On Abortion, Trump Chose Politics Over Principles. Will It Matter?

When Donald J. Trump ran for president in 2016, the leaders of the anti-abortion movement extracted a series of promises from him in exchange for backing his nomination.

They demanded Supreme Court justices who would overturn Roe v. Wade. They insisted that he defund Planned Parenthood. They pushed for a vice president who was a champion of their cause. And each time, he said yes.

But that was then.

With Roe v. Wade left on the “ash heap of history,” as anti-abortion leaders are fond of saying, they find themselves no longer calling the shots. Their movement remains mighty in Republican-controlled statehouses and with conservative courts, but it is weaker nationally than it has been in years. Many Republican strategists and candidates see their cause, even the decades-old term “pro-life,” as politically toxic. And on Monday, their biggest champion, the man whom they call the “most pro-life president in history,” chose politics over their principles — and launched a series of vitriolic attacks on some of their top leaders.

With his clearest statement yet on the future of abortion rights since the fall of Roe in 2022, Mr. Trump laid bare how faulty a messenger he had always been for the anti-abortion cause. When he first flirted with a presidential run in 1999, Mr. Trump was clear about his position on abortion: “I’m very pro-choice,” he said. He reversed that stance a dozen years later: “Just very briefly, I’m pro-life,” he told attendees at the Conservative Political Action Conference in 2011.

His support shifted again after the Supreme Court’s decision. While he bragged about appointing three of the justices who overturned Roe, he blamed the movement for Republican losses in the midterm elections. He mused aloud about the idea of a federal ban, but refused to give it the kind of ringing endorsement anti-abortion leaders wanted.

In his four-minute video statement on Monday, Mr. Trump said that states and their voters should decide abortion policies for themselves, in language that sounded like a free-for-all to the staunchest abortion opponents. He backed access to fertility treatments such as I.V.F., and supported exceptions to abortion bans in cases of rape, incest and the life of the mother.

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