Republicans Move at Trump's Behest to Change How They Will Oppose Abortion

— Trump seeks to steer clear of strict abortion language

 A photo of Donald Trump speaks during a presidential debate hosted by CNN with President Joe Biden.
(AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)

MILWAUKEE (AP) -- The Republican National Committee's platform committee has adopted a policy document that reflects former President Donald Trump's position opposing a federal abortion ban and ceding limits to states, omitting the explicit basis for a national ban for the first time in 40 years.

The committee adopted a draft platform Monday asserting, "We believe that the 14th Amendment to the Constitution of the United States guarantees that no person can be denied life or liberty without due process." The document, obtained by The Associated Press, also noted "that the states are, therefore, free to pass laws protecting those rights."

The document sticks to the party's longstanding principle that the Constitution extends rights to the unborn, but removes language maintaining support for an "amendment to the Constitution and legislation to make clear that the Fourteenth Amendment's protections apply to children before birth," a passage in the party platform first included in 1984.

The move comes as Trump imposes his priorities on the committee as he seeks to steer clear of strict abortion language, even while taking credit for setting up the 2022 reversal of Roe v. Wade by the Supreme Court. Trump appointed three of the six justices who voted in the majority to overturn the 1973 abortion rights precedent.

The abortion language was first reported by The New York Times.

Marjorie Dannenfelser, SBA Pro-Life America president, praised the committee for reaffirming "its commitment to protect unborn life through the 14th Amendment."

Dannenfelser stopped short of endorsing the document's reflection of Trump's view that the matter rests entirely with states. Under the 14th Amendment, "it is Congress that enacts and enforces its provisions."

The platform is a traditionally written by party activists. Trump's campaign wants the group drafting this year's platform to produce a shorter document that excludes statements favored by many conservatives but are potentially unpopular with the broader electorate.

The platform committee began its meeting Monday, a week before the start of the in Wisconsin where Trump is scheduled to accept his third straight nomination for president.

Trump has faced over abortion as President Joe Biden's reelection campaign has highlighted that Trump nominated half of the Supreme Court majority that struck down the nationwide right to abortion in 2022.

In promoting the platform document, the campaign released a statement highlighting 20 issues it addresses, including immigration, the economy, energy, taxes and crime, but omitted any mention of abortion.

Among the vocal abortion opponents on the platform committee, some say the aspiration of a federal ban on abortion after a certain stage in pregnancy must remain a party principle, even if it's not an immediately attainable policy or one that necessarily helps the Trump campaign in November.

"I see that as problematic. We still need these principles clearly stated. Some of these battles are not over," said Iowa state Rep. Brad Sherman, a platform committee member who supported Trump's winning Iowa caucus campaign in January and also supports a federal limit on abortion.

While the abortion statement is likely to be the most contested provision in the platform, there may also be disputes over Trump's and his and U.S. involvement in global conflicts, particularly in helping Ukraine as it battles Russia.

Conservative activists who are accustomed to having a seat at the table fumed over what they said was a secretive process for selecting committee members and the meeting taking place behind closed doors.

"For 40 years, the Republican Party and the GOP platform have massively benefitted from an open and transparent process," said Tim Chapman, the incoming president of Advancing American Freedom, a foundation headed by Trump's former Vice President Mike Pence.

Trump's campaign has sought to reshape the Republican National Committee into a campaign vessel. It signaled in a memo last month from senior campaign advisers Chris LaCivita and Susie Wiles that "textbook-long platforms ... are scrutinized and intentionally misrepresented by our political opponents."

Trump ally Russ Vought is serving as the policy director of the Republican Party's platform writing committee while also leading the effort to for Project 2025, a sweeping proposal for remaking government that Trump said Friday despite having several former aides involved.

Trump had in 2018 that would have banned abortion after 20 weeks of pregnancy, though the measure fell short of the necessary support in the Senate.

However, after the 2022 midterm elections, Trump who held strict anti-abortion positions for the party's failure to secure a larger House majority. He has since been critical of the most stringent abortion bans in individual states.

An AP-NORC poll conducted in June 2023 found that about two-thirds of Americans think abortion should be legal in all or most cases. The poll also found that 6 in 10 Americans think Congress should pass a law guaranteeing access to legal abortion nationwide.

Biden's campaign has criticized Republicans for making the platform committee meetings in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, closed to the news media and reminded voters of Trump's onetime support for a 20-week abortion ban.

Tamara Scott, who is one of Iowa's two Republican National Committee members and also a platform committee member, said Trump could campaign on the position he holds and also embrace the platform to reflect a longer-term goal of a federal limit.

"It's our vision. It's our foundational principles. It's who we are as a party," Scott said. "I agree a platform must be clear and concise but it must convey our core principles."

To several on the committee, that means maintaining support for an "amendment to the Constitution and legislation to make clear that the Fourteenth Amendment's protections apply to children before birth," the passage first included in 1984.

Trump was urged to keep that language in the platform, according to a letter signed by leaders of groups opposed to abortion, including Dannenfelser; Ralph Reed, Faith and Freedom Coalition founder and chairman; and Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council.

That passage, once removed, would be difficult to restore in future platforms, Dannenfelser said.