Donald Trump — who has fretted privately that Republicans are “getting killed” electorally on abortion — is now running ads touting his pro-life record in Iowa, the first state to vote in the GOP primary.
In the ads, paid for by Trump’s campaign and first reported by Kyle Tharp in his newsletter FWIW, Trump declares himself “THE MOST Pro-Life President in history.” He details his anti-abortion victories, including nominating a conservative troika of Supreme Court justices who were “instrumental” in the court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade; preventing “U.S. taxpayer dollars from funding abortion overseas,” a reference to his aggressive expansion of the “global gag rule”; and being the first president in history to attend the March for Life.
The ads feature a triumphant video, in which a voiceover intones: “For over 50 years, Republicans have promised to protect the sanctity of life. And while we waited innocent unborn children fell victim. One Republican president didn’t just make promises — he delivered. Living up to his promise, Roe vs. Wade was overturned. Thousands of unborn children say ‘Thank you.’” President Trump is fighting every day for the culture of life, and for those who can’t fight for themselves.”
In Iowa, where the former president hopes to land a decisive victory in the primaries, Trump is trying to balance his fears of electoral backlash with the reality that Republican voters have come to expect hardline rhetoric from their candidates. In late September, he encouraged Iowa voters to embrace exceptions on rape and incest in abortion bans, lest they lose their slim majority in the House. During a speech in the state earlier this month, he absurdly accused Democrats of supporting the execution of infants who were born after full-term pregnancies. He’s back in Iowa this week, although he didn’t appear to address the issue at length in a pair of speech on Monday.
He’s now claiming he’s “THE MOST Pro-Life President in history,” but since Roe was overturned in the summer of 2022 the former president has privately expressed his anxieties that the Republicans had inadvertently scuttled their electoral prospects. “He keeps shitting all over his greatest accomplishment. When you speak to him, it’s the response of someone fearing the backlash and fearing the politics of what happens when conservatives actually get what they want [on abortion],” one source who’d spoken to Trump told Rolling Stone in June of last year.
Those fears are not unfounded. The 2022 midterms were a disaster for Republicans, with many blaming the party destroying reproductive rights in America a few months earlier. Trump himself blamed the “abortion issue” and Republicans who “firmly insisted on No Exceptions, even in the case of Rape, Incest, or Life of the Mother, that lost large numbers of Voters” for the GOP’s underperformance.
Trump’s anxieties have clearly made their way into some of his recent statements. Last month, the former president laid into Ron DeSantis, his rival in the 2024 GOP primaries, telling NBC’s “Meet the Press”that the Florida governor’s highly restrictive, six-week abortion ban was a “terrible thing.”
“I think what he did is a terrible thing and a terrible mistake,” Trump said, promising to — as president — “sit down with both sides” and come to an agreement that would bring “peace” to the issue. He did not specify to Welker if he would support a 15-week abortion ban.
Several high-profile anti-abortion organizations, including Students for Life, called on Trump to reaffirm his commitment to hardline abortion policies. “It was tremendously discouraging for Pro-Life First Voters and the more than 1,000 volunteers preparing to work with us in the general election to see you disparage protections for preborn infants,” Kristan Hawkins, the president of Students for Life Action, wrote in a letter. “We ask you to clarify your comments to NBC’s ‘Meet the Press’ as soon as possible, to underscore your commitment to leading on LIFE, rather than settling for the kind of lackluster policies desired by the GOP consulting class.”
But Trump remains the frontrunner to land the GOP nomination for president, and there is a clear hesitancy within the anti-abortion movement to fully break with him. “Recently, President Trump has not been helpful in explaining why it’s important to take a strong stand on the human rights issue of our day,” Kristi Hamrick, vice president of media and policy at Students for Life Action, told Rolling Stone this week. “But that can change,” she added.
UPDATE — 8:00 p.m., 10/16: This story has been updated to reflect that though Trump takes credit for the Supreme Court overturning Roe v. Wade in new ads served in Iowa, the ads to do not mention specific bans that resulted from the decision.