WASHINGTON — Pro-life leaders criticized comments made by former President Donald Trump that appeared to reject proposals of a national abortion limit at 15 weeks and called some state abortion bans “terrible.”
In an interview on NBC’s “Meet the Press” that aired Sept. 17, Trump declined to specify what — if any — federal legislation he would be willing to sign on abortion should he win the opportunity to return to the White House. But he took aim at six-week abortion bans, including one signed by a primary rival.
Asked by the program’s new host, Kristen Welker, if he would sign federal legislation that would ban abortion at 15 weeks, Trump replied, “No.”
“No, no,” Trump said. “Let me just tell you what I’d do. I’m going to come together with all groups, and we’re going to have something that’s acceptable.”
Trump called Democrats “radicals” on the issue, but when pressed for specifics on what he would support, Trump deflected.
“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,” Trump said. “I’m not going to say I would or I wouldn’t.”
Referring to his Republican primary rival Gov. Ron DeSantis as “DeSanctus” — DeSantis is a Catholic — Trump said the Florida governor “is willing to sign a five-week and six-week ban,” an apparent reference to a six-week ban signed by DeSantis that is not currently in effect amid a legal challenge.
“I think what he did is a terrible thing and a terrible mistake,” Trump said of DeSantis’ signature on that legislation. “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.”
According to the Guttmacher Institute, a research firm for the abortion industry, nearly 9 out of 10 abortions take place within the first 12 weeks of pregnancy, with 65% of abortions taking place within the first eight weeks. About 5.4% of abortions take place at 16 weeks and beyond — abortions definitely affected by a 15-week abortion ban — with just 1.3% of abortions taking place at five months of pregnancy or beyond.
The DeSantis campaign in a post on X, formerly known as Twitter, stated, “Trump says he will compromise with Democrats on abortion so that they’re nice to him: ‘Both sides are going to like me.’ Then he says it’s ‘a terrible thing’ babies with heartbeats are protected in Iowa, Florida, and South Carolina.” DeSantis, the post said, “will NEVER sell out conservatives to win praise from corporate media or the Left.”
The group Advancing American Freedom, founded by former Vice President Mike Pence, Trump’s former running mate and a rival for their party’s presidential nomination, criticized Trump’s comments in a statement as “extremely worrying.”
“Creating a culture of life requires courage, vision, and leadership — not political triangulation,” said Paul Teller, the group’s executive director. “There is no more important cause than life. We already have one party in this country that has abandoned the cause. Lord help us if we have two.”
In a statement, Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of SBA Pro-Life America, a group that works to elect anti-abortion candidates to public office, said, “Trump is criticizing a law and lawmaker that acted, following the will of the people, on what he made possible through the Dobbs Decision.”
“Both Trump and DeSantis should focus on their concrete pro-life plan for the future and contrast that with Biden,” Dannenfelser said. “He is their opponent.”
SBA has called for the eventual Republican presidential nominee to support federal legislation limiting elective abortions to 15 weeks, although a small number of candidates in the field have done so to date: Pence, South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott and former Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson have said they would support such legislation.
“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,” Dannenfelser said, adding, “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.”
Jeanne Mancini, president of the national March for Life organization, echoed that call, saying, “Nearly half of the states across our nation have chosen to pass pro-life protections for unborn children whose heartbeat can be detected, thereby saving thousands of innocent and unrepeatable lives.”
Mancini said that “there is no reason why any politician, particularly one who claims to be pro-life, cannot support lifesaving measures, with at least a minimum 15-week federal standard which protects children past the point at which they can feel pain.”
Some pro-life advocates credit Trump for the reversal of Roe v. Wade by nominating three justices who later voted to overturn that ruling. Others question his sincerity on abortion for a variety of reasons, including his lack of a clear measure he supports in a post-Roe landscape, or comments blaming pro-life voters for Republicans underperforming in the 2022 midterm elections.
In a statement, Brian Burch, president of CatholicVote — the political advocacy group is independent of the Catholic Church — said Trump’s remarks “have sparked concerns among Catholics over whether he is committed to leading on this issue in the way he did during his first term.”
“Pro-life Catholic voters helped deliver him the White House in 2016, and a record number of votes in 2020,” Burch said. “He cannot expect to win again without these same voters. Any Republican presidential hopeful must draw a clear contrast to the extreme, taxpayer-funded, unlimited abortion agenda of Joe Biden.”
Destiny Herndon-De La Rosa, founder and president of New Wave Feminists, told OSV News that “for Trump the pro-life cause was always a business deal.”
“He’s never understood the sanctity of human life, because if he did, his four years in office would’ve looked very different,” Herndon-De La Rosa said. “The pro-life movement touts him as the ‘most pro-life president ever’ for some ridiculous reason; but no, he’s a businessman and they simply made a deal with the devil.”
Kristen Day, executive director of Democrats for Life, told OSV News that while her organization “has endorsed previous heartbeat laws, the debate over a national abortion limitation law is detracting from the accomplishments of the pro-life community to provide a pathway to parenthood instead of abortion.”
“The number of pregnancy support facilities continues to grow,” Day said. “Pro-life states, like Texas, are increasing state funding for their abortion alternative programs, and we are seeing bipartisan support to address the child care cliff and making birth free.”
Day said it is “not the time for a national heartbeat law, nor are there the votes to pass a federal one.”
Another of Trump’s pro-life GOP rivals, South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, made a similar point stating a national abortion ban is “not realistic.”
“We need to reframe the debate on abortion and utilize what is happening in the states to show what is working and what is not to promote support and options for pregnant women,” Day said. “The Roe era is over. It is time to have a real discussion based on real experiences and move on from soundbite politics that people use to get elected. Women deserve better. Babies deserve better. America deserves better.”