- Trump has backed away from a nationwide law on abortion, saying the issue is best left to states.
- That’s drawn criticism from a major anti-abortion group and even Trump ally Sen. Lindsey Graham.
- But at a major gathering of 2024 GOP candidates in Iowa, evangelical voters seemed to side with Trump.
CLIVE, Iowa — If there’s any group of voters who might be incensed by the idea of allowing states to set their own abortion laws, it would probably be highly engaged evangelicals.
But at the Iowa Faith and Freedom Coalition’s annual spring kick-off event on Saturday, former President Donald Trump faced little criticism for embracing that very position, which places him to the left of some of his 2024 rivals.
“Personally, if I could snap my fingers, it would not be allowed at all,” said Judy Kirby, a 73-year-old retiree from Indianola, after the event. “But I have to be realistic.”
“The states are like mini countries,” said Kirby, who said she supports Trump in 2024. “They have their own way of doing things, and they should be responsible for their decisions.”
And as they addressed the more than 1,000 attendees on Saturday, other current and potential GOP 2024 presidential contenders — including former Vice President Mike Pence, former Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson, and Sen. Tim Scott of Florida — declined to draw a strong contrast with Trump on abortion.
In fact, most didn’t dwell on the issue much at all, spending more time talking about other culture war issues, such as limiting gender transition surgeries.
Even Pence, who has leaned into his anti-abortion stance more than other 2024 contenders, told reporters at the event that while he disagrees with Trump and would support federal restrictions on abortion, it’s “more likely that this issue is resolved at the state level.”
Trump, for his part, addressed attendees via a video stream — the only candidate to do so — pledging to “stand strong against the extreme, late-term abortionists in the Democrat Party” and emphasizing his appointment of the three Supreme Court Justices who helped overturn Roe v. Wade last year.
“They actually talk, beyond birth, after birth, executing the baby,” claimed Trump.
—Ron Filipkowski (@RonFilipkowski) April 23, 2023
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and former US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley, both of whom were invited to the event, did not attend.
‘He’s off the mark right now’
Republicans, fresh off of a midterm election defeat seen to stem in part from their opposition to abortion, continue to be at odds with one another over whether to pursue further restrictions at the federal level.
In a statement to the Washington Post this week, Trump’s spokesman said the former president “believes that the Supreme Court, led by the three Justices which he supported, got it right when they ruled this is an issue that should be decided at the State level.”
That statement quickly upset many on the anti-abortion right.
Marjorie Dannenfelser, the president of the anti-abortion group SBA Pro-Life America, issued a statement calling Trump’s position “morally indefensible” while vowing to oppose any presidential candidate who doesn’t at least support a 15-week abortion ban.
“Holding to the position that it is exclusively up to the states is an abdication of responsibility by anyone elected to federal office,” said Dannenfelser. “This holds especially true for the president.”
Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, a longtime Trump ally, issued a statement on Friday arguing the party should “muster the courage to oppose late-term abortion” and embrace a bill he introduced last year that would ban abortion nationwide after 15 weeks. On Sunday, Graham had a tense exchange with a CNN host in which accused the media of covering for Democrats on abortion.
Maggie DeWitte, the director of an Iowa anti-abortion group called Pulse Life Advocates, told Insider at the event in Clive that Trump’s position was “completely wrong,” even as she offered praise for the role of his judicial appointments in bringing the anti-abortion movement to this point.
“We would not even be having the discussions we’re having right now if he had not done that,” said DeWitte. “All that being said, I think he’s off the mark right now.”
DeWitte and other anti-abortion advocates argue that in a post-Roe world, Republicans should push to restrict abortion on both the state and federal levels.
They argue that not only is it morally right, but politically advantageous, pointing to polling that has shown most voters would like to see their state allow for abortion at 15 weeks or less. But Democrats continue to be energized by the issue in a way Republicans have not, helping to contribute to a recent state Supreme Court victory in Wisconsin.
Meanwhile, the Supreme Court on Friday halted a lower court’s ruling that would’ve blocked access nationwide to the abortion drug mifepristone — including in Democratic-led states where abortion remains legal. Republicans have largely remained quiet on the matter, weary of the potential for political blowback.
‘We need to convince more people’
Voters who spoke with Insider at the event in Clive seemed to recognize the political ramifications of going too far on abortion — even as they expressed their own staunch opposition to the procedure.
Lyle Horman, a 69-year-old from Pella, Iowa, who says he’s leaning towards supporting Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, said after the event that a 15-week nationwide ban is a “down the road thing to do.”
“We need to convince more people that the life position is the right position,” said Horman. “Just trying to impose your will, even if you have the majority to do it — if a large portion of the population does not support that, it’s gonna be very hard to enforce.”
Richard Woods, a 71-year-old retiree from east-central Iowa who described himself as “absolutely” pro-life, went as far as to criticize those pushing for nationwide abortion restrictions — including Sen. Lindsey Graham.
“I wish he would have not proposed that,” said Woods, arguing that it “really excited the opposition” and that more needed to be done to build consensus among Republicans on the issue.
And Sharon Meredith, an 82-year-old from Des Moines who says she’s excited by Vivek Ramaswamy’s presidential candidacy, said that she’s “anti-abortion” but that there are other more pressing issues — and that the Republicans, above all else, need to win.
“Our nation is in such trouble, that we’ve got to dig ourselves out of this hole we’re in,” said Meredith. “I don’t think we can die on that hill necessarily right now.”
Meredith said she was more worried about what she described as a “dual system of justice” in which conservatives are being targeted by the government, saying she’s “all for” defunding the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
“I’d rather we died on those hills, if we’re gonna take on one big thing,” she said.