President Trump has joined a chorus of Republicans distancing themselves from new state laws banning the vast majority of abortions, though he emphasized what he called a “strongly pro-life” stance he has held throughout his time in the White House.
Without referring specifically to an Alabama law enacted last week that makes performing abortions a felony unless a pregnancy seriously risks a woman’s health, Trump reiterated his position that abortion should be legal following rape or incest.
In a series of tweets shortly before midnight on Saturday, the president wrote that his view is “the same position taken by Ronald Reagan.”
In aligning with the memory of the popular GOP figure, Trump disregarded that Reagan had, as California governor, signed a liberal abortion law. And as president, Reagan nominated to the U.S. Supreme Court the first female justice, Sandra Day O’Connor, who voted to uphold Roe v. Wade, the 1973 Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion nationwide, in later challenges to the ruling.
By injecting himself into the debate over a new crop of strict antiabortion statutes, in Alabama and several other states, the president heightened the divisions emerging with the Republican Party over how far abortion opponents should go.
The sudden spate of state laws — and Trump’s weekend reaction — has ratcheted up the prominence of the issue of reproductive rights in the 2020 presidential campaign.
On Sunday, several of nearly two dozen Democrats running for their party’s nomination chided the GOP for inserting government into a decision they contend women should be free to make — and that public opinion supports.
Speaking on “Fox News Sunday,” Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Amy Klobuchar (Minn.) said the Alabama restrictions, signed into law Wednesday by Gov. Kay Ivey (R), are “dangerous.”
“And when I talk to people, whether they are pro-choice or they are personally opposed to abortion, a lot of them . . . don’t think we should go this direction,” Klobuchar said.
Two other 2020 contenders, Montana Gov. Steve Bullock (D) and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), said a woman should be free to decide whether to have an abortion — in consultation, if she wants, with her doctor and people close to her. “What people are doing, sadly, is creating a political issue out of a medical issue,” Sanders said on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”
Speaking on CBS’s “Face the Nation,” presidential contender Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), said, “I hope America’s women are paying attention because President Trump has started a war on America’s women. And if it’s a fight he wants to have, it’s a fight he’s going to have, and he’s going to lose.”
The most recent poll on the issue by the Kaiser Family Foundation, conducted in late April, found that two-thirds of the public wants Roe v. Wade, the 1973 decision legalizing abortion, to remain in place. Slightly more than half of Republicans disagree.
In his late-night tweets, Trump also cast his position on abortion in the context of his effort to win a second term. “We must stick together and Win for Life in 2020,” the president wrote. “If we are foolish and do not stay UNITED as one, all of our hard fought gains for Life can, and will, rapidly disappear.”
He alluded to the two justices he nominated to the Supreme Court, Neil M. Gorsuch and Brett M. Kavanaugh, writing that they and “Federal Judges (many more to come)” are part of “a whole new & positive attitude about the Right to Life.”
Trump also referred to the so-called Mexico City policy, a rule he reinstated the week he took office in 2017 that blocks U.S. aid to foreign organizations that use money from other sources to discuss or perform abortions. The rule originated in 1984. Since then, it has been reversed each time a Democrat has come into the White House and restored by every Republican president.
Since his campaign, Trump has championed the causes of Christian conservatives, including their opposition to abortion, even though he has not always held that belief. Two decades ago, he told an interviewer that he was “very pro-choice,” saying, “I hate the concept of abortion . . . but you still — I just believe in choice.”
Among his administration’s actions, federal health officials in February rewrote rules for the federal Title X family-planning program to prevent organizations from receiving grants if they provide abortion or refer patients for abortions. Like several steps the administration has taken that appeal to social conservatives, the rule has been blocked temporarily by federal judges while lawsuits against the change play out in court.
In addition to Alabama’s new law, Georgia, Kentucky, Mississippi and Ohio recently adopted statutes that, once they take effect, will ban abortions after doctors can first detect a fetal heartbeat — before many women realize they are pregnant. On Friday, Missouri approved legislation that outlaws abortions after eight weeks of pregnancy; like Alabama’s, the bill does not provide for exceptions in instances of rape or incest. It is expected to be signed into law by Missouri Gov. Mike Parson (R).
Trump tweeted his view two days after Congress’s top two Republicans also distanced themselves from the Alabama law, even though they oppose abortion. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) said the new law “goes further than I believe,” while a spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said he has long supported exceptions in instances of rape, incest or when a woman’s life is endangered by pregnancy.
On Sunday, Republican Sens. Mitt Romney (Utah) and Tom Cotton (Ark.) echoed that view.
Felicia Sonmez and Paul Kane contributed to this report.