Donald Trump is facing new backlash from anti-abortion activists for refusing to adhere to national abortion restrictions and calling Florida Governor Ron DeSantis’ signing of a ban on the six-week procedure a ‘terrible mistake’ .
Speaking Sunday on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” Trump repeatedly declined to say whether he would support a federal ban on abortion. He said he could “live” with the procedure being banned by individual states or nationwide through federal action, although he said it is “probably better from a legal perspective” to handle it at the state level.
About the bill signed by DeSantis, which bans abortions before many women know they are pregnant, Trump said: “I think what he did is a terrible thing and a terrible mistake.”
So far, the former president has dominated the 2024 field, at times dismissing the anti-abortion groups that traditionally have enormous influence in Republican primaries. But Trump’s direct attack on DeSantis, whom he has long treated as his main rival, could give the Florida governor new fodder as he tries to regain momentum in his campaign and solidify his position in second place.
Speaking to an Iowa radio station on Monday, DeSantis said he was proud to have signed the Florida legislation, which he called “noble and just.”
“I don’t know how you can even claim that you’re somehow pro-life when you criticize states for enacting pro-life protections for babies,” DeSantis told Radio Iowa.
He also criticized Trump’s statement that he would work with both parties on abortion policy, warning: “I think all pro-lifers should know that he is preparing to sell you out.”
During a campaign stop in Mason City, Iowa, Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina on Monday named other candidates who oppose a national abortion ban but specifically accused Trump of backing down on the issue.
“Frankly, the pro-life people we really want with us are not standing,” he told more than 80 people in a church meeting room. “President Trump said he would negotiate with Democrats and walked back from where I think we need to be, which is a 15-week limit at the federal level.”
After Sunday’s interview, the country’s largest anti-abortion organization, which supports a national ban on abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy, quickly released a statement saying anything less restrictive “doesn’t make sense.”
“We are at a time when we need a human rights lawyer, someone who is committed to saving the lives of children and serving mothers in need. Every candidate should be clear on how they want to do that,” said Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of Susan B. Anthony Pro-Life America.
The Supreme Court ruling overturning Roe v. Wade left the decision on whether and how to restrict abortion up to the states, creating a patchwork of laws across the country, with most Republican-led states creating new imposed restrictions and Democratic-led states passed protections. Twenty-five million women of childbearing age now live in states where abortions are harder to obtain than before the ruling.
Trump approached abortion from a political standpoint, saying the Supreme Court’s decision gave conservatives room to negotiate new restrictions. He has argued that Republicans’ push for abortion restrictions has hurt the GOP in the 2022 midterm elections and that GOP candidates need to do a better job of explaining the issue.
According to an Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research conducted in June, banning abortion after six weeks of pregnancy, as Florida implemented earlier this year, is unpopular with the American public. The poll found that 73% of all American adults believe abortion should be allowed up to six weeks of pregnancy. That is the time when heart activity can be detected in a fetus and before women often know they are pregnant. About half of Americans believe abortions up to 15 weeks should be allowed.
In that poll, 56% of Republicans said abortion should be allowed in their state up to six weeks, and 29% supported making the procedure legal up to 15 weeks.
But in the first Republican caucuses in Iowa, evangelicals and other social conservatives who strongly oppose abortion make up the majority of those participating and determining the winner. Republican Gov. Kim Reynolds this summer signed an abortion ban similar to Florida’s. Reynolds has not endorsed a candidate.
Trump has called himself the “most pro-life president in American history” and noted that three of his Supreme Court picks were part of the conservative majority that overturned Roe.
He has so far declined to join some of his rivals, including his former Vice President Mike Pence, who are pushing for national bans to take effect relatively early in pregnancy.
Interviews with Republican voters and activists in recent months indicate a divide between people satisfied with Trump’s performance in office and others who want Trump to pass a national abortion ban.
Some Republicans in some key states, including those who support his rivals, expressed dismay after the interview.
Among them was South Carolina state Rep. John McCravy, who sponsored the latest restrictive abortion measure, which bans the practice in his state after about six weeks of pregnancy. South Carolina will be one of the first states to elect a candidate. McCravy described himself in an interview as “definitely disappointed.”
“It sounded completely inconsistent with his staunch support for life during his presidency,” he said.
Kristen Wagoner, CEO of the conservative legal organization Alliance Defending Freedom, also objected.
“Laws that protect the unborn are not a ‘terrible mistake.’ They are the hallmark of a just and moral society,” she wrote on X. “Governors who protect life should be applauded, not attacked.”
Kristan Hawkins, president of Students for Life Action, called the interview “extremely disappointing” and sent a letter to Trump asking him to clarify his statements. The organization, one of the largest anti-abortion groups in the U.S., said it is planning a $5 million door-knocking campaign in 2024 but noted that its members were discouraged by Trump’s comments.
“The pro-life vote is there for the taking,” Hawkins said.
“We need clarity on your vision, even as we celebrate your pro-life record.”
Burnett reported from Chicago. Associated Press writers Thomas Beaumont in Mason City, Iowa, Jonathan J. Cooper in Phoenix, Meg Kinnard in Columbia, South Carolina, and Michelle L. Price in New York contributed to this report.