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How Trump plays the media on abortion
Since the fall of Roe v. Wade, abortion has been a losing issue for Republicans. This was evident in this year’s election: in Ohio, voters approved a constitutional amendment to enshrine abortion rights. In Kentucky, pro-choice Governor Andy Beshear (D) won his re-election against a candidate who staunchly defended the state’s abortion ban. And, in Virginia, a state where Republican Governor Glenn Youngkin recently embraced a 15-week abortion ban, Democrats secured majorities in both chambers of the statehouse.
As the GOP suffers major losses from its stance on abortion, however, major media outlets have portrayed former president Donald Trump's stances on abortion as less extreme. Over the last few months, mainstream media — including the New York Times, the Associated Press, and Politico — have portrayed Trump as “moderate” on abortion rights.
This week, for example, a New York Times headline described Trump as “Less Vulnerable on Abortion Than Other Republicans.” The subheadline noted that his “vague statements on the issue may give him some leeway with voters.”
Unlike his Republican rivals, who have “struggle[d] to address shifting views on abortion,” Trump has “effectively neutralized abortion as an issue during the Republican primary,” according to the New York Times analysis. The piece claims that “Mr. Trump has distanced himself from more restrictive abortion laws, favored by some in his party, seeming to recognize their unpopularity.” The story glosses over Trump’s actual record and policy positions, instead framing him as someone who has “been on many sides of the abortion issue over the years.”
An Associated Press (AP) article published last noted that Trump says he “would negotiate with Democrats on abortion legislation.” The article notably gave zero details on what such a “negotiation” would entail and did not challenge the plausibility of the idea.
Similarly, a Politico article from September claimed that Trump has taken a "moderate turn on abortion" and "boxed in the deep-pocketed anti-abortion groups." The article ends with a discussion of how “[s]ome Democrats and abortion rights activists are also worried Trump’s calls for compromise and moderation could win people over.”
Trump's commentary on abortion has received similar treatment in other prominent outlets. Semafor reported that Trump had adopted a "general election" strategy and is "pivoting to positions that are to the left of many social conservatives." Newsweek claims Trump has warned Republicans "to get realistic about abortion."
Trump has played this game before. In 2016, Trump made headlines after saying during an interview that he would change the Republican party platform to create exceptions for abortion bans. “Trump Calls For GOP To Moderate Its Platform On Abortion,” an NPR headline blared.
But there was nothing moderate about how Trump dealt with abortion in his first term. And there is nothing to suggest that his second term will be anything different.
Trump's record on abortion — and his plans for a second term
Trump has repeatedly described himself as the “most pro-life president in American history.” During his term as president, he appointed three conservative Supreme Court Justices who voted to overturn Roe v. Wade. Trump celebrated the court’s decision, calling it, “the biggest WIN for LIFE in a generation.” Trump bragged that overturning Roe was “only made possible because I delivered everything as promised.” At an event in Iowa in September, Trump said that “last year I was able to do something that nobody thought was possible… we ended Roe v. Wade,” adding, “I got the job done. I got it done.”
Trump has also taken credit for the extreme abortion bans that were passed in states across the country after Roe was overturned. In a post on Truth Social, Trump said, “Without me there would be no 6 weeks, 10 weeks, 15 weeks, or whatever is finally agreed to.”
If elected in 2024, Trump has promised to continue to appoint anti-abortion judges, who could further limit reproductive rights. Before the 2016 election, Trump released “a list of [anti-abortion] judges he pledged to appoint to the Supreme Court as president.” In June, in a speech to the Faith and Freedom Coalition, Trump “promised to again release before Election Day a list of potential nominees for any Supreme Court openings.” Future Trump-appointed judges could further erode reproductive rights by making it more difficult to obtain abortion pills or imposing other restrictions.
Despite media reporting suggesting otherwise, Trump has never said he opposes a national abortion ban. He said he is open to it and supports using the power of the federal government to further restrict abortion rights. In a speech to the Faith and Freedom Coalition, Trump said that there is “a vital role for the federal government in protecting unborn life.”
In April, during an interview with WMUR, Trump was asked if he would sign a 15-week abortion ban. “We’re looking at a lot of different options… and we’ll get something done where everyone is going to be very satisfied,” Trump said. When pushed to clarify if he meant on a national level, Trump said, “I think we’ll get it done on some level, it could be on different levels, but we’re gonna get it done.”
In September, during an interview with NBC’s “Meet the Press,” Trump was asked if he believed abortion rights should be decided by federal law. “It could be state or it could be federal. I don’t frankly care,” Trump said, adding that he “can live with it either way.”
Trump has not staked out a more moderate position. He is just being purposefully evasive.
Trump supported a national abortion ban in his first term. In 2017, a federal bill to ban abortions after 20 weeks was formally supported by his administration. A statement by the Office of Management and Budget said that the Trump “administration ‘strongly supports’ the bill and ‘applauds the House of Representatives for continuing its efforts to secure critical pro-life protections.” Trump “vowed to sign the bill if it passed Congress.”