abortion in cases of rape, incest, and if the mother’s life is at risk.

This isn’t a change of heart. It’s a political calculation. Trump admitted as much when he said, “We must also win elections,’’ a signal to his supporters that a more intransigent statement on abortion could prevent that. Since the end of Roe in June 2022, abortion rights have prevailed in all six states where they appeared on the ballot — including conservative states like Ohio, Kentucky, and Kansas. So what the presumptive Republican presidential nominee says now about abortion is unlikely to have any bearing on whatever horrible measures he would probably push if he returns to the White House.

Trump’s vacillating stance on abortion has always been politically driven. In 1999, he described himself as “very pro-choice.’’ By 2011 when he teased a possible 2012 White House run, he told a Conservative Political Action Conference audience that he was “pro-life.’’ When he became a 2016 Republican presidential candidate, he even went so far as to say that if abortion were banned, women should receive “some form of punishment’’ if they had the procedure. Before Trump could elaborate on what that punishment should be, he recanted his alarming statement.

But Trump’s recent middling response to abortion won’t defang Democratic efforts to keep reproductive rights, especially Trump’s role in dismantling Roe v. Wade, as a front-burner 2024 election issue. Not long after Trump’s statement, President Biden’s campaign released a devastating political ad featuring Amanda and Josh Zurawski. In 2022, the Texas woman twice nearly died from sepsis because she was denied the medical care she needed — an abortion — after suffering a miscarriage 18 weeks into her pregnancy. Because of the damage caused by the infection, Zurawski may not be able to get pregnant again.

The stark minute-long ad ends with four words on a black screen: “Donald Trump did this.’’

Trump also did this: His craven statement compelled some conservatives to suspend their usual subservience and publicly air their dissent against the former president.

In a post on X, Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, one of Trump’s most devoted zealots and supporter of a 15-week abortion ban, said, “I respectfully disagree with President Trump’s statement that abortion is a states’ rights issue.’’ Former vice president Mike Pence, who announced last month that he would not be endorsing his former boss, called Trump’s statement a “retreat“ and “a slap in the face to the millions of pro-life Americans who voted for him in 2016 and 2020.’’

Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of Susan B. Anthony Pro-Life America, said Trump’s refusal to back a federal abortion ban “cedes the national debate to the Democrats who are working relentlessly to enact legislation mandating abortion throughout all nine months of pregnancy.’’ No matter how many times that GOP talking point on Democrats and late-term abortions is mentioned, it remains immune to facts.

The same should be said of any belief that Trump, as president, would not support a federal abortion ban. Stripping away basic human rights tracks with Trump’s would-be authoritarianism, but to win in November he’ll tell any lie he deems necessary to achieve his goal.

However much some Republicans are grumbling now about Trump’s statement, don’t expect it to erode their support. Nor should Democrats read his comment as a more moderate stance — not when there are too many women facing the same impossible decisions that nearly cost Zurawski her life.

Regardless of what Trump says now about abortion, remember this: He doesn’t want anyone to forget that he was the primary architect of dismantling Roe. He needn’t worry. We won’t.

Renée Graham is a Globe columnist. She can be reached at renee.graham@globe.com. Follow her @reneeygraham.Image Credits: Maansi Srivastava – NYT

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