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Trump Backs State-by-State Abortion Legislation
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Trump Backs State-by-State Abortion Legislation

The former president tries to thread post-Roe needle, but faces rebukes from some pro-life advocates.

Happy Tuesday! The UConn Huskies’ decisive victory over the Purdue Boilermakers marked the end of this year’s NCAA basketball tournament. Many thanks to the more than 1,200 of you who participated in our annual TMD March Madness pool; we’d like to congratulate Steve S., the 2024 TMD March Madness pool champion! Kurt H. came in a close second place, followed by Don P., Mike C., and Kathy L. If you’ve filled out this form with your information, we’ll be in touch soon about your prizes!

First, though, we’ll have to remind Declan there was a basketball game on since we’re pretty sure he was watching the Cubs blow an 8-0 lead over the Padres.

Quick Hits: Today’s Top Stories

  • In a video posted on Truth Social on Monday, former President Donald Trump said state legislatures should decide abortion policy—implying he was not in favor of a federal ban—while adding that he favored exceptions to abortion restrictions in instances of rape or incest, or to save the life of the mother. The statement drew condemnation from supporters of the pro-life cause, including Trump’s former vice president, Mike Pence; Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham, who supports a national ban on abortions after 15 weeks; and Marjorie Dannenfelser, the president of the pro-life group Susan B. Anthony Pro-Life America.
  • In a 20-page document released Monday, the Vatican’s doctrine office outlined what it called several “grave threats” to human dignity, including surrogacy, euthanasia and assisted suicide, discrimination based on sexual orientation, gender transition surgery, and “gender theory,” which it says “intends to deny the greatest possible difference that exists between living beings: sexual difference.” The document mostly reiterates Catholic teaching on these subjects but comes as Pope Francis has recently allowed priests to bless gay couples and allow transgender people to serve as godparents. 
  • A New York state appeals court judge rejected on Monday former President Donald Trump’s attempt to delay the start of his hush money criminal trial as he seeks to have the venue moved from Manhattan to Staten Island, the only of New York City’s five boroughs he won in 2016 and 2020. The trial related to hush money payments to porn star Stormy Daniels is set to begin on April 15. Meanwhile, in a court filing late Monday, special counsel Jack Smith, prosecuting Trump for his efforts to overturn the results of the 2020 election, urged the Supreme Court to reject the former president’s claim of immunity from prosecution. “The Constitution does not give a president the power to conspire to defraud the United States in the certification of presidential-election results, obstruct proceedings for doing so or deprive voters of the effect of their votes,” Smith wrote in his brief. The high court will hear arguments in the case on April 25. 
  • President Joe Biden on Monday announced a new plan to relieve student loan debt for as many as 30 million borrowers when combined with other Biden administration initiatives. This plan—Biden’s second attempt at large-scale student loan debt forgiveness after the Supreme Court ruled the basis of the first program was unconstitutional—includes a provision that would cancel all accrued interest for certain borrowers and another that would automatically forgive the debt of anyone eligible for one of the other federal debt forgiveness plans, even if they haven’t enrolled. Biden’s proposals, which could go into effect in the fall, will likely face legal challenges.
  • The University of Connecticut Huskies beat the Purdue Boilermakers 75-60 to clinch back-to-back NCAA men’s basketball national championships on Monday night.

Trump Triangulates on Abortion 

Then-President Donald Trump speaks at the 47th annual "March for Life" in Washington, D.C., on January 24, 2020. (Photo by OLIVIER DOULIERY/AFP via Getty Images)
Then-President Donald Trump speaks at the 47th annual "March for Life" in Washington, D.C., on January 24, 2020. (Photo by OLIVIER DOULIERY/AFP via Getty Images)

In an interview with Fox News’ Sean Hannity last month, former President Donald Trump explained his soul-searching on abortion. “More and more I’m hearing about 15 weeks,” he said. “I haven’t agreed to any number. I’m going to see.” Yesterday, the former president released a video statement outlining his abortion policy vision: Let the states decide.

“My view is now that we have abortion where everybody wanted it from a legal standpoint,” Trump said Monday. “The states will determine by vote or legislation or perhaps both, and whatever they decide must be the law of the land. In this case, the law of the state. Many states will be different. Many will have a different number of weeks or some will have more conservative than others, and that’s what they will be.” 

The statement aligns with what his campaign said a year ago, but Monday’s effort to make his policy explicit highlighted the tensions within the pro-life community over supporting the former president, who many feel is insufficiently devoted to the cause. Trump—who frequently says the quiet part out loud—seems to be trying to step away from a position that he views as a political loser ahead of what will likely be a tight general election in November. “You must follow your heart on this issue,” he concluded in his video yesterday. “But remember, you must also win elections to restore our culture and in fact to have our country, which is currently and very sadly a nation in decline.”

For months, Trump has refrained from plainly stating what he’d do about abortion in a second term, making vague allusions to a grand deal that he’d negotiate to bring everyone together—Democrats and Republicans alike—around the issue. In the wake of the Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization decision in June 2022—the outcome of which was made possible by the three justices he nominated to the Supreme Court during his first term—Trump criticized some state abortion bans as too restrictive and blamed the GOP’s underperformance in the 2022 midterms on Republicans’ anti-abortion positions. 

Trump’s ambivalence was a factor in the presidential primary, as well. In September, he described the six-week ban that his then-primary opponent, Gov. Ron DeSantis, signed in Florida as a “terrible thing and a terrible mistake,” adding that he’d “come up with a number” of his own—presumably a reference to the point in pregnancy after which he’d favor abortion restrictions. Some pro-life advocacy organizations like Susan B. Anthony Pro-Life America (SBA) criticized Trump’s comments on the six-week ban but seemed to hope Trump would get behind a 15-week national ban as the consensus position on the issue. 

No dice. Trump not only neglected to mention a federal ban in his statement on Monday, he also didn’t amend his criticism of stricter bans in states like Florida—an omission that hasn’t inspired confidence among pro-life advocates, especially given Trump’s varied history on the issue. “We are deeply disappointed in President Trump’s position,” SBA President Marjorie Dannenfelser said in a statement Monday reacting to Trump’s comments. “Saying the issue is ‘back to the states’ cedes the national debate to the Democrats who are working relentlessly to enact legislation mandating abortion throughout all nine months of pregnancy.” That said, although SBA indicated publicly last April it would “oppose any presidential candidate who refuses to embrace at a minimum a 15-week national standard to stop painful late-term abortions while allowing states to enact further protections,” Dannenfelser on Monday affirmed that the group would “work tirelessly to defeat President Biden and extreme Congressional Democrats.”

But other pro-life leaders suggested on Monday that Trump’s position could cost him their support. “President Trump is not a pro-life candidate,” Lila Rose—the head of Live Action who favors absolute bans on abortionsaid yesterday. “In 2016, President Trump won on the back of vigorous pro-life support, and that support was vindicated with the appointment of the justices who overturned Roe v. Wade. But that support will not materialize in 2024 if President Trump holds to this anti-human and cowardly position.”

Mike Pence, Trump’s former running mate, labeled the former president’s video “a slap in the face to the millions of pro-life Americans who voted for him in 2016 and 2020,” adding that “too many Republican politicians are all too ready to wash their hands of the battle for life.” Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham—a proponent of a 15-week federal plan and reliable Trump ally—also voiced his disagreement with the former president, albeit in a more reserved manner. “I respectfully disagree with President Trump’s statement that abortion is a states’ rights issue,” he said Monday.

Graham’s politesse didn’t spare him Trump’s ire: The former president fired back at his critics yesterday, calling out Graham and Dannenfelser by name in a slew of Truth Social posts. In doing so, the former president seemed to effectively affirm Democrats’ theory of the case: If Republicans try to run on abortion, they’ll lose in November. “Many Good Republicans lost Elections because of this Issue, and people like Lindsey Graham, that are unrelenting, are handing Democrats their dream of the House, Senate, and perhaps even the Presidency,” he wrote

“The States will be making the decision,” he added in a subsequent post. “Republicans are now free to run for Office based on the Horrible Border, Inflation, Bad Economy, and the Death & Destruction of our Country.”

For all his bluster, Trump is right that Republicans have indeed suffered a string of losses at the ballot box on abortion. Pro-choice advocates have seen victories on abortion ballot initiatives in Kansas, Kentucky, Wisconsin, Michigan, and Ohio in recent years, and they’re hoping to replicate that success in Florida in November, when a constitutional amendment protecting a right to abortion is on the ballot. 

Despite the vagueness of Trump’s statement—or perhaps because of it—Democrats and President Biden are still looking to paint him as an abortion extremist. “Let there be no illusion,” Biden said Monday. “If Donald Trump is elected and MAGA Republicans in Congress put a national abortion ban on the Resolute Desk, Trump will sign it into law.” Biden himself has evolved dramatically on the issue, from supporting a number of abortion restrictions earlier in his career to devoting an entire rally earlier this year to abortion rights. Still, he’s ruffled feathers among pro-choice advocates within the Democratic coalition for not campaigning on the issue as enthusiastically as they would like.

Due in part to this dynamic on the Democratic side, plenty of pro-life advocates seem to have made their peace with Trump’s abortion stance. Penny Nance, president of the pro-life Concerned Women for America, said Monday that her organization “​​favors federal limits on abortion” but would still support Trump in November. “The reality of a stark choice between President Biden who supports abortion: any number, any reason, up until birth, all paid for by the taxpayer and President Trump: who gave us three Constitutionalist justices, 220 lower court judges, appointees who support life and the overturn of Roe v. Wade has my endorsement and support in November for President,” she tweeted Monday

Kristan Hawkins, the president of Students for Life, praised Trump for celebrating the joy of children and family in his statement. “We clearly have some work to do to educate President Trump in the many ways that abortion has been made federal,” she said. “But with the mutual goals of supporting families and welcoming young children, I can work with this.” 

Rose, Nance, and Hawkins were all signatories to a letter published in National Review in June 2023 arguing that the pro-life movement must pursue equal protection for unborn children at every level of government, and that elected officials should acknowledge “through constitutional provisions and legislation that children from the earliest embryonic stage forward are legal and constitutional persons entitled to the equal protection of state and local laws, and [prevent] states and localities from denying such protection.” 

With Roe v. Wade overturned, the pro-life movement has struggled to coalesce around a political and policy strategy—and Trump is not alone in trying to back away from the issue altogether. GOP candidates are distancing themselves from abortion bans in key Senate contests in Wisconsin and Michigan, and some Republican lawmakers are aligning themselves with Trump’s position, perhaps as cover against Democratic attacks. “Republicans do not support a federal ban on abortion—period,” Sen. Steve Daines of Montana, the chair of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, said Monday. Daines was one of the original co-sponsors of the 15-week abortion ban proposal in the Senate. 

Patrick Brown, a pro-life advocate and fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center, told TMD that he’s wary of Trump selling the pro-life movement down the river but also recognized the difficult political realities of pushing for a national abortion ban. “Republicans ran on turning abortion over to the states for years, and consistency is a virtue,” Brown said. “But prudence on the federal law does not and cannot mean ignoring the critical state-level battles, and pro-lifers should be concerned Trump will not go to bat for them in significant ballot measures like the upcoming one in Florida.”

Brown’s fears may not be misplaced. As Trump said Monday, “Always go by your heart, but we must win.”

Worth Your Time

  • Will the coming era of “great power competition” look more like conventional warfare or insurgency? For War on the Rocks, Jacob Shapiro and Liam Collins argued that history teaches it will be the latter. “The U.S. National Defense Strategy argues that preparing for the former is the best way to stave off major conflicts, and the Department of Defense is overwhelmingly emphasizing preparing for conventional warfare with China or Russia,” they wrote. “This is a risky strategy in one key respect: Historically, irregular warfare has been a major part of great-power competition. … So, where should U.S. leaders look to figure out what the right mix is and which bonds to invest in, so to speak? They don’t have to depend solely on their imaginations to decide, as they can utilize almost 50 years of evidence from the last era of strategic competition: the Cold War. … If the nation fails to diversify its national security investments to retain hard-earned irregular warfare skills and capabilities, the United States will have more costly failures and fewer inexpensive successes. And the Cold War teaches us that this combination is a recipe for failure in long-run great-power competition.” 
  • The U.S. government is blowing its opportunity to secure its fiscal health, Megan McArdle argued in the Washington Post. “The economy is booming, and yet last year’s deficit was 6.3 percent of gross domestic product,” she wrote, listing a whole litany of ugly statistics that spell nothing but ill. “And, of course, there’s an even more heroic assumption underlying all these numbers: that we won’t experience another crisis that we’ll want to spend a bunch of borrowed money on. As the 2008-2009 financial crisis and the pandemic revealed, this is hardly a safe bet. … If we can’t balance our books now, when everything is going well, how will we manage it later, when our growing debt might push up interest rates, crowding out private investment and worsening the budget math? What will we do if, God forbid, another crisis needs to be finessed with borrowed money but no one will lend to us at reasonable rates? Almost no one in government is even asking these questions. … If this is the best Americans can do in the best of times, then we are asking for disaster when things, inevitably, get worse.” 

Presented Without Comment

Former President Donald Trump, on Truth Social: “I blame myself for Lindsey Graham, because the only reason he won in the Great State of South Carolina is because I Endorsed him!”

Also Presented Without Comment

The Guardian: [U.K. Foreign Secretary] David Cameron Meets Donald Trump Amid Push to Shore Up Ukraine Support

Toeing the Company Line

  • It’s Tuesday, which means Dispatch Live (🔒) returns tonight at 8 p.m. ET/5 p.m. PT! The team will discuss the news of the week and, of course, take plenty of viewer questions! Keep an eye out for an email later today with information on how to tune in.
  • In the newsletters: Kevin explained (🔒) what the spat between Candace Owens and Ben Shapiro can tell us about political and theological liberalism, the Dispatch Politics crew previewed the looming congressional battle over Ukraine aid, and, in a shocking turn of events, Nick argued (🔒) that Donald Trump is right about abortion. 
  • On the podcasts: David and Sarah catch up on developments in the Trump classified documents trial on today’s episode of Advisory Opinions.
  • On the site: Kevin Carroll advocates for reauthorizing Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, while Noah Chauvin argues it needs to be reformed. Plus, Chris warns against political prosecutions and John checks in on young voters’ support for Biden. 

Let Us Know

Do you think Trump’s position on abortion will help or hurt Republicans in 2024? From a pro-life perspective, is Trump correct that it’s more important for Republicans to win elections than to maintain purity on the issue?

Mary Trimble is the editor of The Morning Dispatch and is based in Washington, D.C. Prior to joining the company in 2023, she interned at The Dispatch, in the political archives at the Paris Institute of Political Studies (Sciences Po), and at Voice of America, where she produced content for their French-language service to Africa. When not helping write The Morning Dispatch, she is probably watching classic movies, going on weekend road trips, or enjoying live music with friends.

Grayson Logue is the deputy editor of The Morning Dispatch and is based in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Prior to joining the company in 2023, he worked in political risk consulting, helping advise Fortune 50 companies. He was also an assistant editor at Providence Magazine and is a graduate student at the University of Edinburgh, pursuing a Master’s degree in history. When Grayson is not helping write The Morning Dispatch, he is probably working hard to reduce the number of balls he loses on the golf course.