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Monday, June 10, 2024 | Back issues
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Donald Trump tells a group that calls for banning all abortions to stand up for ‘innocent life’

Trump has repeatedly taken credit for the overturning of a federally guaranteed right to abortion.

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Donald Trump on Monday urged a staunchly anti-abortion Christian group to stand up for “innocent life,” ambiguously revisiting an issue that Democrats want to make a focus of this year’s presidential election.

The former president and presumptive Republican nominee’s pre-recorded message praised the work of those attending the event hosted by The Danbury Institute, which is meeting in Indianapolis in conjunction with the annual meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention. The newly-formed institute is an association of churches, Christians and organizations that wants to eradicate abortion in its entirety.

A panel of in-person speakers doubled-down on that anti-abortion stance on Monday, and a top Southern Baptist leader called for a hardline position against in vitro fertilization. Albert Mohler, the president of the SBC’s flagship seminary, said IVF is a “commodification of the embryo” that assaults human dignity. He criticized pastors as well as politicians showing openness to it including in Alabama, which shielded IVF providers from prosecution and civil lawsuits after a state Supreme Court ruling said frozen embryos are children.

“We’re about to find out how pro-life the pro-life movement is,” Mohler said.

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Trump has repeatedly taken credit for the overturning of a federally guaranteed right to abortion — having nominated three of the justices who overturned Roe v. Wade — but has resisted supporting a national abortion ban and says he wants to leave the issue to the states. At odds with Mohler's view, Trump does support IVF access.

In his recorded remarks, Trump thanked the audience for their “tremendous devotion to God and Country” and said everyone needs to pull together to preserve their values, including religious liberty, free speech, innocent life and America's heritage and traditions.

“You just can’t vote Democrat. They’re against religion. They’re against your religion in particular,” Trump said. “You cannot vote for Democrats and you have to get out and vote.”

Both Southern Baptists and Republicans at large are split on abortion politics, with some calling for immediate, complete abortion bans and others more open to incremental tactics. Polls over the last several years have found a majority of Americans support some access to abortion, and abortion-rights groups have won several statewide votes since Roe was overturned, including in conservative-led states like Kansas and Ohio.

Like the GOP, the Southern Baptist Convention has moved steadily to the right since the 1980s, and its members were in the vanguard of the wider religious movement that strongly supported Republican presidents from Ronald Reagan to Trump. The Conservative Baptist Network, one of the event’s sponsors, wants to move the conservative denomination even further to the right.

Although they criticized President Bill Clinton’s sexual behavior in the 1990s, Southern Baptists and other evangelicals have supported Trump. That has continued despite allegations of sexual misconduct, multiple divorces and now his conviction on 34 charges in a scheme to illegally influence the 2016 election through a hush money payment to a porn actor who said the two had sex. Trump gave his address on the same day he was appearing virtually for a required pre-sentencing interview with New York probation officers.

Many Southern Baptists say they see him as the only alternative to a Democratic agenda they abhor.

H. Sharayah Colter, spokesperson for The Danbury Institute, said in a statement that the presidential race was a “binary choice” and said Trump has “demonstrated a willingness to protect the value of life even when politically unpopular.”

And Mohler, who leads Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky, and once an outspoken Clinton critic, wrote a column after Trump's conviction attacking Democrats for supporting transgender rights.

“Say what you will about Donald Trump and his sex scandals, he doesn’t confuse male and female,” wrote Mohler. On Monday, he denounced Trump’s prosecution and conviction, other speakers tapped into themes of Christian nationalism, a fusion of American and Christian identity.

Trump has said he would not sign a national abortion ban and in an interview on the Fox News Channel last week, when commenting on the way some states are enshrining abortion rights and others are restricting them, said that “the people are deciding and in many ways, it’s a beautiful thing to watch.”

For over a year until he announced his position this spring, Trump had backed away from endorsing any specific national limit on abortion, unlike many other Republicans who eventually ended their presidential campaigns. Trump has repeatedly said the issue can be politically tricky and suggested he would “negotiate” a policy that would include exceptions for rape, incest and to protect the life of the mother.

Democrats and President Joe Biden’s campaign have tried to tie Trump to the most conservative state-level bans on abortion as well as a recent Alabama Supreme Court ruling that would have restricted access to in vitro fertilization and other fertility procedures that are broadly popular.

“Four more years of Donald Trump means empowering organizations like The Danbury Institute who want to ban abortion nationally and punish women who have abortions,” said Sarafina Chitika, a spokesperson for Biden’s campaign. “Trump brags that he is responsible for overturning Roe, he thinks the extreme state bans happening now because of him are ‘working very brilliantly,’ and if he’s given the chance, he will sign a national abortion ban. These are the stakes this November.”

When asked about his appearance before The Danbury Institute, Trump campaign spokesperson Karoline Leavitt said Trump “has been very clear: he supports the rights of states to determine the laws on this issue and supports the three exceptions for rape, incest, and life of the mother.”

Leavitt also said, “President Trump is committed to addressing groups with diverse opinions on all of the issues, as evidenced by his recent speech at the Libertarian Convention, his meetings with the unions, and his efforts to campaign in diverse neighborhoods across the country.”

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By MICHELLE L. PRICE and PETER SMITH Associated Press

Price reported from New York.

Associated Press religion coverage receives support through the AP’s collaboration with The Conversation US, with funding from Lilly Endowment Inc. The AP is solely responsible for this content.

Categories / Civil Rights, Elections, Health, National, Politics, Religion

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