COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — A major anti-abortion group blasted former President Donald Trump on the issue Thursday, saying his contention that abortion restrictions should be left up to individual states, not the federal government, is a “morally indefensible position for a self-proclaimed pro-life presidential candidate.”
The Susan B. Anthony Pro-Life America group was responding to a statement by Trump campaign spokesperson Steven Cheung for a Washington Post story about division among the 2024 GOP presidential field on abortion-related issues. The group has said it would not support any White House candidate who did not at a minimum support a 15-week federal abortion ban.
“The Supreme Court made clear in its decision that it was returning the issue to the people to decide through their elected representatives in the states and in Congress,” the group’s president, Marjorie Dannenfelser, said in a news release. “Holding to the position that it is exclusively up to the states is an abdication of responsibility by anyone elected to federal office.”
The condemnation by one of the nation’s largest anti-abortion groups amounted to a stunning rebuke of the former president, the leading contender for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination. His three nominations of conservative judges to the Supreme Court paved the way for the reversal of Roe v Wade, which had legalized abortion nationwide for nearly 50 years.
Cheung had told the Post that “President Donald J. Trump believes that the Supreme Court, led by the three Justices which he supported, got it right when they ruled this is an issue that should be decided at the State level.”
Trump has referred to himself as “the most pro-life president in American history.” But in the early months of his 2024 bid, he has often sidestepped the issue of abortion, even as Republicans across the country celebrate the Supreme Court decision stripping federal constitutional rights to abortion. He won’t be among the GOP hopefuls gathering this weekend at the Iowa Faith and Freedom Coalition’s spring kickoff but will instead be speaking to the group by video.
Last month in Iowa, Trump repeatedly refused to say whether he would support a federal law restricting abortion in every state, a move that anti-abortion activists have been demanding of the GOP’s presidential contenders.
“We’re looking at a lot of different things,” Trump said when asked twice by the AP whether he supports a federal abortion ban.
Dannenfelser said in the statement Thursday that “life is a matter of human rights, not states’ rights” and that Trump’s characterization of last year’s Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization case was wrong.
“President Trump’s assertion that the Supreme Court returned the issue of abortion solely to the states is a completely inaccurate reading of the Dobbs decision and is a morally indefensible position for a self-proclaimed pro-life presidential candidate to hold,” she said.
Pointing to a 2021 social media post from Dannenfelser’s organization calling Trump “the most pro-life president in U.S. history,” a spokesman for Trump’s campaign also noted, “Even though much work remains to be done to defend the cause of life, President Trump believes it is in the States where the greatest advances can now take place to protect the unborn.”
All of the candidates running in the Republican presidential primary or moving toward a bid have supported state bans on abortion. Most have been much more cautious about staking a position on a nationwide ban, though entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy’s campaign has said he believes it’s an issue for the states, not the federal government.
Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina, who launched a presidential exploratory committee last week, has said he would support a federal law to prohibit abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis last week signed a state abortion ban that, if upheld by the courts, would ban the procedure after six weeks of pregnancy, or before many women know they are pregnant. It will take effect only if the state Supreme Court, which is controlled by conservatives, upholds Florida’s current 15-week ban that is part of an ongoing legal challenge. The Florida ban would be one of the toughest in the U.S. But DeSantis has not made clear his position on whether such restrictions should be imposed across the country.
Nikki Haley, the former South Carolina governor and one-time United Nations ambassador, has called abortion a “personal issue” that should be left to the states, though she has left open the possibility of a federal ban. Haley is scheduled to give a speech on abortion next week.
Former Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson, campaigning in Iowa, stopped short of saying whether he would support a federal six- or 15-week ban as president. “Obviously I would want to look at the bill,” said Hutchinson, who as governor signed a law banning abortion after six weeks of pregnancy.
Trump’s stance has provided an opening on the right for potential rivals like former Vice President Mike Pence, an evangelical Christian with long-held anti-abortion views.
Pence’s advocacy group, Advancing American Freedom, has pushed for Congress to pass legislation including a national abortion ban beginning around six weeks.
Associated Press writer Sara Burnett in Chicago contributed to this report.
Meg Kinnard can be reached at http://twitter.com/MegKinnardAP