CLIVE, Iowa – Former President Donald Trump – days after being heavily criticized by a leading anti-abortion group – spotlighted his past and potentially future efforts to restrict abortions, as he addressed an influential crowd of social conservative leaders and activists in Iowa, the state that leads off the GOP presidential nominating calendar.
Trump touted that he was “the most pro-life president in American history” and “took historic action to protect the unborn,” as he spoke live – but remotely – to a room of over 1,100 people attending a major gathering of the Iowa Faith and Freedom Coalition.
The former president showcased his “monumental victories for faith, for family, for freedom, and for life. Together we achieved more for our values than any administration in the history of our country, and it’s not even close. I appointed over 300 judges who filled the federal bench with pro-constitutional warriors who interpret the laws as written.”
And he pointed to the three justices he appointed to the Supreme Court who “delivered a landmark victory for protecting innocent life.”
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Trump was referring to the blockbuster move last June by the Supreme Court’s conservative majority to overturn the landmark nearly half-century-old Roe v. Wade ruling, which allowed for legalized abortions nationwide. The decision by the high court moved the divisive issue of abortion back to the states.
The abortion comments by the former president were noteworthy because has often addressed this issue as he runs a third straight time for the White House.
But his position – reiterated this week by his campaign – that in the wake of last year’s high court ruling the issue of abortion restrictions should be left up to the states drew a sharp rebuke Thursday by Susan B. Anthony Pro-Life America, a top abortion group, which called Trump’s comments a “morally indefensible position for a self-proclaimed pro-life presidential candidate.”
The group said it will not support any White House candidate who does back – at a minimum – a 15-week federal abortion ban. Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina – a strong Trump supporter in the Senate – last year in the wake of the Supreme Court ruling proposed a 15-week federal ban on abortions.
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Trump, in his comments, didn’t say whether he’d support a national ban. Instead, he only emphasized that “I will continue to stand strong against the extreme late-term abortionists in the Democrat Party who believe in abortion on demand in the ninth month of pregnancy.”
But Trump did win applause from the audience as he touted that he “was the first president to attend – as you know – the march for life rally in Washington D.C.”
Former Vice President Mike Pence, speaking in person to the crowd in suburban Des Moines ahead of Trump, used part of his address to celebrate the Trump-Pence administration’s efforts to limit abortions.
But a couple of hours earlier, speaking with reporters, Pence seemed to critique his former running mate on the issue of abortion.
Asked by Fox News if Trump wasn’t being muscular enough in pushing for a federal abortion ban, Pence said “I think that would be for other people to say.”
But the former vice president quickly noted his differences with Trump on the issue, saying that last year’s Supreme Court ruling “did not mean that it’s a state’s only issue. All it meant was that states now have the ability to craft legislation that protects the unborn.”
“I also hold to the view that Americans want to see leaders at both ends of Pennsylvania Ave. who will stand for the sanctity of life,” Pence emphasized. “We’ve got an incredible and historic opportunity to advance the cause of life.”
And he reiterated his backing of a federal abortion ban, saying “I’ll support any effort to support the sanctity of life to the center of American law.”
Asked about the move Friday night by the Supreme Court to protect a widely used abortion drug – that froze a move by a lower federal court ruling that placed restrictions on its usage – Pence told reporters “the Biden Administration’s decision to make chemical abortion pills available on a mail order basis I oppose strongly as a pro-life American.”
‘I want to see the abortion pill off the market. I want to see it unavailable in states that have adopted pro-life legislation,” he emphasized.
Trump did not mention the high court ruling on the drug – known as mifepristone – during his speech.
Pence has made numerous trips to Iowa the past two years, as he moves towards launching a presidential campaign. He said recently that he’ll have a 2024 decision in weeks and told Fox News on Saturday night that “I’ll keep you posted if I’m going to be spending a lot more time in Iowa.”
Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina, who recently launched a presidential exploratory campaign, also addressed the crowd, as did former two-term Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson, who’s scheduled to launch his 2024 presidential campaign on Wednesday in his home state. But Hutchinson, apparently not waiting for his formal announcement, told the crowd that “I can stand here today and say that I am a candidate for president in 2024.”
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Three other declared candidates – entrepreneur, best-selling author and conservative commentator Vivek Ramaswamy of Ohio, conservative radio talk show host and former California gubernatorial candidate Larry Elder, and Michigan businessman Perry Johnson, gave speeches at the event, as did former Rep. Will Hurd of Texas, who’s also mulling a Republican White House run.
Republican presidential candidate and former ambassador and former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley did not attend the event. Nor did Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who remains on the 2024 sidelines but is expected to launch a presidential campaign after the conclusion next month of his state’s legislative session.