Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump, while speaking at a campaign stop in New Hampshire last week, refused to say whether he would seek to overturn Roe v. Wade, underscoring the business mogul’s murky history of indecision when it comes to his stance on reproductive health.
Trump, who made headlines again this week over his calls to ban Muslims from entering the United States, was interrogated by an audience member at the campaign event in Waterville Valley about his views on abortion. “You can see how when a bill is enacted as the Roe v. Wade thing, all of these things tend to decay, decay, decay, and just devolve,” the man said, asking, “Will you try to,” before being cut off.
Trump replied saying he would simply “defund,” referring to Planned Parenthood. Unsatisfied, the audience member again prompted the presidential candidate to tell the crowd about his position on Roe. “Defund that, and repeal Roe v. Wade?” he asked.
But Trump still didn’t muster an answer. “Well, the answer is yes, defund,” Trump responded. “The other, you need a lot of Supreme Court justices. But we’re gonna be looking at that also very, very carefully. But you need a lot of Supreme Court judges. But defund, yes, we’re going to be doing that.”
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Trump’s positions on abortion and reproductive health have always been murky at best. The other candidates vying for the Republican nomination, as well as anti-choice activists, have taken notice.
In August, Carly Fiorina attacked Trump during a debate, questioning his anti-choice credentials and noting that he had “changed his mind” on the issue. Looking into the claim, Politifact found Fiorina’s assertion to be “true,” noting that even by his own admission, “Trump changed his mind on abortion” over time, expressing increasingly negative views on reproductive rights.
Speaking with Talking Points Memo, Live Action founder Lila Rose noted the confusion and suspicion anti-choice activists feel as a result of Trump’s record on abortion. “There are a lot of folks that distrust where Trump stands on life because of his track record and even his recent vacillations on Planned Parenthood,” she told the publication.
Trump has indeed gone on the record numerous times as being “pro-choice” over the course of his long-winded contemplation of a presidential bid. During a 1999 appearance on Meet the Press, he told the network, “I am very pro-choice,” adding the caveat, “I hate the concept of abortion. I hate it. I hate everything it stands for. I cringe when I hear people debating the subject.”
In his 2000 book The America We Deserve, Trump reiterated his pro-choice stance, writing that although he is “uncomfortable with the procedures,” he did “support a woman’s right to choose,” and had “pro-choice instincts.”
Trump had changed his tune by 2011. Speaking that year at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), he flatly told the crowd, “I am pro-life.”
Trump further explained his “pro-life conversion” during an interview on Christian Broadcasting Network’s Brody File that same year, telling the story of a friend whose wife had wanted to have an abortion but ended up following through with the pregnancy.
“One thing about me, I’m a very honorable guy. I’m pro-life, but I changed my view a number of years ago. One of the reasons I changed—one of the primary reasons—a friend of mine’s wife was pregnant, in this case married,” explained Trump.
“She was pregnant and he didn’t really want the baby. And he was telling me the story. He was crying as he was telling me the story,” he continued. “He ends up having the baby and the baby is the apple of his eye. It’s the greatest thing that’s ever happened to him. And you know here’s a baby that wasn’t going to be let into life. And I heard this, and some other stories, and I am pro-life.”
Now as the 2016 election cycle heats up, with Trump leading the race for the Republican nomination, the Republican candidate has again gone back and forth on the issue. Although he has consistently called for Planned Parenthood to be defunded, in August he backtracked on his hard-line stance on the topic, telling the crowd at the conservative RedState Gathering that while the government should not pay for Planned Parenthood to provide abortion care, it provides other important services that should be funded.
“The problem that I have with Planned Parenthood is the abortion situation. It is like an abortion factory, frankly. And you can’t have it. And you just shouldn’t be funding it. That should not be funded by the government, and I feel strongly about that,” said Trump, seemingly not realizing the government does not fund abortions due to the Hyde Amendment, which bans federal funds from paying for the procedure.
Explaining that some of the services provided there are important, Trump went on to call for a closer examination of what Planned Parenthood provides. “What I would do when the time came, I’d look at the individual things they do, and maybe some of the individual things they do are good,” he continued.
“I would look at the good aspects of [Planned Parenthood], and I would also look, because I’m sure they do some things properly and good and that are good for women, and I would look at that, and I would look at other aspects also. But we have to take care of women.”
But Trump seemed to have forgotten the “good” work Planned Parenthood does by the time he told the New Hampshire voters he would uniformly “defund” the provider last week.
As Trump continues to ramp up his rhetoric ahead of the primaries, his anti-choice talking points have continued, leaving voters and activists on both sides of the issue unclear about where he truly stands.
Trump’s inability to offer an answer on Roe v. Wade and his general inconsistency about abortion is made more glaring by his Republican rivals’ almost unequivocal condemnation of reproductive rights. Ben Carson told NBC’s Meet the Press in October that he would “love” to see Roe overturned. According to a Washington Post piece published that same month, “every single Republican candidate for president is in favor of overturning” the Supreme Court case, with the exception of George Pataki. The Post also acknowledged in that piece Trump’s inconclusive history on the subject.
Overall, the anti-choice positions of the GOP candidates are a far cry from what the United States as a whole wants. The majority of the U.S. public—63 percent—say that “they would not like to see the court completely overturn” Roe v. Wade, according to polling conducted by the Pew Research Center in 2013. Only about three in ten respondents, by contrast, said they’d support the end of the Court decision.
Likewise, the large majority of Americans don’t want to see Planned Parenthood lose federal funding. An August Reuters/Ipsos poll found that 54 percent of respondents favored the organization’s continued federal funding, and only 26 percent opposed it. Another poll conducted by USA Today and Suffolk University similarly found that 65 percent of those surveyed were in favor of funding the reproductive health-care provider.