Trump Flips Back to Pro-Abortion

Written by Chris Iverson

Over the years, former president Donald Trump’s position on abortion has shifted, as this video collage demonstrates. In 1999, Trump said he hated abortion, but that he was also very pro-choice and would not support a ban on partial-birth abortion. In 2015, he said he was pro-life with exceptions for rape, incest, and the life of the mother. In 2016, he said women who obtain an abortion should be punished, a position on which he quickly backtracked.

As President, he issued pro-life executive orders and nominated three originalist U.S. Supreme Court justices whose stances have been consistently pro-life. Those justices, along with two nominated by Presidents George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush, issued the Dobbs v. Jackson decision in 2022, reversing the unconstitutional Roe v. Wade opinion from 1973.

Recently, Trump appears to have changed his view on abortion again. He made this clear by repeatedly attacking a Florida pro-life law over multiple months. Initially, the attacks confused and concerned pro-lifers and the implications were not clear. But slowly, the pro-life movement has realized the many problems this presents.

Trump’s recent statements signal that he has switched back to a pro-abortion view. To be fair, he is not as extreme as he was in 1999. He even still calls himself pro-life, but he has in fact returned to the pro-abortion position, supporting the legalization of most abortions and only opposing late-term abortion. Since nearly all abortions occur early in pregnancy, his newest view is, by nature, a pro-abortion view. That’s concerning enough, but it gets worse. This upsetting turn of events makes Trump even more dangerous than Joe Biden on the abortion issue because, unlike Biden, Trump can persuade Republican legislators to vote for a federal pro-abortion “compromise” bill, which Trump has said he wants to pass.

Pro-lifers are struggling to understand Trump’s unexpected return to a pro-abortion position. Some speculate he was always pro-abortion. Others say he was focused on rallying the base in 2016, but now Trump is attempting to appeal to the moderate voter. Those are plausible theories, but the 2022 midterm election also appears to have played a role. During the run-up to that election, voters anticipated a red wave, but Republicans only delivered a ripple. Pundits debated whether this underperformance was due to the “Trump effect” or abortion. Trump blamed abortion and since then has repeatedly attacked the Florida pro-life heartbeat law.

It seems Trump has focused his attacks on the Florida heartbeat law in particular since Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, who signed it into law, is running against Trump in the primary. While Trump’s attacks are against the DeSantis bill, the implications of his new abortion stance are felt by pro-lifers in 19 states that have laws protecting the unborn at 6 weeks or earlier.

Currently, the Florida heartbeat law is awaiting a decision by the Florida Supreme Court. It protects the unborn from abortion at around 6 weeks, or when there is a detectable heartbeat. According to the CDC, 45 percent of abortions occur at 6 weeks or earlier. While the heartbeat law is not the perfect pro-life law, it is substantially better than Florida’s previous law. If Trump had been governor, he would have vetoed the pro-life heartbeat bill and abortion would be legal later into pregnancy in Florida than the heartbeat bill allows.

Since May 2023, two articles and one interview show that Trump has employed the words harsh, terrible, mistake, and extreme to attack Florida’s heartbeat law. Even after a lot of criticism from conservatives, he has not contradicted or clarified his words. Instead, Trump talks about how he reversed Roe, how he believes in exceptions, how Democrats are abortion extremists, and how he wants to negotiate an abortion compromise.

Amid this incoherence, Trump has also questioned the motives of pro-life organizations, a move which was not well received by the pro-life movement. Nearly every major pro-life organization has publicly criticized his recent abortion comments. The reality is, Trump’s position makes no sense. There’s no point in overturning Roe if we’re not also going to pass laws to protect the unborn early in pregnancy.

The implications of Trump’s statements are substantial. He wants abortion legal early in pregnancy, in every state, and at the federal level. We don’t know at what point exactly in pregnancy he wants abortion to be legal, but we know it’s above 6 weeks and that he wouldn’t commit to 15 weeks in a Meet the Press interview. Even a 15-week limit would permit nearly all abortions!

This raises a lot of questions. Will Trump’s attacks on pro-life laws become fodder for pro-abortion forces to persuade voters in the future? Is Trump already influencing the opinions of his followers in a pro-abortion direction? Will other Republican politicians follow Trump’s lead and start to criticize, vote against, or even veto pro-life laws?

If Trump is elected, will his election break the important litmus test that a national Republican figure must be pro-life? Just as Trump changed the Republican party from free trade to fair trade, from war hawks to doves, and from pro-cheap labor to anti-illegal immigration, will Trump change the Republican party from pro-life to pro-abortion?

One question about Trump’s abortion stance is particularly concerning. Would Trump sign federal legislation that invalidates state pro-life laws in exchange for a weak federal law? That would be Roe 2.0. Once enacted, this federal law would be very difficult to change. Democrats have a similar bill already. It’s called the Women’s Health Protection Act and it would invalidate all state-level pro-life laws. It might be unconstitutional, but that’s debatable. Democrats do not have the votes to pass it, but Trump might be able to get a version of it passed if he added a 15-week or 20-week federal limit on abortion. In short, there is a plausible political path for this terrible legislation.

If the abortion lobby realizes Trump’s proposed bill is their best bet, they will bring the Democratic legislators along. Liberal Republicans already want this bill, with many thinking the bill makes re-election easier. Conservative Republicans will come under pressure from Trump. He only needs a majority in the House of Representatives and 60 votes in the Senate. While Trump has not expressed support or opposition specifically concerning the Democrats’ bill, the substance matches the sentiments he communicated in his Meet the Press interview.

Defenders of Trump have said he didn’t mean what he said about the heartbeat law, but this defense is implausible since Trump hasn’t clarified his position on heartbeat bills after being challenged on it. Other defenders claim he is not calling these laws immoral, but politically inconvenient. This is problematic for many reasons. It is never morally permissible to pass a law that is harsh, terrible, or extreme and those are the words he used when attacking the heartbeat law. Trump certainly sounds like he is calling the law immoral since he used adjectives we typically hear from Planned Parenthood concerning pro-life laws.

Even if Trump only meant the law is politically challenging, opposition on that basis is a typical liberal Republican excuse for going left. It’s the same argument that is used to water down every position that motivates conservatives. It’s a losing formula and therefore, we shouldn’t tolerate that approach. Even if we accept this premise, it still doesn’t justify Trump’s statements.

Trump has another way around becoming involved in the abortion issue. He could easily say abortion should be left up to the states and the federal government should stay out of it. However, that’s not Trump’s position. He has attacked state-level laws. This is critically important because if states shouldn’t protect the unborn early in pregnancy, no other level of government will, either. Opposition to these state pro-life laws is opposition to all pro-life laws that apply to early pregnancy. Put simply, Trump wants abortion to be legal early in pregnancy in every state. There’s no other way to interpret his statements.

Apologists for Trump will try to redirect the conversation to focus on Trump’s pro-life accomplishments and statements. However, we are not obligated to vote for a pro-abortion candidate merely because he was pro-life. Trump, himself, also changes the subject by touting his current opposition to late-term abortion. That’s not where the controversy lies. He supports the legalization of early abortions—the vast majority of abortions performed in the United States. That’s the controversy.

Lastly, Trump still self-identifies as pro-life. While it is true that Trump is less pro-abortion than someone who wants abortion legal for all 9 months, that does not make him pro-life. A person is pro-life if they want all or nearly all abortions to be illegal. At a minimum, a pro-life person wants abortion to be legal only in cases of rape, incest, and life of the mother, at least at the state level, if not at the federal level. Arguably, someone could even be pro-life after adding in a few more exceptions for rare and extreme circumstances that minimally change the number of total abortions. The bottom line is that someone isn’t pro-life if they want abortion to be legal in anything other than rare circumstances.

I believe abortion should be illegal except to save the mother’s life or to prevent major bodily injury, as I explain in my book. However, I recognize there is space in the pro-life movement for folks who have a few more exceptions. Trump has exceptions for rape, incest, and life of the mother. That’s not the issue. Again, the issue is that Trump also wants any early abortion to be legal, with those making up the majority of abortions. That makes him pro-abortion. The rest is a distraction.

Trump created this problem and he could quickly solve it with one post on Truth Social or X. He can walk back his attacks on the heartbeat law. He can sign a pledge that he will veto any federal bill that overturns a state pro-life law. He can commit to leaving abortion to the states. He has many options, but for now, Trump has chosen to remain pro-abortion.

Chris Iverson assists pro-life leaders to strategize, organize and mobilize for effective advocacy. In 2016, Chris led the effort in the Chicago area to reach 8.8 million views of the message “Abortion Takes Human Life.” He began his pro-life work in 2004. He has organized pro-life overpasses, pro-life billboards, sidewalk counselling and a variety of protest events.  He has been interviewed for radio, television and print news.

Chris was a pro-choice atheist until the age of 20 when, after discussing the topic of abortion with a friend, he became a pro-life atheist.  Later, Chris became an evangelical Christian.  These experiences help him understand his audience and convey the pro-life message in a manner that is accessible to a broad audience.

Chris serves as a board member of the Pro-life Action League, as Vice President of Chicago Pro-life Future, as co-leader of LIVE PRO LIFE and as a writer for Illinois Family Institute.