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Trump called Florida's 6-week abortion ban a 'terrible mistake.' He'll say more on the issue next week

Max Greenwood, Miami Herald on

Published in Political News

MIAMI — Well before Donald Trump stormed onto the political scene nearly a decade ago, he was far from a staunch opponent of abortion rights.

“I’m very pro-choice,” Trump said in a 1999 interview on NBC’s “Meet the Press.” “I hate the concept of abortion. I hate it. I hate everything it stands for. I cringe when I listen to people debating the subject. But you still — I just believe in choice.”

But in the years since he became the GOP’s standard bearer, Trump’s position on abortion rights has become increasingly complicated.

He has bragged about the fact that he appointed three of the U.S. Supreme Court justices that helped overturn Roe v. Wade, while also criticizing members of his own party for going too far to clamp down on abortion access, even blaming those restrictions in part for the Republican Party’s worse-than-expected performance in the 2022 midterm elections.

Now, Florida’s most famous resident is facing political pressure once again after a pair of court rulings in his home state. One of those decisions effectively allowed a six-week abortion ban to go into effect in the state, while the other allowed a proposed constitutional amendment that would guarantee abortion rights until fetal viability to appear on the ballot in November.

“Trump has tried to dance around the issue for years,” said former Republican U.S. Rep. Carlos Curbelo. “He knows there’s a lot of risk for him, and so he’s tried to have it both ways, claiming a major victory with the overturning of Roe and criticizing policies he thinks are too strict.”

With the issue of abortion on the ballot in Florida, Curbelo said, Democrats are virtually guaranteed to link the former president to broader Republican efforts to restrict access to the procedure.

“He’s going to be identified with a more restrictive approach to abortion so to the extent that drives voter behavior there are real risks for him,” Curbelo said.

Since the Florida Supreme Court handed down its decisions on Monday afternoon, Trump — who will have a chance to vote on whether to expand abortion access in his state when he presumably casts a ballot in support of his presidential bid this fall — has mostly remained silent on the matter.

Asked during a stop in Michigan on Tuesday about the six-week abortion ban in Florida, Trump said that he’ll “be making a statement next week on abortion.”

Brian Hughes, a senior adviser to Trump’s campaign, said in a statement that the former president believes in “preserving life but has also made clear that he supports states’ rights because he supports the voters’ right to make decisions for themselves.”

“Where President Trump thinks voters should have the last word, Biden and many Democrats want to allow abortion up until the moment of birth and force taxpayers to pay for it,” Hughes said.

Proponents of Amendment 4 — the ballot measure to secure abortion access in Florida up to the point of viability — say that the proposed amendment would not legalize abortion up until the point of birth, arguing that “viability” is generally understood to be around 24 weeks of pregnancy. Abortion critics note that the ballot question would also allow for the procedure “when necessary to protect the patient’s health, as determined by the patient’s healthcare provider,” though only about 1% of all abortions happen after 21 weeks, and rarely, if ever, at birth, according to the non-partisan, non-profit health policy organization KFF.

 

Regardless, the ballot measure and the state’s six-week abortion ban, which will go into effect next month, has at least partially re-framed the 2024 election in Florida and exposed Trump to political attacks on an issue that Republicans acknowledge he would rather not deal with.

“I don’t think he wants this election to be about abortion,” said Alex Conant, a Republican strategist who worked on U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio’s unsuccessful 2016 presidential campaign. “He wants it to be about immigration and the economy.”

Conant said that since launching his political career in 2015, Trump has had “a very transactional relationship with the pro-life movement.” In exchange for the support of pro-life and religiously conservative Republican voters, Conant said, Trump promised to take up their causes, including setting the stage for Roe v. Wade to be overturned.

“I don’t think that anybody thinks that he’s a person of deep convictions,” Conant said. “He’s been on every side of that issue. He struck a deal with the pro-life movement that if they backed him, he’d deliver for them.”

While anti-abortion causes have helped endear many socially and religiously conservative voters to Trump, many Americans remain skeptical of new restrictions. Since the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade in 2022, voters across the country — including in Republican-leaning states — have either voted to enshrine abortion rights in state law or rejected ballot measures to remove abortion protections from their state constitutions.

Trump has broken with some of his party’s staunchest anti-abortion hardliners, at times. Last year, after Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis signed the six-week abortion ban into law, Trump called the law a “terrible mistake.” He has expressed interest in a federal 15-week ban on the procedure, while also saying that the issue of abortion rights is best left to the states.

“Everybody agrees — you’ve heard this for years — all the legal scholars on both sides agree it’s a state issue,” Trump said in an interview with New York City radio host Sid Rosenberg last month. “It shouldn’t be a federal issue, it’s a state issue.”

Democrats are hopeful that the Florida Supreme Court’s rulings on Monday will give them a jolt of momentum in a state that has become increasingly favorable to the GOP in recent years by driving up voter turnout and giving them a powerful line of attack against Republicans. Trump won Florida in 2016 and 2020.

On Tuesday, in the wake of the Florida decision, President Joe Biden’s reelection campaign unveiled a new ad accusing Trump of aspiring “to pass a national ban on a woman’s right to choose.” At the same time, a group of congressional Democrats, including U.S. Reps. Debbie Wasserman Schultz and Jared Mosowitz, held a hearing in Fort Lauderdale, where they assailed Republicans for pursuing increasingly tough restrictions on abortion and other forms of reproductive health care.

Asked by the Miami Herald on Tuesday about Trump’s role in the abortion debate, Wasserman Schultz, who represents a wide swath of southern Broward County, said that Trump bears responsibility for the current efforts to restrict abortion access in Florida and across the country, noting that he appointed U.S. Supreme Court justices “with the intent … of overturning Roe v. Wade.”

“Donald Trump is the ringleader of where we are and how we got here,” Wasserman Schultz said.

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©2024 Miami Herald. Visit miamiherald.com. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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