As Trump weighs vice presidential pick, abortion becomes issue of focus

Written by on June 25, 2024

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(WASHINGTON) — With the Republican National Convention less than a month away, former President Donald Trump’s timeline to select a vice president is dwindling. While Trump continues to weigh his options on who he might select for the No. 2 slot, the abortion stances held by prospective shortlist candidates have become an issue of focus.

North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum — a potential veepstakes candidate — backed one of the strictest anti-abortion laws in the country, something the Trump campaign is aware of as they move forward in the selection process.

In April 2023, Burgum banned abortion in his state with very limited exceptions — some of which only apply up to six weeks’ gestation, before many women know they are pregnant.

The exceptions within the first six weeks of pregnancy allow abortion in cases of rape or incest, while exceptions for medical emergencies are allowed throughout pregnancy.

“This bill clarifies and refines existing state law … and reaffirms North Dakota as a pro-life state,” Burgum said in a statement when he signed the law.

Burgum’s signature came almost a year after the Supreme Court’s Dobbs decision that reversed Roe v. Wade. At the time of his signature, there were no abortion clinics in the state of North Dakota.

On the second day of his GOP presidential primary campaign, Burgum shifted his narrative, saying he would not support a similar nationwide law if he was elected to the White House. He advocated that the issue should be decided on a state-by-state basis, a stance that Trump has since adopted on the campaign trail.

Trump has said he supports abortion with three exceptions: in cases of rape, in cases of incest, and in cases where it’s necessary to save the life of the mother. In contrast, Burgum’s ban doesn’t allow for rape and incest exceptions after the first six weeks of pregnancy.

“I think the decision that was made returning the power to the states was the right one. And I think we’re going to have — we have a lot of division on this issue in America. And what’s right for North Dakota may not be right for another state … the best decisions are made locally,” Burgum said on “CNN This Morning” in early June.

Another candidate on the former president’s shortlist, Ohio Gov. JD Vance, has danced carefully around the issue of abortion, applauding the overturning of Roe v. Wade and supporting Texas’ ban on abortion, which does not allow exceptions except in cases where the mother’s life is at risk.

Late last year, though, Vance called on Republicans to respond to abortion in a more sensible way, saying on CNN’s State of the Union, “We have to accept people do not want blanket abortion bans, and I say this as a person who wants to protect as many unborn babies as possible.”

Last November, in Vance’s home state of Ohio, voters approved a constitutional amendment that protects access to abortion and other forms of reproductive health care. Vance, who opposed the amendment, called the passing of the initiative a “gut punch” but also spoke to his party on how they must accept the “political reality of abortion,” writing on X last year voters do not trust Republicans on the issue.

“Donald Trump has said, ‘You’ve got to have the exceptions.’ I am as pro-life as anyone, and I want to save as many babies as possible. This is not about moral legitimacy but political reality,” Vance said.

Another VP hopeful, Sen. Marco Rubio, famously said during his 2016 presidential bid that “every one abortion is too many,” and in 2022 he co-sponsored federal legislation that would ban abortion after 15 weeks.

In recent years Rubio has said that he supports any legislation that “protects unborn human life,” but has also acknowledged that not everyone shares his views on abortion.

“I support any bill that protects unborn human life, but I don’t consider other people in the pro-life movement who have a different view to be apostate,” Rubio said during an interview on NBC News’ Meet the Press last month when pressed on whether he disagrees with Trump’s opposition to Florida’s six-week ban.

In the past, Trump has criticized Republicans for signing strict abortion bans, publicly slamming Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis after he signed a six-week abortion ban into law in April of last year.

“I think what he did is a terrible thing and a terrible mistake,” Trump said during an appearance on NBC’s Meet the Press.

Trump’s comments were indicative of the political approach he has taken on the issue of reproductive rights, arguing that Republicans need to be cognizant of the need to win elections and not alienate voters with extreme policies.

Early in April, he stated that since Roe v. Wade had reversed the nation’s prohibitions against abortion access, the matter should be left to the discretion of the individual states, advocating that they maintain laws allowing abortion access for victims of rape and incest, and to save the life of the pregnant woman.

“You must follow your heart on this issue but remember, you must also win elections to restore our culture and, in fact, to save our country, which is currently and very sadly, a nation in decline,” Trump said in an abortion policy video released on his social media platform. “Always go by your heart. But we must win. We have to win, we are a failing nation.”

Since then, Trump has reiterated his belief on numerous occasions — including at a religious convention just this past weekend while courting conservative Christians — as he has publicly pushed for Republicans to move away from spotlighting abortion, demonstrating an awareness that voters tend to disagree with Republican abortion bans.

When South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham “respectfully” disagreed with Trump’s state’s rights stance and advocated for a 15-week national ban in April, Trump grew irate, highlighting how comments like Graham’s feed into Democratic narratives of Republican extremism that have cost the party electoral victories.

“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,” Trump wrote on his Truth Social platform, in a rare public rebuke of his congressional ally.

Trump similarly lashed out against his former Vice President Mike Pence when he called Trump’s stance on abortion “a slap in the face to the millions of pro-life Americans who voted for him in 2016 and 2020,” earlier this year.

“Mike Pence has been doing a lot of talking about Abortion lately … He started at no abortion for any reason, and then allowing abortions for up to 6 weeks, then up to 15 weeks, and then, who knows?” Trump wrote on his social media platform in April.

“But it doesn’t matter because the Radical Left Democrats will never approve anything on this issue, and Republicans don’t have anywhere close to the number of Senators necessary to make it matter,” Trump continued, suggesting that his former running mate was polling at 1%-2% because he was getting bad advice.

And though abortion is a key issue as Trump considers his choices for a running mate, he continues to try to shift the focus of the race away from reproductive rights toward other issues like the economy and immigration that he feels are more likely to generate support among Republicans.

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