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Tuesday, June 25, 2024

Trump says he wouldn’t sign federal abortion ban


Donald Trump said Wednesday he would not sign a national abortion ban if elected to the White House again, reversing a promise the former president made as a candidate in 2016 and stood by during his first term in office.

Trump’s latest shift on abortion is a remarkable position for a Republican presidential nominee and it is illustrative of Trump’s desire to make one of his greatest political liabilities disappear. It follows a lengthy statement released Monday in which Trump said that states and voters should decide how and when to restrict abortion but left unclear how far he would take that approach.

Appearing on a tarmac Wednesday in Atlanta, Trump provided a more definitive answer. Asked if he would sign a national abortion ban if it passed Congress, the former president shook his head: “No.”

“You wouldn’t sign it?” the reporter asked.

“No,” Trump said again.

The response came a day after Trump’s first-term drive to overturn Roe v. Wade crystalized in a battleground state critical to his third White House bid. In a stunning decision out of Arizona, the state Supreme Court there ruled Tuesday that the state must adhere to a 160-year-old law barring all abortions “except those necessary to save a woman’s life.” The law at the center of the ruling predates Arizona’s statehood.

Trump in Atlanta sought to distance himself from the Arizona ruling, even as he again took credit for the US Supreme Court decision that allowed for it. The campaign for President Joe Biden, already airing ads in swing states tying the presumptive Republican nominee to the country’s most restrictive abortion laws, immediately dismissed Trump’s latest abortion salvo as meritless.

“Donald Trump owns the suffering and chaos happening right now, including in Arizona, because he proudly overturned Roe – something he called ‘an incredible thing’ and ‘pretty amazing’ just today,” Biden campaign spokesman Michael Tyler said. “Trump lies constantly – about everything – but has one track record: banning abortion every chance he gets.”

As a 2016 presidential candidate, Trump embraced a federal abortion ban as he sought to consolidate Republican support for his unexpected ascension to GOP nominee. He sent a letter to anti-abortion leaders committing to signing legislation that would have criminalized abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy, with exceptions for instances in which the life of the mother is at risk or cases involving rape or incest.

Trump reiterated his support for the bill in 2018 when he was president, saying at a March for Life rally, “I strongly supported the House of Representatives’ ‘Pain-Capable’ bill, which would end painful, late-term abortions nationwide, and I call upon the Senate to pass this important law and send it to my desk for signing.”

But Trump had been less clear on his stance on a national ban since the US Supreme Court – led by three of his nominees – overturned the federal right to an abortion in 2022, making what was once a symbolic legislative cause into an achievable outcome.

Throughout the 2024 Republican presidential primary, Trump avoided definitive statements that could provide fodder for Democrats in a general election or for his GOP rivals competing for the nomination. He regularly dodged questions from reporters on the subject and publicly acknowledged that the politically fraught issue had hurt Republican candidates, particularly those who didn’t support exceptions in the cases of rape, incest and when the life of the mother was in danger.

In recent months, Trump had suggested he could back a 15-week abortion ban, saying in a radio interview last month “15 weeks seems to be a number that people are agreeing at.” However, he ultimately sided with advisers who encouraged him to punt the issue to the states.

Now his party’s presumptive presidential nominee, Trump’s attempts to navigate a thorny election-year issue has resulted in confusing signals for a GOP that has fought for decades to essentially outlaw the procedure. And it raises significant hurdles for Republicans’ longtime allies in the anti-abortion movement, already reeling from recent losses at the ballot box and facing more ballot measures in key battleground states this fall.

Trump on Wednesday reaffirmed his preference for states to determine the fate of abortion access in the country, saying, “States are handling it.”

“And some have handled it very well, and the others will end up handling it very well,” he said.

Yet Trump also effectively undermined how two states have handled the aftermath of the Supreme Court’s Dobbs decision that eliminated federal abortion protections.

He told reporters he thought the Arizona Supreme Court went too far in its ruling and said he thought it would be “straightened out.” An effort was already underway in the state to advance a ballot initiative that would guarantee abortion access.

“That’ll be straightened out, and I’m sure the governor and everyone else are going to bring it back into reason and that will be taken care of, I think, very quickly,” Trump said.

Trump added, “Arizona is going to definitely change. Everybody wants that to happen.”

Not everybody. Anti-abortion advocate Marjorie Dannenfelser, the presdient of Susan B. Anthony Pro-Life America and a onetime Trump ally, praised the Arizona ruling Tuesday as an “enormous victory for unborn children and their mothers.”

Similarly, the former president also suggested that a six-week abortion ban that will soon take effect in Florida was “probably going to change” this fall when voters – including Trump, a resident of the Sunshine State – will weigh in on a referendum that could guarantee access to the procedure in the state’s constitution.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who signed the six-week ban into law and then campaigned on it against Trump in the GOP primary, recently said he expected the referendum not to pass.

“Once voters figure out how radical both of those are, they’re going to fail,” DeSantis said earlier this month, referring to the abortion rights amendment and another that would legalize recreational marijuana. “They are very, very extreme.”

In a statement Wednesday shortly after Trump spoke, Dannenfelser made clear where her organization expected Republicans to stand on abortion-related ballot measure in Arizona and Florida.

“Pro-life candidates and officials must oppose them,” she said.

Even as Trump distanced himself Wednesday from the contentious outcomes stemming from the post-Roe status quo he helped create, the former president embraced another one. Asked in Atlanta if doctors who perform abortions should be punished, Trump said he would “let that be to the states.”

“Everything we’re doing now is states and states’ rights,” he said. “And what we wanted to do is get it back to the states.”

This story has been updated with additional information.

CNN’s Shania Shelton contributed to this report.

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