‘Disturbing’ and ‘Inarticulate’: Pro-Life Leaders React to Trump’s Abortion Comments
Pro-life advocates have called Republican presidential front runner Donald Trump’s comments “disturbing” after the 45th president said he will “bring peace” on abortion by negotiating a plan that pleases “both” abortion foes and activists — and attacked some of his rivals’ more comprehensive protections for life.
“I would sit down with both sides, and I’d negotiate something, and we’ll end up with peace on that issue for the first time in 52 years,” President Trump told Kristen Welker on “Meet the Press” Sunday. When asked directly whether he will sign national legislation protecting unborn children from abortion beginning at 15 weeks, he replied, “I’m not going to say I would or I wouldn’t.”
Although Trump initially affirmed a federal role in protecting unborn children, he seemingly demurred as the interview ground on. When Welker asked if he would leave the issue to the states, Trump replied, “No, I don’t think you should be allowed to have abortions well into a pregnancy.” But, he added, “I think it’s probably better” to make it a state issue. “I can live with it either way,” he said, since “the number of weeks is much more important.”
The president portrayed himself as a chief negotiator between pro-life advocates and abortion activists, taking neither position firmly. “I’m almost like a mediator in this case,” he told Welker, who just replaced Chuck Todd as host of the ailing show. When all is said and done, Trump said, “I think both sides are going to like me.”
Pro-life leaders found the president’s comments concerning. “We’re at a moment where we need a human rights advocate, someone who is dedicated to saving the lives of children and serving mothers in need. Every single candidate should be clear on how they plan to do that,” Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of SBA Pro-Life America, told The Washington Stand exclusively. “It begins with focusing on the extremes of the other side — and ambition and common sense on our own.”
Trump’s comments came just a little over 24 hours after he dubbed himself “the most pro-life president in American history” at the 2023 Pray Vote Stand Summit in Washington, D.C.
It’s also politically self-defeating, said Dannenfelser. “Anything later than a 15-week protection for babies in the womb, when science proves they can feel pain, as a national minimum standard makes no sense,” Dannenfelser told TWS. The overwhelming majority, 94% of all abortions, take place before the 15th week of pregnancy. The “Protecting Pain-Capable Unborn Children from Late-Term Abortions” introduced by Senator Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) before the 2022 midterm elections, also contained exceptions for rape and incest.
“You’re standing with the majority of people, 70% when you talk about a 15-week limit. And that not only is closer to the right thing to do, but it’s also the politically smart thing to do,” especially “when you contrast that with an unlimited abortion position,” Dannenfelser told Perkins later on Monday.
The right-to-life movement also took exception when Trump targeted those to his right on the issue of abortion, especially his most successful Republican challenger, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis. DeSantis, he noted, was “willing to sign a … six-week ban.” Just moments before Trump’s speech at the Pray Vote Stand Summit, DeSantis boasted of “enacting the strongest pro-life protections in the modern history of Florida: The Heartbeat Protection Act.”
“I think what he did is a terrible thing and a terrible mistake,” Trump told Welker. “But we’ll come up with a number, but at the same time, Democrats won’t be able to go out at six months, seven months, eight months and allow an abortion.”
Trump also accused candidates who reject abortion for rape or incest of speaking “very inarticulately,” because “other than certain parts of the country, you can’t — you’re not going to win on this issue. But you will win on this issue when you come up with the right number of weeks.”
That brought swift reaction from those who have been trying to create a culture of life in America. “Each child that lives because the line was drawn at heartbeat in Florida is a gift to this world that can never be replaced,” Dannenfelser told Perkins on Monday. “It is not a terrible thing. It’s an awesomely wonderful thing that this governor signed that bill.”
Her concerns resonated across the pro-life movement. Lila Rose of Live Action called Trump’s statements “[p]athetic and unacceptable. Trump is actively attacking the very pro-life laws made possible by Roe’s overturning. Heartbeat Laws have saved thousands of babies. But Trump wants to compromise on babies’ lives so pro-abort Dems ‘like him.’ Trump should not be the GOP nominee.”
“You don’t ‘negotiate’ about how many more children should be killed by the violence of abortion,” said Ryan Bomberger, founder of The Radiance Foundation. “It’s ‘inarticulate’ to fail to be decisive about why every human life matters and should be protected.”
One percent of all abortions involve rape, and “less than half a percent said they became pregnant as a result of incest,” according to the Guttmacher Institute. “I don’t believe I deserve the death penalty, because of the crime of my biological father,” said Pam Stenzel, a pro-life advocate and abstinence education speaker, who was conceived in rape, as was Bomberger.
The DeSantis campaign questioned the political efficacy of a centrist position on an issue where each side increasingly embraces absolutes. “Pro-choice Democrats are not gonna vote for Trump, no matter how liberal he is on abortion (or anything else),” said Christina Pushaw, the rapid response director for the DeSantis campaign, “By going liberal on this issue he just sells out his own voters … which has already happened many times.”
Trump found a few defenders, who noted the pro-life movement has failed to provide a consistent message on the subject. While Fr. Frank Pavone, co-chair of Pro-life Voices for Trump, said “[l]aws protecting babies are good,” pro-life “leaders don’t agree on what pro-life bills to support. Democrats are the extremists on abortion,” he added. “Trump will protect the unborn!”
Commentator Mike Cernovich likened Trump’s answer to a classic values clarification question: the trolley problem. “Five people die if you do nothing. One dies if you flip the switch. Is refusing to act the principled approach? Or is not acting itself an act? This isn’t easy stuff.”
But pro-life leaders say the comments from Trump, who did not attend Iowa’s Faith and Freedom Coalition presidential town hall on Saturday, just made it more difficult to support him. “All he has done has made it very hard for pro-life first voters to dedicate time and money to the 2024 election. And I’m saying this as someone who will be recruiting and sending out 1,000+ volunteers door knocking for anyone who isn’t Joe Biden,” said Kristan Hawkins, president of Students for Life Action, who called Trump’s touted negotiations a “nonsensical strategy.”
If a candidate wishes not to articulate a platform that embraces life, pro-life voters can throw their support behind candidates who will, Dannenfelser said. Neither Trump and DeSantis “are running for the governor of Florida or the past president. They’re running to be the future president. Americans need to hear what that looks like, along the lines of what Mike Pence and Tim Scott have communicated,” she told Perkins.
Trump has highlighted the words of Vice President Kamala Harris, who refused to name any limit she or the Biden administration would support one week earlier during an interview on “Face the Nation.”
“The Senate bill that Democrats and Kamala Harris and Biden support makes it very clear that the child itself has no rights,” Dannenfelser told Perkins of the so-called “Women’s Health Protection” act.
Trump seemed to indicate pro-life leaders had accepted abortion through the first trimester as a result. “Something will happen with the number of weeks, the amount of time, after which you can’t do it. And you know what? The most powerful people that are anti-abortion are okay with that now. And you know what? They weren’t okay with that even a year ago.”
Pro-life reaction to his interview has made clear that statement is Fake News.
Ben Johnson is senior reporter and editor at The Washington Stand.