CHICAGO (AP) — Emboldened anti-abortion activists are looking to the 2024 presidential election as an opportunity to solidify their influence over the Republican Party.
Susan B. Anthony Pro-Life America, the most influential group in the anti-abortion movement, is telling each potential GOP presidential hopeful that to win its backing — or avoid being a target of its opposition — they must support national restrictions on the procedure. Exceptions in cases of rape, incest or to save the life of the mother are acceptable, the activists say, but leaving the question for states to decide is not.
“It is a level of protection that goes to every single state. That’s the baseline of what we’re looking to do,” said Frank Cannon, Susan B. Anthony's chief political strategist. “Anything less than that will not be acceptable and will not be somebody that SBA can support. So, it’s that simple.”
That directive is creating an early litmus test for Republicans considering entering the first presidential election since the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, the landmark decision that enshrined federal protections for abortion for roughly 50 years. While the hard-line stance could please anti-abortion activists who hold sway in GOP primaries, it could create problems for the party's eventual nominee in the general election.
Voters protected abortion rights via ballot measures in six states in 2022, including Kansas, a state former President Donald Trump twice won by double-digit margins. AP VoteCast, a survey of the midterm electorate, showed the Supreme Court's decision was broadly unpopular. About 6 in 10 said they were angry or dissatisfied by it, and roughly the same percentage said they favor a law guaranteeing access to legal abortion nationwide.
Supporters of abortion rights say the issue was a “game changer” that helped Democrats last year and that will motivate voters even more in 2024, after two years of seeing the effects of restrictions.
“We’re in a nation where 18 states have no access to abortion, and that number is not going down. It’s going to go up as additional court cases get decided,” said Jenny Lawson, vice president of organizing and engagement campaigns at Planned Parenthood Action Fund. She predicted people will see headlines “over and over again” about pregnant children forced to travel out of state for abortions or people unable to get proper miscarriage care because doctors are afraid of liability.
Pressure from the anti-abortion movement has put Trump, who announced his third run for the presidency last year, in perhaps the most complicated position.
He is arguably more responsible for the overturning of Roe than anyone else, having appointed three anti-abortion Supreme Court justices who backed last year’s ruling. But he has also made clear that he believes pushing any further will hurt Republicans, and he accused anti-abortion leaders of failing to do enough to help GOP candidates in the midterms.
“I just didn’t see them fighting during this last election, fighting for victory,” Trump said in an interview with David Brody, a longtime commentator for the Christian Broadcasting Network.
Trump, who described himself as “very pro-choice” before entering politics, stressed that objecting to exceptions for rape, incest and the life of the mother makes it “much harder to win elections.” He has criticized evangelical leaders who have been slow to endorse his latest run, blasting decisions by pastors like Robert Jeffress to wait to assess the rest of the field as “a sign of disloyalty.”
Cannon called the notion that opposing abortion hurt the GOP last year “absolutely absurd,” pointing to candidates like Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis — a top potential GOP presidential candidate — who easily won reelection. DeSantis signed into law last year a ban on abortion after 15 weeks of pregnancy.