Abortion rights opponents and supporters seize on report that Trump privately pushes 16-week ban

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NEW YORK (AP) — A major anti-abortion group is praising a published report that Donald Trump has privately told people he supports a national ban on abortion after 16 weeks of pregnancy, though his campaign denied the report and said the former president plans to “negotiate a deal” on abortion if elected to the White House again.

Trump, the frontrunner to be the 2024 Republican nominee, has repeatedly refused to back any specific limits on abortion as he campaigns, though he has called himself “the most pro-life president in American history.” He also frequently takes credit for appointing three U.S. Supreme Court justices who helped overturn Roe vs. Wade, the landmark 1973 decision that established a constitutional right to abortion.

Susan B. Anthony Pro-Life America, which backs a national ban on abortions at 15 weeks of pregnancy and has said anything less restrictive “makes no sense,” praised Trump after a New York Times report on Friday that he has privately been telling people he likes the idea of a federal ban on abortion after 16-weeks, with some exceptions.

“President Trump is leading on finding consensus, and this is where the nation is,” aid SBA Pro-Life America President Marjorie Dannenfelser.

Trump’s campaign called the report “Fake News” but did not offer details on his plans.

“As President Trump has stated, he would sit down with both sides and negotiate a deal that everyone will be happy with,” Karoline Leavitt, the national press secretary for Trump’s campaign, said in a statement.

Democrats and abortion-rights groups seized on the Times report, with President Joe Biden saying it showed abortion rights would be a central issue in the 2024 election. He said Trump was “running scared” by not publicly saying what he would do about abortion.

“He’s afraid the women of America are going to hold him responsible for taking away their rights and endangering their rights at the ballot box in November,” Biden said in a statement. “Which is exactly what’s going to happen.”

Polling has consistently shown that most Americans believe abortion should be legal through the initial stages of pregnancy. About half of U.S. adults said abortions should be permitted at the 15-week mark, according to an Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research poll conducted last June.

Though Susan B. Anthony Pro-Life America praised Trump Friday, last year the group publicly clashed with the former president when he suggested abortion restrictions should be left to individual states. The group called that a “morally indefensible position for a self-proclaimed pro-life presidential candidate.”

On Friday, abortion-rights groups quickly jumped in to warn that if Trump wins in November, it will lead to restrictions nationwide.

If Trump is elected, he will “wreak further havoc on our reproductive rights and personal freedoms,” said Jenny Lawson, executive director of Planned Parenthood Votes.

“We’ve long known where Donald Trump stands on abortion and it’s at odds with the majority of Americans,” Lawson said in a statement. “He is chiefly responsible for the ongoing public health crisis that has allowed 21 states to ban all or some abortions and yet, he claims to want to find a ‘compromise’ on this issue. To be clear, there is no compromising on the basic right to control our lives and bodies.”

The Supreme Court’s 2022 decision tossing out Roe left the country with a checkerboard of state abortion laws.

The former president has said he supports exceptions on abortion restrictions in cases of rape, incest and to protect the life of the mother, but he has been vague beyond that about what he would support if reelected. He has criticized a six-week ban signed by Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and said in an interview on NBC’s “Meet the Press” last fall that he does not care whether abortion is banned at the federal level or left to laws in each state.

“I want to get something where people are happy,” Trump said in a January town hall on Fox News.

Trump’s position on abortion has shifted over the years. He once declared in a 1999 interview, “I am pro-choice in every respect.” But in his 2016 presidential run, in which he sought to win crucial support of evangelical Republicans, he released a list of potential nominees to the Supreme Court who were considered likely to vote to overturn Roe v. Wade.

His attempts to find a middle ground suggest how challenging the issue is for Trump and most other Republican candidates. Banning or severely restricting abortion is almost a non-negotiable position for many GOP primary voters, but it’s proved to be a losing stance in general elections since the Supreme Court’s decision nearly two years ago.

Some of the immediate reaction from the right to the New York Times report showed the difficulty for Trump and other Republicans trying to navigate the issue.

Students for Life Action, which opposes abortion, issued a statement skeptical of the report, but said, “we do want to hear from President Trump as there is a lot that can be done in his next administration – from appointments to administrative policies.”

Kristan Hawkins, the group’s president, said a limit on abortion at 16 weeks would still allow for many abortions and “will make no one happy.”

After a nationwide push to put abortion rights questions in front of voters since the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, the issue is expected to be on the ballot in several states this year, including Arizona, Arkansas, Florida, Missouri and South Dakota. Many of the campaigns have faced efforts by anti-abortion forces to block the questions from getting to the ballot, building on strategies seen in other states, such as Ohio last year.

Voters in seven states — California, Kansas, Kentucky, Michigan, Montana, Ohio and Vermont — have previously sided with abortion rights supporters on ballot measures.

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Fernando reported from Chicago. Associated Press writer Will Weissert in Washington contributed to this report.

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