Social conservatives push Trump on GOP anti-abortion platform

A group of some of the country’s most powerful social conservatives, concerned that Donald J. Trump would push to weaken the Republican Party’s official position on abortion, sent a sharp letter to the former president this month calling him begged to continue pursuing strong anti-abortion policies. abortion language in the party platform.

The letter, previously unreported but seen by The New York Times, is the latest sign of fierce behind-the-scenes lobbying over language that will officially outline the party’s principles. The Republican platform has not been updated in eight years and is notably outdated on abortion after the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade in 2022.

The letter calls on Trump to “make it clear that you have no intention of weakening the pro-life plank.” More specifically, he is asked to commit to retaining language in the platform that the party supports an “amendment to the Constitution for human life,” and legislation to “make clear that the protections of the 14th Amendment apply on children before birth.”

It was co-signed by 10 anti-abortion leaders, including Marjorie Dannenfelser of Susan B. Anthony Pro-Life America, Ralph Reed of the Faith and Freedom Coalition, Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council and Penny Nance of Concerned Women for America. Ms. Dannenfelser delivered the letter by email to Trump’s top adviser, Susie Wiles, on June 10, as the party prepared to hold its national convention in Milwaukee, set to begin July 15.

While conservative leaders praise Mr. Trump as “the most pro-life president in American history,” the underlying message of their letter is growing concern in socially conservative circles that Mr. Trump may be trying to water down the anti-abortion language in the party platform to make himself appear more moderate on the issue. Democrats are expected to spend hundreds of millions of dollars over the next four months to remind voters of Mr. Trump’s anti-abortion record as president.

Mr Perkins, who serves on the Republican National Committee’s platform committee, said it was critical that the party not back down from its platform and that Trump’s team had not adequately explained its plans to anti-abortion leaders.

“This is probably the worst communication we’ve ever had from any pre-convention RNC or campaign that I’ve been involved with,” Mr. Perkins in an interview. He warned that watering down language regarding abortion “because it’s somewhat politically difficult now again” would bring its own backlash. “It’s not going to go down well with pro-life voters,” he said.

A Trump spokeswoman, Danielle Alvarez, said the platform committee had not yet met to discuss what language should be included in the final document and that the campaign had sent a message to platform members about its plans to “present a streamlined platform consistent with President Trump’s principled and popular vision for America’s future.”

Compounding concerns among anti-abortion leaders is the fact that the Republican National Committee has decided to hold its platform committee meeting behind closed doors in Milwaukee a week before the convention. Previous platform meetings dating back to at least 1984 have been televised, according to C-SPAN archives. After those meetings next month, the full convention would ratify the platform the following week.

Some conservative activists who have asked to attend as guests have been told they will not be allowed in, including representatives of the Eagle Forum, which was founded by social conservative leader Phyllis Schlafly.

“This is something we’ve been doing for decades,” says Tabitha Walter, executive director of the Eagle Forum. “It’s not that we want to disrupt their meetings. We want the delegates to feel supported and knowledgeable.”

Her group is one of the parties advocating to keep the personhood amendment in the platform. It states that the GOP believes that the equal protection guaranteed by the 14th Amendment extends to fetuses.

“There is great concern about this plank of the platform – it is raised on a daily basis,” Ms Walter said. If Mr. Trump eliminates or waters down the personality amendment, she said, “it would alienate a large portion of his voter base.”

She continued, “Many voters in the Republican Party make this the only issue they vote on.”

In the two years since the Supreme Court Trump transformed decided to overturn Roe, he has become increasingly convinced that strict abortion restrictions are electoral poison. Trump has long approached abortion as a matter of political transaction rather than morality. He supported abortion rights for most of his adult life. Then he announced in early 2011 that he was against abortion as he considered running for president in the Republican primaries.

He won over skeptical social conservatives in the 2016 campaign by promising to implement anti-abortion policies and appoint Supreme Court justices who would overturn Roe. He fulfilled both promises and delighted evangelicals.

Mr. Trump is attempting another abortion rebrand before the 2024 election — this time a turn back to the left. He has rejected some calls from social conservatives for a national ban on 15-week abortions and has attacked the six-week abortion ban passed by Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, calling it a “terrible mistake.”

Now that he is the presumptive nominee, Trump has decided to leave the decision on how to legislate abortion restrictions to the states.

“You have to be elected,” he said during his debate with President Biden on Thursday.

But the previous party platform, which Trump campaigned on in 2016 and 2020, includes legislation that would impose a federal ban on abortion for 20 weeks.

When discussing potential vice presidential candidates, Trump has often privately asked whether they are “OK with abortion.” He dismissed as unelectable any Republican he heard who did not support the “three exceptions” to abortion restrictions — in cases of rape or incest, or to save the life of the mother.

In a statement to The Times, Ms. Dannenfelser, a co-signatory to the June 10 letter, stressed that the anti-abortion movement remained “all in” to elect Mr. Trump. She said it was launching a massive voter education program in swing states to contrast Mr. Trump’s message on abortion with that of President Biden.

“Our only request is that the GOP platform preserve an important principle, as it has for 40 years, namely the constitutional right to life of the unborn under the 14th Amendment,” Ms. Dannenfelser said in her statement.

Kristan Hawkins, president of Students for Life of America, who was not among the letter’s signatories, wants the platform to explicitly make abortion a state and federal issue.

“He believes it is now just a matter of states,” she said of Mr. Trump. “That is completely wrong. State borders should not determine whether you have human rights.”

Her organization is already lobbying RNC members for stronger language.

“In 2016, we had a deal with the president that he would ‘appoint pro-life judges’ and he kept his word,” she said. “It’s time for the pro-life movement to make a new deal.”

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