Former President Donald Trump on Wednesday took direct credit for the Supreme Court overturning its 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling and ending the national right to an abortion.
“I was able to terminate Roe v. Wade,” said Trump, the current Republican front-runner in the 2024 presidential race, during a CNN town hall event.
It wasn’t the first time Trump had claimed responsibility for last year’s decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, but it was his most explicit assertion in that vein to date on national TV.
Amid all of the lies, excusals for insurrectionists, and mockery of the woman he was found liable for sexually assaulting, Trump’s statement about Roe on the CNN stage is likely to stand as the defining moment in his first foray out of the conservative media ecosystem for the 2024 election cycle.
The court’s decision in Dobbs is broadly unpopular and proved a catalyst for Democrats’ surprise success in the 2022 midterm elections, as they hammered Republicans for endorsing abortion bans. The Democratic National Committee blasted out Trump’s remarks to its press list as the “Key Clip” of the night, with DNC Chairman Jaime Harrison doing much the same on Twitter.
Trump knows this, but he’s stuck between a rock and a hard place. The anti-abortion wing of the GOP is significant in size and influence, and Trump needed its support in 2016. He promised to nominate judges who would overturn Roe and he later delivered, with three justices voting to do just that. But now, many Republicans are demanding that elected officials ban abortions nationwide — at the very least after 15 weeks of pregnancy.
Earlier this year, anti-abortion activists had voiced concern after the former president said the issue should be left to the states. Marjorie Dannenfelser, who heads Susan B. Anthony Pro-Life America, and other abortion opponents met with Trump in recent days to head off any rift on the issue. Dannenfelser, whose group is demanding all GOP presidential candidates endorse a nationwide abortion ban, described the meeting as “terrific.”
The problem for Trump is that the electorate — particularly in the very swing states that helped him win in 2016 — is heavily against abortion bans. Polls consistently show that roughly 60% of the public opposes the Dobbs decision and blanket bans. Support for abortion rights has also increased since the 2022 ruling.
Instead of answering CNN moderator Kaitlan Collins’ question about whether he would support a federal abortion ban, Trump bobbed and weaved. The end of Roe had given abortion opponents “negotiating capability,” he said.
To negotiate what?
“Some people are at six weeks; some people are at three weeks, two weeks,” Trump said, referring to the point in pregnancy after which some Republicans would ban abortion.
Would he sign a federal abortion ban? Trump evaded, but his party’s position made it impossible to dodge completely.
“We have a great negotiating ability, and I think we’re going to be able to get something done,” he said.
Trump did state that he support exceptions to abortion bans for rape, incest and saving the life of the mother. Republican candidates who opposed such exemptions in key 2022 swing-state races, like in Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, were pummeled by Democratic attack ads and at the polls by voters.
Still, Trump made sure that the electorate heard him take credit for ending a half-century right that stood as a cornerstone of women’s freedom.
“I was able to terminate Roe v. Wade, after 50 years of trying ― they worked for 50 years,” Trump said. “I’ve never seen anything like it. They worked ― and I was even ― I was so honored to have done it. We are in a very good negotiating position right now, only because of what I was able to do.”
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