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The Republican Party Is Formally Backing Away From Federal Abortion Bans

Donald Trump’s proposed party platform passed a key committee on Monday, setting the stage for significant change in the GOP’s professed policy priorities.

Anti-abortion activists in March for Life 2020.
Evan Vucci/AP Photo

Former President Donald Trump’s proposed Republican Party platform was passed by the party’s Platform Committee on Monday, the first step in officially cutting decades-old language calling for federal abortion restrictions and a constitutional amendment to guarantee rights to fetuses and embryos.

The Trump campaign first emailed excerpts from the proposal that did not mention anything about abortion and then later emailed a link to the full proposed text. A source with knowledge of the proposal had earlier told NOTUS it embraces Trump’s stance that policies on the procedure should be left to the states.

“After 51 years, because of us, that power has been given to the States and to a vote of the People. We will oppose Late Term Abortion, while supporting mothers and policies that advance Prenatal Care, access to Birth Control, and IVF (fertility treatments),” the proposal reads.

The platform passed in an 84-18 vote and will go to the full Republican National Convention next week, per the source.

While anti-abortion advocates had for weeks been furiously calling on the GOP to keep its old language, they’re now cautiously embracing the new text — highlighting Trump’s strong grip on the party and the movement itself.

“It is important that the GOP reaffirmed its commitment to protect unborn life today through the 14th Amendment. Under this amendment, it is Congress that enacts and enforces its provisions. The Republican Party remains strongly pro-life at the national level,” Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of Susan B. Anthony Pro-Life America, said in a statement.

John Mize, CEO of Americans United for Life, said in a statement that “[w]e were glad to see the RNC take up this language in defense of preborn American lives. … We support the approach taken by the RNC.”

“We remain enthusiastic about the need to focus on winning hearts and minds on the abortion issue in the states,” Mize added.

The Republican platform has contained language for over four decades calling for a “human life amendment” to the Constitution to protect “unborn children” and support federal restrictions to abortion based on the 14th Amendment.

Trump’s new proposal maintains that the 14th Amendment “guarantees that no person can be denied Life or Liberty,” but instead of specifically calling for federal legislation based on that, it says that “states are, therefore, free to pass Laws protecting those Rights.” (The Constitution’s 14th Amendment bans states from denying “equal protection of the laws” to “any person,” which anti-abortion advocates argue includes fetuses and embryos.)

Americans United for Life worked closely with the RNC on developing platform language that preserved reference to the 14th Amendment, per a press release from the group.

Kristan Hawkins, president of Students for Life of America, was more critical of the new platform. She said that the 14th Amendment acknowledgment is its “most significant contribution” but then corrected the platform’s interpretation of the Dobbs decision.

Dobbs “actually means that all our elected leaders — local, state, and federal — can now engage on the human rights issue of the day,” she said in a statement.

“We are still waiting for President Trump’s new deal with the Pro-Life movement, but given the state focus of this platform, we are asking President Trump to call for Republican voters to reject the extreme, late-term abortion ballot initiatives across the country, beginning in Florida where he visits tomorrow,” Hawkins added.

The change in the language reflects a compromise between the Trump campaign and anti-abortion advocates, who had been negotiating for weeks ahead of the Platform Committee meeting to ensure that the party did not fully abandon its support for fetuses’ rights.

The new proposal, for the first time, includes language supporting IVF, and it also backs access to birth control, two issues Democrats have hounded Republicans over in recent months. Previous Republican platforms contained only limited language on contraception, primarily stating opposition to making it available over the counter.

One person familiar with the Platform Committee meeting taking place in Milwaukee said there was a lot of frustration in the room over how the platform was created. The person said that while the presumptive Republican presidential nominee has always had a lot of input on what the platform said, the party delegates ultimately had a say on how the language would look. This time around, the Trump campaign came up with the language and gave the committee members a “yes” or “no” vote.

“That was awful. That upset everybody,” the person said. “We’re in a position where the Trump campaign really stacked the deck on this and put themselves in a position to just, you know, get the delegates to affirm what they wanted.”

Terry Schilling, president of the conservative group American Principles Project, was in the room and told NOTUS the meeting lasted around two-and-a-half hours: “I think this is the fastest that they ever passed a platform.”

Schilling said people in the meeting had the opportunity to “offer amendments” to Trump’s proposed language, but none were brought up. That was because, he added, the Trump campaign had been in communication with groups, soliciting “a lot of advice” within the conservative movement, to come up with the language ahead of the meeting.

While the proposed platform strays away from abortion, which is perhaps the party’s biggest policy weakness ahead of November, it embraces a new culture war topic: transgender issues.

The proposal directly references gender issues and puts an “end to left-wing gender insanity.”

“We will keep men out of women’s sports, ban Taxpayer funding for sex change surgeries, and stop Taxpayer-funded Schools from promoting gender transition, reverse Biden’s radical rewrite of Title IX Education Regulations, and restore protections for women and girls,” the proposal reads.

Opposition to transgender health care has become a focus of conservatives over the last several years, as more state lawmakers enact restrictions to ban trans women and girls from participating in women’s sports and prohibit gender-affirming health care for minors.

If the proposal is approved by the full party, it would mark the first time anti-trans language makes it into the party’s official platform.

Reese Gorman and Oriana González are reporters at NOTUS. Capitol Hill bureau chief Matt Fuller contributed reporting.