WASHINGTON (AP) — Former President Donald Trump said the federal government should play a “vital role” opposing abortion but again failed to provide specifics on what national restrictions he would support if elected to the White House again.
Trump’s remarks to a group of influential evangelicals Saturday on the anniversary of the Supreme Court overturning the national right to an abortion stood in contrast to that of his former vice president and 2024 rival Mike Pence.
Pence, speaking at the same conference a day earlier, challenged every GOP presidential candidate to support the passage of a national ban on abortions at least as early as 15 weeks of pregnancy.
Trump, the GOP front-runner, has been reluctant to endorse a national ban and has suggested restrictions should be left to the states. He has even suggested that pushing for increased abortion restrictions would be a political liability for Republicans, despite his three Supreme Court nominees making up the majority of justices who voted to overturn Roe v. Wade last year.
Trump, in his speech before the Faith & Freedom Coalition’s annual conference, continued to offer a muddled answer. He said he believes “the greatest progress is now being made in the states, where everyone wanted to be.”
“One of the reasons they wanted Roe v. Wade terminated,” he said, “is to bring it back into the states where a lot of people feel strongly the greatest progress for pro-life is now being made.”
But the former president also added, “There of course remains a vital role for the federal government in protecting unborn life.”
Trump said he supports three exceptions to abortion restrictions in cases involving rape and incest or when the life of a mother is in danger.
He took full credit for his role in the overturning of the landmark ruling and said he was “proud to be the most pro-life president in American history.”
Though white evangelical Christians were initially reluctant to back Trump in 2016, his promises to appoint justices to the court who would overturn Roe — and the ruling’s eventual overturning — have earned him deep support in the evangelical movement.
As he took the stage Saturday, he received a standing ovation from the crowd of hundreds, with some attendees standing on their chairs to see him enter. The enthusiasm was markedly higher for Trump than it was the previous morning, when Pence and a number of other presidential hopefuls addressed the conference.
One candidate, former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, was met with boos when he criticized Trump in his remarks Friday.
On Saturday night, the crowd broke into sustained chants of “We want Trump!” halfway through the former president’s remarks.
“Were your other candidates treated this way?” Trump said with a smile.
Trump, in his remarks, promised that if elected to the presidency again, he would appoint “appoint rock-solid conservative judges in the mold” of Justice Clarence Thomas and former Justice Antonin Scalia. He also repeated false claims that he’s made before that abortion rights supporters want to “kill a baby” in the ninth month of pregnancy or even after a birth.
The Republican former president also vowed that before Election Day next year, he will release the list of names of potential justices he would consider appointing to the Supreme Court.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, seen as Trump’s closest rival for the GOP nomination, has made the promise of an even more conservative Supreme Court part of his pitch to attempt to differentiate himself from Trump.
DeSantis, who addressed the Faith and Freedom conference Friday, declared that if elected president, he would nominate and appoint Supreme Court justices in the mold of Thomas and Justice Samuel Alito, who authored the ruling in the Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization case last year that ended constitutional protections for abortion.
In a recent interview with radio host Hugh Hewitt, DeSantis said he respects the three judges Trump appointed, Neil Gorsuch, Brett Kavanaugh and Amy Coney Barret, but said “I would say we’ll do better than that.”
“None of those three are at the same level” of Thomas and Justice Samuel Alito, who authored the ruling in the Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization case last year that ended constitutional protections for abortion.
“I think they are the gold standard,” he said of Thomas and Alito, who were appointed by Presidents George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush.
DeSantis repeated that promise in his remarks at the Faith and Freedom conference Friday, vowing to appoint justices in the mold of Thomas and Alito and said he would “stand and defend them against scurrilous attacks that you’re seeing in the media and by left-wing groups.”
The Florida governor appeared to be referring to recent reports that Thomas and Alito accepted luxury trips from wealthy GOP donors but did not disclose them.