HOWARD KURTZ: Why Trump is in favor of states determining their own abortion laws


Donald Trump told me he wanted to devise an abortion compromise that would “make everyone happy.”

I said I didn’t think that was possible.

But he didn’t dispute a New York Times report that he was talking to advisers about banning the procedure after 16 weeks, soon modified in another interview to 15 weeks.

Instead, in an early morning video yesterday, Trump tried to take a stand that didn’t make anyone unhappy. That’s because he embraced the status quo.

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The Supreme Court overturned the 50-year precedent that was Roe v. Wade in 2022 after determining abortion was not protected under the Constitution in the Dobbs ruling. (AP Photo/Mariam Zuhaib, File)

He said the states should decide, both voters and lawmakers, and that some would set more conservative limits and others looser ones.

The former president made no mention of any time limits.

Which means things will proceed under the Supreme Court’s Dobbs ruling exactly as if he had made no statement at all.

Trump did take credit – not that he had much choice – for appointing the three conservative justices who helped overturn the 50-year precedent of Roe v. Wade. He thanked all six conservative Supreme Court members by name.

“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,” Trump said in the video. “At the end of the day, this is all about the will of the people.”

Biden hit back hard, particularly at the assertion that legal experts on both sides wanted Roe thrown out.

“Trump is simply lying. There was no groundswell of support in America for overturning Roe. In fact, support for Roe is higher today in America than it has ever been,” he said in a statement.

“Trump admits as much in his statement today. Having created the chaos of overturning Roe, he’s trying to say, ‘Oh, never mind. Don’t punish me for that. I just want to win.’ Trump is scrambling. He’s worried that since he’s the one responsible for overturning Roe, the voters will hold him accountable in 2024. Well, I have news for Donald. They will.”

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But look at the difference. Trump makes a video, the Biden campaign puts out a statement. 

The president loves statements, but they do little to drive television and online coverage. Unless he gets before a camera on this issue, he will have forfeited a prime opportunity – eclipsed, like the sun across America.

The ex-president did disappoint some on the pro-life side with his remarks. 

The president of Susan B. Anthony Pro-Life America said she was “deeply disappointed” and Sen. Lindsey Graham, who favors a 15-week ban, said “the states’-rights-only rationale today runs contrary to an American consensus that would limit late-term abortions and will age about as well as the Dred Scott decision” – the 1857 ruling that slaves were not American citizens and could expect no federal protection even if they lived where slavery was outlawed.

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People celebrate outside the Supreme Court in Washington after it ended constitutional protections for abortion that had been in place nearly 50 years, a decision by its conservative majority to overturn the court’s landmark abortion cases. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)

Trump responded to Graham’s criticism by saying he “is doing a great disservice to the Republican Party, and to our Country. At first, he wanted no Abortions under any circumstances, then he was up to 6 weeks, where you’re allowed Abortion, now he’s up to 15 weeks, where you’re allowed Abortion, but what he doesn’t understand, or perhaps he does, is the Radical Left Democrats, who are destroying our Country, will never approve anything that he or the Republicans want.”

Looking back at my Mar-a-Lago sit-down with the former president, he used language remarkably similar to what he released yesterday.

“The Democrats are the radicals on this issue because it’s okay to have an abortion at seven, eight, nine months and even after birth,” he told me. That last part was a reference to comments by former Virginia governor Ralph Northam – who later walked it back and said he’d only been talking about rare cases involving fetal abnormalities.

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Trump also told me that “you have to have the three exceptions…now there are a few places where you don’t.” He cited the example of Doug Mastriano, who got creamed in the Pennsylvania governor’s race after opposing the exceptions. Trump yesterday emphasized the need to allow abortions in cases of rape, incest and the life of the mother. 

And, he said to me, “But I tell people, number one, you have to go with your heart. You have to go with your heart. But beyond that, you also have to get elected.”

Yesterday: “You must follow your heart or in many cases, your religion or your faith.”

Former President Donald Trump

Former President Trump said in a video released Monday morning that abortion restrictions should remain up to individual states, avoiding the topic of implementing a federal ban on the procedure. (Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

So here’s the thing. By talking up a 15- or 16-week ban in interviews with me and others, Trump sent an unmistakable signal that he wants that approach. Most people who have followed it know he believes that the procedure should not be allowed by the second trimester, even though that doesn’t cover the vast majority of abortions.

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But by leaving that out of his “official” position, he avoids most of the political blowback. He’s just going along with what the Supreme Court mandated, despite the earlier wink and nod.

You have to follow your heart, but first you must get elected.



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