Anti-abortion groups to Trump: Don’t water down GOP platform by removing support for federal ban

Anti-abortion leaders are warning Republicans not to remove a federal abortion ban from the party’s platform at next month’s GOP convention even as their presumptive nominee, Donald Trump, backs away from it.

The current platform – put in place during Trump’s 2016 campaign for president and left unchanged when he ran for reelection four years later – calls on Congress to prohibit abortions after 20 weeks and for an amendment to the US Constitution giving the unborn the same rights as a person.

Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of Susan B. Anthony Pro-Life America, said it better stay that way.

“Our expectation is that the GOP platform will continue to unequivocally call for national protections for unborn children, rooted in the 14th Amendment,” Dannenfelser told CNN in a statement. “Watering down the GOP platform’s stance on life would entail an abandonment of its defense of the human dignity of all people.”

The sentiment was echoed last week by Ralph Reed, chairman of the Faith and Freedom Coalition and a close ally of the former president. Speaking during a virtual event hosted by the Washington Post, Reed publicly urged the Trump campaign “to proceed with great caution in sending any message of vacillation or retreat when it comes to the defense of the innocent unborn.”

“I don’t think it would be either morally sound or politically advisable for the party to signal retreat on the sanctity of innocent human life in its platform,” he said.

CNN has asked Trump’s campaign for comment.

A senior Trump adviser told CNN that the campaign expects the party will vote on a platform “that reflects the policy and vision and agenda of President Trump.”

“The platform is something that always gets renewed, revived, sort of amended. The whole process occurs in the executive sessions that lead up to the actual convention,” the adviser added. “We will work with the delegations and the representatives on each committee that has work to do to make sure that we have a great convention and we have we have a representation of the President’s leadership of the party as the nominee.”

The forewarnings speak to the concern that Trump’s aboutface on abortion will permeate throughout a party he has seized control of.

After watching the political landscape tilt against Republicans in the wake of the Supreme Court decision to overturn Roe v. Wade, Trump backed away from strict anti-abortion laws. During the Republican presidential primary, as many of his rivals fought for the support of evangelical voters by pushing for federal bans on the procedure, Trump angered some anti-abortion advocates and Christian leaders by refusing to take a stance.

Then, after wrapping up the GOP nomination, Trump said the future of abortion access should be left up to the states. In April, he asserted he wouldn’t sign a national abortion ban even if it passed through Congress – a total reversal from what he said when he ran for president in 2016.

The former president’s shift has come as his party is preparing its first official position on abortion since the 2022 decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization ended the Constitutional right to an abortion – a victory made possible by Trump’s overhaul of the US Supreme Court. But Republicans and anti-abortion groups have struggled to find their next target and have suffered a series of setbacks, including a recent winless streak in state ballot referendums.

For the past four decades, the GOP platform voted on at the party’s quadrennial convention has backed federal efforts to curb the procedure, either by awarding a fetus 14th amendment protection or through legislation like the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act, which bans abortion at 20 weeks into a pregnancy.

Trump would not be the first Republican presidential nominee to appear at odds with the party platform on abortion. Both John McCain in 2008 and Mitt Romney in 2012 supported exemptions for rape, incest and to protect the life of the mother, all of which were ultimately not included in the party’s platform. Trump, too, argued for similar exemptions in 2016 but was overruled by the party.

“We hear this every four years: a battle between the candidate and the party,” said Carol Tobias, president of the National Right to Life Committee. “It gets a lot of media hype and not a lot changes. I’m not expecting any major changes this year.”

“We know this isn’t something that will be decided in the next couple years. This is a long-term battle. Pro-lifers had been trying to overturn Roe for almost 50 years so we have a long-term mentality.”

But if anti-abortion advocates get their way this time, the GOP would enter the election with a wider chasm between a Republican nominee and the party platform on abortion than at any point since the court’s 1973 ruling in Roe v. Wade turned the issue into a national battle.

Trump has publicly and privately criticized how his party has navigated post-Dobbs politics, blaming abortion for the GOP’s underwhelming midterm performance in 2022. His attempts to recalibrate his position have come as President Joe Biden and Democrats have made clear they intend to hammer Trump over his monumental role in helping overturn Roe, allowing states like Texas and Florida to pass near-total bans on the procedure.

Earlier this week, as Trump prepared to address the Danbury Institute, a coalition of Christian groups, the Biden campaign blasted the former president for giving an audience to a group that wants to ban abortion nationwide.

“Trump brags that he is responsible for overturning Roe, he thinks the extreme state bans happening now because of him are ‘working very brilliantly,’ and if he’s given the chance, he will sign a national abortion ban,” Biden spokesperson Sarafina Chitika said in a statement. “These are the stakes this November.”

In his brief recorded remarks, Trump told the groups he hopes to be defending their values “side-by-side for your next four years.”

“These are gonna be your years because you’re gonna make a comeback like just about no other group,” he said.

Though Trump has not yet made clear where he stands on the platform, his campaign enters the convention having asserted control of the GOP at nearly every level. The party is led by Trump’s handpicked co-chair: his daughter-in-law Lara Trump and former North Carolina Republican Party leader Michael Whatley. The platform committee will be led by three close allies: Randy Evans, his former ambassador to Luxembourg; Russell Vought, a top official in the Trump administration; and Ed Martin, president of the Phyllis Schlafly Eagles who in 2016 wrote the book “The Conservative Case for Trump.”

The platform committee will also consist of two delegates, a man and woman, from each state and territory delegation to the party’s Milwaukee convention. They will meet early next month and present their report when the full convention meets the week of July 15.

Reed told CNN he has discussed the platform with the Trump campaign and expects the party’s position will remain “unapologetically pro-life” but stopped short of saying he has won that guarantee.

He insisted, though, there’s not much daylight between the party’s platform and Trump’s latest stance.

“The president’s position simply reflects the short term political reality for both sides: Neither side has the votes to pass federal legislation that reflects their values and aspirations,” Reed said. “The action is at the state level. The long term political reality is whoever wins that battle at the state level will build the momentum and gain the votes to achieve what they want at the federal level.”

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