Former President Donald Trump is drawing fire from pro-life leaders for describing Florida’s heartbeat protections for the unborn as “terrible.”
“I think what he did is a terrible thing and a terrible mistake,” Trump told NBC’s new “Meet the Press” host, Kristen Welker, in an interview that aired Sunday. The former president was referring to Republican Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis signing state legislation banning the abortions of babies after a heartbeat has been detected.
Georgia, Ohio, South Carolina, and Iowa all have passed similar laws, though Ohio’s and Iowa’s laws are held up in court. Alabama, Arkansas, Idaho, Indiana, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, and West Virginia have almost completely banned abortion with limited exceptions, such as for preserving the life of the mother.
Trump calls DeSantis’ heartbeat protections for unborn babies “a terrible thing” and a “terrible mistake.”
Won’t commit to national 15 week protections for the unborn. pic.twitter.com/7xCLbgwZNu
— Mary Margaret Olohan (@MaryMargOlohan) September 17, 2023
And to the chagrin of top pro-life groups, Trump also would not say whether he would support protections for babies after 15 weeks of gestation, suggesting that he would seek solutions to the abortion debate that both Republicans and Democrats could embrace.
“What’s going to happen is, you’re going to come up with a number of weeks or months,” Trump said. “You’re going to come up with a number that’s going to make people happy.”
While Trump’s recent remarks have provoked concerns from pro-life groups that he does not support strong legislation protecting life, he has previously been heralded as the most pro-life president in American history — and he will always have the lasting legacy of appointing three of the Supreme Court justices who overturned Roe v. Wade.
Trump also made history as the first president to attend the national March for Life in person, for appointing a slew of pro-life federal judges throughout his four years as president, for signing an executive order protecting infants born alive through botched abortions, and for significantly cutting Planned Parenthood’s federal funding.
But his newest comments sparked a strong response from pro-life leaders.
“Laws protecting the unborn are not a ‘terrible mistake,’” Alliance Defending Freedom CEO and President Kristen Waggoner said Sunday. “They are the hallmark of a just and moral society. Governors who protect life should be applauded, not attacked. And while we’re at it, men can’t become women. This is also based on a simple biological reality and one necessary for a just and moral society.”
Live Action’s founder and president, Lila Rose, decried Trump’s remarks as “pathetic and unacceptable” in a Sunday post on social media.
Trump is a pro abortion candidate. Fact. https://t.co/N7LiZ4X3Cu
— Ben Domenech (@bdomenech) September 17, 2023
“Trump is actively attacking the very pro-life laws made possible by Roe’s overturning. Heartbeat laws have saved thousands of babies,” she said. “But Trump wants to compromise on babies’ lives so pro-abort Dems ‘like him.’ Trump should not be the GOP nominee.”
The pro-life organization Susan B. Anthony Pro-Life America called for “every single candidate” to be “clear on how they plan to” save “the lives of children and serving mothers in need.”
“It begins with focusing on the extremes of the other side, and ambition and common sense on our own,” SBA List President Marjorie Dannenfelser said. “Anything later than a 15-week protection for babies in the womb (when science proves they can feel pain) as a national minimum standard makes no sense.”
CatholicVote President Brian Burch said that the former president’s remarks have “sparked concerns among Catholics over whether he is committed to leading on this issue in the way he did during his first term.”
“Pro-life Catholic voters helped deliver him the White House in 2016, and a record number of votes in 2020,” Burch warned. “He cannot expect to win again without these same voters. Any Republican presidential hopeful must draw a clear contrast to the extreme, taxpayer-funded, unlimited abortion agenda of [President] Joe Biden.”
In the past week I’ve seen Trump unable to answer the question, “can a man become a woman?” and say he’ll compromise on abortion so the left will like him. So why should someone vote for him over, say, Asa Hutchinson?
— Allie Beth Stuckey (@conservmillen) September 17, 2023
Some, like American Principles Project’s Terry Schilling, pushed for conservatives to hold their fire and wait to hear what type of protections for the unborn that Trump supports.
“Let’s at least see what national limit he backs before the hysterical takes,” Schilling said in a tweet pointing out that Trump had appointed three of the Supreme Court justices who overturned Roe v. Wade.
Daily Wire host Michael Knowles similarly suggested that Trump has “been extremely pro-life (e.g., Dobbs, 1st POTUS to speak at March For Life)” and has “proved himself capable of winning at least 1 general election.”
“Doesn’t excuse bad answers, but actions speak louder than words,” Knowles said.
This is just factually incorrect. Trump is great on trans and is the president that got Roe overturned.
Let’s at least see what national limit he backs before the hysterical takes. https://t.co/ZP7MXpAfJN
— Terry Schilling 🇺🇸 (@Schilling1776) September 17, 2023
Bob Vander Plaats, a prominent pro-life activist and president and CEO of The Family Leader, argued that “when a leader doesn’t have convictions on the most basic right of all, the right to #life, this is what you get.”
“Ugh,” he continued. “The ‘let’s make a deal’ message isn’t a win for babies, and it won’t win the #POTUS.”
The Daily Wire’s Matt Walsh described Trump’s remark as “an awful answer from a moral perspective” and also “stupid politically.”
“You can’t win over Democrats by going squishy on this issue,” Walsh said. “Republicans have tried that brilliant strategy for decades and accomplished exactly nothing by it. Defend life clearly and powerfully and unequivocally. That’s the only way.”
It’s worth emphasizing again that the “Republicans must move Left in the general” strategy is not some brilliant innovation that Trump just came up with. It’s what the Republican establishment has insisted for decades and decades, and they have a long trail of defeat and…
— Matt Walsh (@MattWalshBlog) September 17, 2023
Trump did not immediately respond to requests for comment from The Daily Signal. His former vice president, Mike Pence, told The New York Times on Sunday: “Donald Trump continues to walk away from the pro-life legacy of our administration.”
“There’s no negotiating when it comes to the life of the unborn,” Pence said. “We will not rest, we will not relent, until the sanctity of life is restored to the center of American law in every state in the nation.”
And DeSantis responded to Trump’s remarks in an interview Monday with Radio Iowa.
“Donald Trump may think it’s terrible. I think protecting babies with heartbeats is noble and just and I’m proud to have signed the heartbeat bill in Florida and I know Iowa has similar legislation,” the Florida governor said.
“I don’t know how you can even make the claim that you’re somehow pro-life if you’re criticizing states for enacting protections for babies that have heartbeats,” he added.
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