© 2024 Allbritton Journalism Institute
Biden Restore Roe
The Trump announcement showcased the speed and power of the abortion rights movement’s national messaging prowess. Susan Walsh/AP

Inside the Rapid-Response Machine Ready for Trump’s Abortion Pivot

Activist groups, Democratic campaigns and the people at the highest levels of the Biden campaign immediately activated when Trump released his statement on abortion last week.

No matter where former President Donald Trump and Republicans tried to turn last week, abortion rights advocates were ready.

Sources — including activist groups, Democratic campaigns on the ground and the people at the highest levels of the Biden campaign — told NOTUS that in the nearly two years since the Dobbs decision, the machine built to protect and expand the right to an abortion has unified into one of the most powerful rapid-response engines in American politics.

At 6:57 a.m. last Monday, Trump posted his video officially punting on a federal abortion ban and said he supported leaving abortion up to individual states. More than one activist told NOTUS they didn’t even have to watch the video before activating response plans.

Within hours of Trump’s announcement, the Biden campaign released an ad starring Amanda Zurawski, a Texas woman denied an abortion even after her baby was diagnosed with a fatal condition. She became the first woman to file a lawsuit in Texas for being denied an emergency abortion since Roe v. Wade was overturned.

“They sent me all of the versions, and so we watched all of those, and we knew that it would be released pretty soon, but then once Trump came out with his, one of his many insane statements, they mobilized pretty quickly, and they released it that same day,” Zurawski told NOTUS. “So, it’s pretty incredible.”

Zurawski has been hitting the trail for the Biden campaign since January, she said, and three weeks ago, she let campaign cameras into her home to film the campaign ad, but she didn’t know when it would come out. In it, Zurawski gives an emotional testimonial as she shows things she had bought for her daughter, named Willow. The ad says the sepsis she endured from being denied the abortion could impact her future ability to have children. The video ends with the line: “Trump did this.”

“I’ve done many interviews, and oftentimes, reporters will ask if I have any of Willow’s things that they can film or take photos of. Almost always I say no because it’s just really difficult for me to go through her things,” Zurawski said. She allowed Biden campaign cameras access because she felt “what’s going to resonate with voters is giving a face to this issue.”

Amanda Zurawski
Amanda Zurawski allowed Biden campaign cameras access because she felt “what’s going to resonate with voters is giving a face to this issue.” Eric Gay/AP

It was just one part of a digital hammering of Trump over the last week. The Biden campaign said it posted on the topic 67 times, garnering millions of views for clips showing Trump bragging about the end of Roe and thanking the justices he appointed who made it happen.

“We’ve been working on this strategy and this messaging in this moment for, gosh, over five or six years now,” said Mini Timmaraju, president of Reproductive Freedom for All, the organization formerly known as NARAL.

The Trump announcement showcased the speed and power of the abortion rights movement’s national messaging prowess. An abortion ruling by the Arizona Supreme Court a day later showed off what groups have been building at the state level.

After years of being unified around the need to overturn Roe v. Wade, Republicans have struggled to figure out where their messaging goes from here. Arizona Republicans were quick to disavow the court’s ruling, and Trump’s power over prominent anti-abortion members of Congress is so strong that some have softened their stances on a need for a national ban, while others now say they agree with Trump’s position. One Republican strategist previously told NOTUS that abortion was clearly “a political problem for the GOP” and that Trump’s position was “politically prudent.”

The ruling in Arizona that banned nearly all abortions in the state was expected by abortion rights advocates, and given that Trump had just said the decision should be left up to the states, Democrats were ready to say he owned that one too.

Vice President Kamala Harris was operating off a tip that a ruling was imminent when she wrote and recorded a video anticipating the state’s Civil War-era ban on abortion would be ruled legally valid by the state’s highest court. A source familiar with the process said Harris personally requested a political visit to Arizona the Friday before the ruling came down. At that event, she said Trump was responsible.

At the same time, a parallel effort launched by Rep. Ruben Gallego — the expected Democratic nominee for U.S. Senate running with the backing of reproductive rights groups — was in motion. Time and consistency were of the essence after Tuesday’s ruling, a top campaign aide told NOTUS, because the Democrats expected Republican nominee Kari Lake to try and reframe her past support for the old Arizona law. Lake said she opposed the ruling in the hours after it was released. Gallego and his supporters tried to keep Lake on defense with a flurry of local media interviews and social media posts about her past support for the ban, which she had called a “great law” as recently as 2022.

A top Gallego aide described rushing from the Harris event in Tucson to Gallego’s event in the Phoenix area, with the national leaders who joined Harris in tow. The efforts culminated in a digital ad released Monday by the Gallego campaign that focused on Lake’s previous support for the law she now publicly opposes.

Strategists told NOTUS that the reproductive rights messaging is basically set moving forward, now based on years of experience in post-Dobbs politics. The push focuses on a loss of rights and a feeling that an America without Roe is riddled with uncertainty.

Sign up for the latest from NOTUS.

Abortion is “an issue that unites the Democratic coalition across the board,” said Ian Russell, a Democratic strategist and former deputy executive director of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.

“To the outside world, this seems like a lot. To us, it seems like just another week post-Roe falling,” one senior communications person in the reproductive health space said in the middle of the nonstop messaging last week. “Trump’s the one who changes his message. We don’t need to change our message.”

Evan McMorris-Santoro and Oriana González are reporters at NOTUS.