Donald Trump is facing blowback from conservatives and anti-abortion activists for calling a ban on abortion after six weeks “a terrible thing and a terrible mistake” in an interview that aired on NBC’s “Meet the Press” over the weekend.
It’s the latest contortion for the former president who made such laws possible with his appointment of three conservative justices to the U.S. Supreme Court who joined in overturning Roe v. Wade last year. Yet Trump also seems to recognize the broad unpopularity of extreme abortion restrictions ahead of another likely campaign against President Joe Biden in 2024.
Kim Reynolds, the popular Republican governor of Iowa, an early presidential nominating state that Trump is seeking to win, on Tuesday spoke out against Trump’s comments without referring to him by name.
“It’s never a ‘terrible thing’ to protect innocent life. I’m proud of the fetal heartbeat bill the Iowa legislature passed and I signed in 2018 and again earlier this year,” Reynolds wrote on X, the website formerly known as Twitter.
Marjorie Dannenfelser, the president of the anti-abortion group Susan B. Anthony Pro-Life America, also pushed back against Trump’s comments, saying he was “wrong” to attack Florida governor and rival presidential candidate Ron DeSantis for signing a similar measure into law in his state.
“He’s criticizing a law and lawmaker that acted, following the will of the people, on what he made possible through [the reversal of Roe v. Wade],” Dannenfelser said. “We urge Trump and DeSantis to focus on their concrete pro-life plan for the future and contrast that with [Joe] Biden. He is their opponent.”
Since the fall of Roe v. Wade, many Republican-controlled states have passed so-called “heartbeat” bills banning abortion as soon as fetal electrical impulses can be detected, in about the sixth week of pregnancy. But the GOP’s extreme anti-abortion policies have repeatedly cost them at the ballot box, in state elections, on referendums and in congressional races, generating anxiety in some Republican circles.
“In order to win in 2024, Republicans must learn how to talk about Abortion. This issue cost us unnecessarily, but dearly, in the Midterms,” Trump wrote Tuesday on his social media platform Truth Social, making it clear he supported exceptions to the bans in cases of rape and incest and to save the life of the mother.
Though Trump’s abortion comments prompted criticism from anti-abortion groups and even some 2024 rivals, including his former vice president, Mike Pence, they had little effect on congressional Republicans.
Several GOP senators who have endorsed Trump’s 2024 bid said this week that his position on abortion ― which is all over the place ― wouldn’t cause them to reconsider their endorsement.
“He’s got his own opinion on where it should be. I think the central theme was is he was glad [the question of abortion] was returned to the states, and I’m OK with that,” Sen. Mike Braun (R-Ind.) said Tuesday.
Asked if he agreed with Trump that “heartbeat” bills are a “terrible thing,” Sen. Steve Daines (R-Mont.) praised the ex-president for doing “more for advancing the cause of protecting the unborn than any president of my lifetime.”
But other GOP senators who have said they won’t support Trump in 2024 criticized him for waffling on an issue they and other conservatives feel strongly about.
“He wants to say he’s the most pro-life president and then he says maybe not. I’m sure he’s trying to make a play for Iowa evangelicals and others,” Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-La.) told HuffPost.
“Must be poll-tested since it came out of President Trump’s mouth,” added Sen. Todd Young (R-Ind.), another Trump critic.
Democrats, meanwhile, said that Trump’s comments wouldn’t fool anyone and that it would be difficult to fudge his record on abortion rights in a general election campaign.
“He’s the most damaging force to women’s reproductive health care in our lifetime, period,” Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) said. “Abortion would not be illegal in dozens of states today if not for Donald Trump.
“He, like many other Republicans, have realized that there’s a huge political downside to being on the wrong side of 70% of American women. He’s not going to fool anybody.”