Trump fumbles badly on abortion: His speech was a wake-up call for those who defend the unborn

R. Albert Mohler, Jr.
May 9, 2024

The Trump campaign had been hinting for weeks that the former president would release a statement on abortion. Over the weekend, Trump teased the issue, promising a major announcement. Thus far in the campaign, Trump had made comments on abortion that were confusing and confounding. He claimed credit for making his three strategic nominations to the Supreme Court and for the reversal of Roe v. Wade, but he also dismissed Florida’s ban on abortions after six weeks of pregnancy as “terrible.”

Yesterday, Trump released a wordy video that had two main points. First, he again took credit for the reversal of Roe and claimed that “both sides wanted and in fact demanded” that the structure of Roe be ended. That statement is factually wrong, since the pro-abortion side definitely did not want Roe reversed. Former President Trump was correct, however, in stating out loud what many Democrats (including President Biden) want to keep quiet—that the pro-abortion Democratic Party really intends to eliminate all meaningful restrictions on abortion rights in America.

Trump’s second major point was to declare that he would oppose any effort to legislate abortion restrictions through national legislation. “My view is now that we have abortion where everybody wanted it from a legal standpoint,” he said, “the states will determine by vote or by legislation or perhaps both, and whatever they decide must be the law of the land.”

But that statement is also factually wrong, since the pro-abortion side does demand national legislation ensuring (virtually unrestricted) abortion rights throughout the nation, ending the power of pro-life states to protect unborn life. But Trump was adamant in his rejection of national legislation. Citing the Dobbs decision reversing Roe, Trump stated that the Supreme Court had taken the question out of federal hands and, “Now it’s up to the states to do the right thing.”

The former president also made comments endorsing IVF treatments, calling for exceptions on abortion restrictions when a situation involves rape, incest, or the life of the mother.

But Trump acknowledged the political context, and he did so crassly and openly. “We have to win,” he stated, candidly citing public sentiment and political necessity. This kind of candor, to speak delicately, is unusual in such a campaign. Ronald Reagan would have packaged his policy as a matter of high principle and Bill Clinton would have made his proposal while winking to his political base. Trump just looked into the camera and said it out loud.

What are we to make of all this? Well, the former president is right that many pro-lifers want to work toward state-by-state restrictions. Their strategy is to work toward change in pro-abortion states and, more pressingly, to protect restrictions in pro-life states. Their fear is that national legislation would be, at this point, either pro-abortion or far weaker than what is now found in more solidly pro-life states. If national legislation is accomplished, they argue, folks in states like Alabama and Florida will end up with far less restrictive policies than are now in place.

Trump clearly believes that the nation is not ready for federal action limiting abortion rights. So is he right?

Here is the pragmatic problem with Trump’s announced policy: The pro-abortion side is actively promising federal legislation to replace Roe with an even more aggressively pro-abortion measure. He may or may not be right about how the issue will work through the 2024 presidential election, but he must surely know that the other side will not, even for one second, hesitate in their push for national legislation. It does not matter that some pro-life advocates argue for the issue to remain in the states. If President Biden is reelected to another term and if he has a friendly Democratic majority in both houses of Congress, you can be assured that federal abortion legislation will be at the top of the agenda. How do we know this? They have told us so. President Biden makes this point at virtually every campaign appearance.

Abortion will be on the national agenda from Day One of a second Biden administration. Pro-life strategists can debate all day long about the merits of federal legislation, but the fact is that political pressure will build for a federal policy. In the end, the only relevant question is what that policy will be.

The former president fumbled the ball in his rambling video. In his view, those who hold to a comprehensive defense of the unborn are risking total defeat in the election. He may be right. “We have to win,” he emphasized. He has a point. The problem is that no one who honestly holds to a pro-life position can assume the same point. It surely does not help that Trump has previously declared significant abortion restrictions in states like Florida to be “horrible.”

There is still a deep chasm between the positions on abortion held by former President Trump and President Biden. Trump said nothing in this speech that will encourage pro-abortion advocates. I doubt seriously that he said anything that will reach out to many equivocating voters. He has seriously complicated his own message. Meanwhile, the Democratic Party is in open embrace of the Culture of Death.

Yesterday was a depressing day for those who fight in defense of the unborn. Trump clearly bets that he can hold onto his base while charting his own eccentric and compromised proposal on abortion. Time will tell. In the meantime, those who stand and strive for the defense of the unborn received a wake-up call about how much remains to be done. We press on.

This article originally appeared at World Opinions on April 9, 2024.

R. Albert Mohler, Jr.

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