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GOP gets a warning on how to talk about abortion from Donald Trump

A MARTÍNEZ, HOST:

The Republican Party is getting a warning on how to talk about abortion from its own standard-bearer, Donald Trump, though his position on the topic remains unclear. NPR's Danielle Kurtzleben is here to explain. Danielle, so what's Trump been saying about abortion?

DANIELLE KURTZLEBEN, BYLINE: Well, there are really two parts to this. One is the warning to his party that you mentioned. Over the weekend, he issued two such warnings, both of them nearly identical. Here's one at the Concerned Women for America Summit, which was a meeting of conservative Christian women here in D.C.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

DONALD TRUMP: We do have to win. And we can win elections on this issue, but it's very delicate. And explaining it properly is an extremely important thing. You have to be able to speak and explain it properly. And a lot of politicians who are pro-life do not know how to discuss this topic, and they lose their election.

KURTZLEBEN: Then the second part is what his position is, which is unclear. He's been noncommittal on a 15-week national abortion ban, which other candidates - like his former vice president, Mike Pence, like former South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley - they have said they would sign that. Trump also criticized Florida Governor Ron DeSantis. He signed a ban on abortions after six weeks in his state. That's among the strictest bans in the country, and Trump says he disapproves.

The thing is, he's trying to walk a really particular line here. He's trying to take credit for the Roe overturn but not for the aftermath. So what he does say is that the GOP needs to find a position that can win elections, but he won't say what it is. In an interview on NBC's "Meet The Press," he said he wants to, quote, "sit down with both sides and negotiate something." What he seems to mean is that he wants to negotiate and come to a number of weeks of pregnancy that's acceptable. But that seems really, really difficult on an important topic that both sides really care about a lot.

MARTÍNEZ: Yeah, 'cause haven't we seen from recent elections that attempts to restrict abortion are unpopular?

KURTZLEBEN: Yes, very much so. We've seen voters, even in pretty red states, reject ballot measures that seek to restrict abortions. Plus, abortion is considered a reason why the GOP didn't do as well as it had hoped in last year's midterms, you might remember. And Democrats are very aware of this. The Biden campaign, ahead of a couple of Trump visits to Iowa and South Dakota recently, ran ads in those two states highlighting Republican positions on abortion.

But I really do want to stress here that this is about way more than politics and elections. There are lives at stake. Just last week, women and doctors in Tennessee, Idaho and Oklahoma filed a lawsuit saying that those bans in those states stopped patients from getting the health care they needed during dangerous pregnancies. And likewise, I should say, people who oppose abortion rights believe that not because they want to win elections, but because they are concerned about the unborn.

MARTÍNEZ: So should we expect this to become a major front in the GOP nomination?

KURTZLEBEN: Maybe. I mean, you might expect Trump's opponents to attack him, to try to pin his position down, given the fact that he's been so unclear, as he was this last weekend. Maybe that'll happen. But the problem is, getting Trump in the same room with his opponents is really difficult. Most of the candidates appeared at a major gathering of Iowa evangelicals over the weekend, but Trump was not there. He did not show. And next week, there's the second candidate debate in Simi Valley, Calif. But Trump has said he'll skip the debates, but his opponents will be there. So you are going to see this fought out at events, in the media, in speeches, at campaign stops. But Trump is also really far ahead, so he's beyond caring about the primary. He wants to look to the general where he can attack Democrats, attack Joe Biden. And of course, that is where he is much more comfortable.

MARTÍNEZ: That's NPR's Danielle Kurtzleben. Danielle, thanks.

KURTZLEBEN: Yes, thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

A Martínez is one of the hosts of Morning Edition and Up First. He came to NPR in 2021 and is based out of NPR West.
Danielle Kurtzleben is a political correspondent assigned to NPR's Washington Desk. She appears on NPR shows, writes for the web, and is a regular on The NPR Politics Podcast. She is covering the 2020 presidential election, with particular focuses on on economic policy and gender politics.