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Anti-abortion activists in March for Life 2020.
Republicans say they still believe Trump is anti-abortion but was stating the political reality. Evan Vucci/AP Photo

Congress’ Anti-Abortion Republicans Want a National Ban. But They Want President Trump More.

Sen. J.D. Vance, who once backed a “minimum national standard on abortion,” said Trump was “making a pretty obvious observation to me, which is that, you know, Republicans keep on losing on abortion politics.”

Donald Trump’s grip on conservatives remains so strong that anti-abortion Republican lawmakers — even those who have pushed for a federal abortion ban for years — did not bat an eye when the former president said this week he would not sign a national ban into law.

Rep. Mike Kelly from Pennsylvania, a Trump ally, told NOTUS that he was “not disappointed” by Trump’s new stance and that abortion “went back to the states” with the Dobbs decision. Kelly has pushed for and reintroduced a six-week federal ban this session (the congressman said he was “a realist” about his bill likely not becoming law any time soon).

“[Trump’s] position is pro-life,” Kelly said. “He’s not going to jump over the states. A lot of this goes back to the 10th Amendment, doesn’t it? So, it’s not covered by the Constitution.”

Ohio Sen. J.D. Vance, who once backed a “minimum national standard on abortion,” said Trump was “making a pretty obvious observation to me, which is that, you know, Republicans keep on losing on abortion politics.”

“I think we have to figure out what isn’t working in our messaging,” Vance told NOTUS. “I think part of that is a recognition that different states are going to handle this issue in different ways.”

Trump put out a statement early this week that abortion should be left up to the states and encouraged the GOP to adopt his position, all the while infuriating many anti-abortion activists who had hoped he’d support a 15-week national ban at minimum.

Trump — who says he’s proud to have overturned Roe v. Wade — has instead doubled down on his argument and attacked anyone who would disagree with him (such as close allies Sen. Lindsey Graham and Susan B. Anthony Pro-Life America President Marjorie Dannenfelser) and framed it as entirely election-based: By leaving abortion up to the states, Republicans “are now free to run for office” on issues like immigration, inflation and the economy.

The former president’s position is “politically prudent,” said Giancarlo Sopo, a GOP media strategist. He emphasized abortion has been a losing issue for the party in every election since the Dobbs decision.

“It doesn’t make a lot of sense to stand in Trump’s way, regardless of issue, if you’re a Republican,” Sopo added. “The evidence is overwhelming; this is a political problem for the GOP.”

Prior to Trump’s statement on abortion this week, Republicans lacked a unified abortion message, which party officials defended. But now, lawmakers are slowly changing their position and aligning themselves with the presumptive GOP presidential nominee.

Senate Minority Whip John Thune and Sen. Steve Daines, chair of Senate Republicans’ campaign arm, both co-sponsored a 15-week abortion ban introduced by Graham after Roe v. Wade was overturned but recently changed their minds.

Daines told Axios that “Republicans do not support a federal ban on abortion. Period.” And Thune told reporters that the Dobbs decision “essentially said that the states and its leaders and the voters in those states are going to be principally in charge of making a decision about … what kind of policies they’re going to have in place with respect to [abortion].”

Graham told reporters abortion should be left to the states “up to a point.”

“I’m going to keep doing what I’m doing,” he later said. “I think most pro-life Republicans are not going to give up on the idea of trying to protect the unborn from late-term abortions.”

Sen. Marco Rubio, who also endorsed Graham’s bill, said Trump “was a pro-life president” and his refusal to sign a federal ban was simply “acknowledging … we can’t pass it, it wouldn’t pass.”

Chair of the House Pro-Life Caucus Rep. Chris Smith, who has introduced a companion bill to Graham’s in the House, said he was “not surprised” about Trump’s individual state abortion approach but that he was focused on what he individually could do “to protect life.”

Democrats have seized the opportunity to hit Republicans on their shifting abortion rhetoric. The Biden campaign said Trump “lies constantly” and “will use every tool at his disposal to ban abortion nationwide.”

Republicans “will say anything to get elected,” said Rep. Diana DeGette, co-chair of the House Pro-Choice Caucus. “I frankly think if you had a Republican House and a Republican Senate and they passed a ban on abortion … I have no doubt that Donald Trump would sign it.”

“I believe Donald Trump on nothing,” Sen. Richard Blumenthal told NOTUS. “I think he is totally untrustworthy on this issue.”

Oriana González is a reporter at NOTUS.