BBC – After Donald Trump labelled Florida’s six-week abortion ban a “terrible mistake”, he opened himself to attack from powerful conservative activists who want to ban the procedure nationwide. But his comments also revealed the challenges for Republican messaging on one of the country’s most polarising issues.
On Monday afternoon, the president of Students for Life – one of the country’s leading anti-abortion groups – sent an open letter to former President Donald Trump, the definitive frontrunner for the Republican party’s 2024 presidential nomination.
The tone was displeased, and scolding.
Students for Life would pause its $5m door-knocking campaign meant to rally anti-abortion voters in the 2024 race until Mr Trump “clarified” his comments in a recent interview on NBC’s Meet the Press, which had aired the day before.
Mr Trump attacked his chief Republican rival, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, for his state’s six-week abortion ban. The six-week ban “is a terrible thing and a terrible mistake”, he said.
But when pressed by host Kristen Welker on his own position, Mr Trump ducked. Would he support a 15-week federal ban – widely considered the minimum standard by anti-abortion groups? “I’m not going to say I would or I wouldn’t,” Mr Trump replied.
The backlash was swift.
Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the influential anti-abortion group SBA Pro-Life America, issued a statement saying anything later than a 15-week ban “makes no sense”. And Students for Life president Kristan Hawkins wrote her letter, threatening to pull her group’s 1,000 volunteers off the campaign trail.
“The pro-life vote is up for grabs,” Ms Hawkins said.
The tension between the anti-abortion lobby and Mr Trump is telling. More than one year after Mr Trump’s Supreme Court nominees helped deliver anti-abortion activists their long-sought victory – overturning Roe v Wade – Republicans are scrambling to find a position on abortion that placates their base without alienating the broader public.
Experts say Republicans did not expect the public outcry that followed the end of Roe …