9 Apr 2024

Let individual states decide abortion rights, Trump says

6:45 am on 9 April 2024

By James FitzGerald & Sam Cabral, BBC News

Former US President Donald Trump speaks at a campaign event on 2 April, 2024 in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Trump delivered a speech which his campaign has called 'Biden's Border Bloodbath', as recent polls have shown that immigration and the situation at the US southern border continue to be top issues on voters' minds going into the November election.

Donald Trump says the issue of abortion should be decided by "the will of the people" living in each state. Photo: Spencer Platt / Getty Images / AFP

Donald Trump has said decisions about abortion rights should be left to the states, releasing a statement on the contentious election issue on Monday.

Many in his Republican Party had wanted him to back a nationwide ban on abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy.

But Trump said policies should be set by individual states - as they have been since the Supreme Court overturned the Roe v Wade decision in 2022.

Since then, preserving abortion rights has become a top issue for many voters.

Some states have been tightening restrictions on abortion, while others have moved to widen access.

President Joe Biden, responding to Trump's statement, said his rival in November's election was worried voters would punish him on the issue at the polls.

In his video, Trump declared: "My view is now that we have abortion where everybody wanted it from a legal standpoint; the states will determine by vote or legislation, or perhaps both."

Trump also said he was "proudly the person responsible" for the change brought about by the US Supreme Court two years ago, when it overturned the longstanding Roe v Wade decision that a woman's right to terminate a pregnancy was protected by the US constitution.

In 2016, Trump campaigned on appointing justices who would overturn Roe v Wade - and went on to put three conservatives on the court during his presidency.

In his statement, he acknowledged this would create a piecemeal situation: "Many states will be different. Many will have a different number of weeks or some will have more conservative than others.

But he said it came down to "the will of the people", adding: "You must follow your heart or in many cases, your religion or your faith."

Trump added that he was in favour of exceptions when rape or incest were involved, or the life of the mother was in danger.

He also reiterated he was in favour of fertility treatments including in-vitro fertilisation (IVF), a reference to the Alabama supreme court ruling that opened a new front in the battle over reproductive rights.

The former president also falsely claimed that national Democratic leaders have a "radical" abortion position that includes "execution after birth".

Trump, who is all but certain to be the Republican presidential candidate, acknowledged that the abortion issue has caused major problems for his party in elections held since 2022.

Voters angry at the Supreme Court decision have showed up at the polls to support Democratic candidates, as well as ballot measures intended to preserve access to abortion. Democrats have seized on the issue as a way to help re-elect Biden in November.

On Monday the president sent out a lengthy response to the Trump statement, saying his rival was "scrambling".

"Having created the chaos of overturning Roe, he's trying to say, 'Oh, never mind. Don't punish me for that. I just want to win,'" Biden wrote.

He also alleged that Trump would sign off on a federal abortion ban proposed by congressional Republicans if he returned to the White House.

Biden has made universal access to abortion a central campaign issue and pledged that he will work to create a federal law based on the Roe decision.

Conservative reaction to Trump's message was largely negative, with the conservative Susan B Anthony Pro-Life America group saying it was "deeply disappointed".

Some took issue with him not saying at what number of weeks he supports a ban - despite previously signalling support for a 15-week limit - and many also said abortion policy should be set by the federal government.

South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham, a key Trump ally who has proposed a 15-week abortion ban, said he "respectfully [disagrees]" that abortion should be decided by individual states.

"The pro-life movement has always been about the wellbeing of the unborn child - not geography," he wrote on X (formerly Twitter).

The head of the Students for Life of America reaffirmed her support for Trump but said the group would keep pushing.

"We clearly have some work to do to educate President Trump in the many ways that abortion has been made federal," Kristan Hawkins wrote on X.

While conservative states have moved to limit abortion access over the last two years, other states have passed laws to enshrine abortion rights in law.

Last week, Florida became the latest state to chart its own course - setting up perhaps the highest-stakes political showdown on the issue so far.

First, the state's supreme court upheld the state's right to prohibit abortion, giving the green light for a six-week ban to take effect on 1 May. This amounts to a near-total ban, given that many women do not realise they are pregnant at six weeks.

But the court is also allowing Floridians to vote in November on whether abortion rights should be protected in the state constitution.

Trump, who resides in Florida, won the state in the 2016 and 2020 presidential elections - but the Biden campaign says the abortion debate has made the state "winnable" in November.

This story was first published by the BBC.

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