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Our Best Stuff From the Week Donald Trump Roiled the Abortion Debate
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Our Best Stuff From the Week Donald Trump Roiled the Abortion Debate

The presumptive Republican nominee said policy should be left to the states—until Arizona all but banned the procedure altogether.

Pro-life supporters take part in a "Rally for Life" march and celebration outside the Texas State Capitol on January 27, 2024, in Austin, Texas. (Photo by Suzanne Cordeiro/AFP/Getty Images)

Hello. Iran on Saturday launched nearly 300 missiles and drones at Israel in an attack that Western leaders had been anticipating all week. The Israel Defense Forces reported that nearly all the missiles and drones were intercepted, though the Washington Post notes that the few that did fall damaged a military base and one girl was injured. We’ll have more details tomorrow in The Morning Dispatch.

Before that happened, the biggest story of the week centered around abortion and how the Republican Party is handling the contentious issue. Nearly two years ago, pro-lifers got the moment they’d been working toward for 50 years: The Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade. The events of the past week demonstrate what a Pyrrhic victory that was. 

As we’ve seen since the court handed down its ruling in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, strict abortion restrictions are a losing proposition electorally. Voters in both blue states (California, Michigan, and Vermont) and red states (Kansas, Kentucky, and Ohio) have voted to enshrine abortion rights into their constitutions.

That is a big enough challenge for pro-lifers to grapple with. But the pro-life movement made its home in the Republican Party, which in turn hitched its star to Donald Trump. And no one hates losing quite like Donald Trump. The former president and presumptive Republican nominee has tried to have it every which way on the issue over the years: He was the first sitting president to address the annual March for Life rally, and he appointed three of the Supreme Court justices who voted to overturn Roe. He’s described himself as the “most pro-life president in American history.” But last fall he called Florida’s six-week abortion ban a “terrible mistake,” and he more recently drew the ire of pro-lifers who oppose in vitro fertilization by calling on Alabama to pass protections for that procedure after its state Supreme Court ruled that embryos were children. He’s also made conflicting statements about federal abortion bans. 

On Monday, he seemed to offer some clarity on the issue, saying in a video statement that “the Republican Party should always be on the side of the miracle of life” while also declaring that whatever states decide “must be the law of the land.” That disappointed some pro-lifers, but is a defensible position constitutionally even if made for the sake of convenience. As Nick noted that evening in Boiling Frogs, “Donald Trump, situational federalist, has arrived at the right outcome for the wrong reason. He plainly doesn’t give a fig about constitutional niceties; his allergy to setting abortion policy at the federal level derives entirely from the electoral headache this issue has created for him.” 

But then on Tuesday, the Arizona Supreme Court reinstated the state’s 1864 law banning abortions from the moment of conception in all cases except to save the life of the mother. Trump’s response? “It’s all about state’s rights, and that’ll be straightened out,” he said. “I’m sure that the governor and everybody else are going to bring it back into reason and that’ll be taken care of, I think very quickly.” Kari Lake, a Trump ally in Arizona running for the U.S. Senate, has even appealed to state legislators to overturn the 19th-century law and restore the state’s law restricting abortions after 15 weeks of gestation.

So, is the GOP still a pro-life party? Can pro-lifers justify supporting Donald Trump? Activists are mixed. Live Action President Lila Rose spoke out forcefully against Trump’s stance. Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of Susan B. Anthony Pro-Life America, expressed disappointment but vowed her group “will work tirelessly to defeat President Biden and extreme congressional Democrats.” Students for Life America issued a letter calling on Trump to select a pro-life running mate and to defund Planned Parenthood if he wins.

Kevin writes about how, as much as the current dynamic is partially a product of Trump’s “radical selfishness,” the pro-life movement is in a bad spot because it was narrowly focused on overturning Roe for so long that it “forgot how to talk about abortion as a democratic controversy.” There is hard work to be done, and it’s not at the ballot box. “Consensus-building is the only way to build a stable, long-term policy that actually protects the lives of the unborn and reduces—in fact, not in theory—the practice of abortion,” he writes. “Consensus-building is the way toward anti-abortion goals, not a detour from them. As I have written before: The pro-life movement doesn’t win when nobody can get an abortion—it wins when nobody wants one.” 

But in the meantime, several states will have abortion measures on the ballot this year, and the issue is likely to influence other races in November. Chris Stirewalt explains in his Saturday newsletter how the issue persuades some existing voters to choose different candidates and motivates new voters to register and turn out. For more, check out Sarah, Steve, and Jonah’s discussion of Trump’s statement on The Dispatch Podcast.

Thanks for reading. Here are a few other things you might have missed.

In Boiling Frogs (🔒), Nick writes about a peculiar trend he’s noticed. It’s not enough for the America First crowd to oppose U.S. support for Ukraine or Israel on isolationist grounds. Folks like Marjorie Taylor Greene and Tucker Carlson are arguing against U.S. involvement on religious grounds. MTG has accused the Ukrainians of “attacking Christians” and Tucker Carlson is very concerned about Christian persecution in the Middle East … by Israel. Nick suggests that it’s less about religion and more about tribalism: America First types want  Christians to “suppress their instinct to ask who’s right and who’s wrong morally and instead approach disputes by asking, ‘Which side of this is more closely aligned with my ethnic or religious tribe?’” And he has some thoughts: “The more political tribalism infects Christian identity, the easier it should be for Trump and other talented demagogues like Carlson and Greene to mold Christian belief to their political ends.”

In 2015, the Federal Communications Commission adopted “net neutrality,” which ostensibly prohibited internet service providers from blocking or slowing down access to sites on the internet. When FCC Commissioner Ajit Pai undid net neutrality during the Trump administration, supporters of the policy warned that the internet would slow to a crawl or that ISPs would charge sites like Google and social media platforms for access, which they would be forced to pass along. None of that came to pass, but net neutrality is back. Will revisits the history in this week’s edition of Techne, and notes that regulating ISPs has never been about consumer protection. “It bears repeating: Even without these rigid guidelines, Big Tech came into being. Innovation thrived without the need for strict enforcement of net neutrality rules,” he writes. “What’s fascinating looking back on this history is that network neutrality has never been a fixed policy. The goal posts were constantly shifting and expanding. In the end, this battle was never about protecting consumers—they were always protected by the antitrust authorities. Rather, net neutrality has always been a battle about the limits of agency action.”

The youth vote is a perpetual mystery in elections, but maybe never more so than in 2024. For all the perceptions that “kids these days” are super progressive and aligned with the left, the fact is that Donald Trump and Joe Biden are surprisingly close in polling data of the under-30 crowd. John McCormack reports that Biden can ill afford to lose any support in that demographic. Biden, he writes, “won Wisconsin, Arizona, and Georgia by less than 1 point and carried Pennsylvania by a little more than 1 point. If Biden were to win young voters by 14 points in 2024 instead of his 24-point margin from 2020—and everything else stayed the same—that could be enough to sink him in 2024.” 

And here’s the best of the rest.

  • Charlotte reports from Tel Aviv on Israel’s preparations for a war against Iran and its proxies in response to an attack against Iranian personnel in Damascus, Syria on April 1. The Israel Defense Forces have called up air-defense reserves and canceled the leaves of some soldiers, the navy and air force have conducted joint exercises, and citizens are stockpiling water and non-perishable foods.
  • Can House Speaker Mike Johnson pass aid for Ukraine and keep his job? The Dispatch Politics team details how Johnson is working to pull off that delicate task. 
  • Various states have tried to ban or limit social media platforms for kids, but the laws have failed subsequent legal challenges. Has Florida come up with a law that can both protect kids and stand up to scrutiny from courts? Nick Hafen explains how a new state law is dealing with that challenge.
  • Conservatives had a lot of fun mocking the idea that Barack Obama was some kind of messiah—or in progressive parlance, a “lightworker.” Is it any less ridiculous to describe Donald Trump as a “man sent by god? No, Jonah argues in his Wednesday G-File (🔒).
  • Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg might have the weakest of the four criminal cases against Donald Trump, but he’s got one thing that other prosecutors don’t: a court date. Get ready for some history as the former president heads to trial over payments he made to Stormy Daniels. In The Collision, Sarah and Mike write about what to expect from jury selection, which begins Monday.
  • And the pods! Chris Stirewalt stole Jonah’s Remnant mic for a day, but we’ll allow it: Our favorite West Virginia native is the perfect person to talk to Bates College professor Tyler Austin Harper, who just published an important critique of the book White Rural Rage. Give it a listen. What are the origins of originalism? David and Sarah get into that question and others on Advisory Opinions. And on The Dispatch Podcast, Jamie debates former MSBNC host Mehdi Hasan about Israel’s war against Hamas and whether the IDF is committing war crimes.

Rachael Larimore is managing editor of The Dispatch and is based in the Cincinnati area. Prior to joining the company in 2019, she served in similar roles at Slate, The Weekly Standard, and The Bulwark. She and her husband have three sons.