Social Conservatives Push Trump on the G.O.P.’s Anti-Abortion Platform


A group of some of the most powerful social conservatives in the country, fearful that Donald J. Trump may push to water down the Republican Party’s official position on abortion, sent a pointed letter to the former president this month imploring him to keep strong anti-abortion language in the party platform.

The letter, which has not previously been reported but was reviewed by The New York Times, is the latest sign of the fierce behind-the-scenes lobbying underway over the language that will officially outline the party’s principles. The Republican platform has not been updated in eight years and is especially outdated on the topic of abortion after the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade in 2022.

The letter urges Mr. Trump to “make clear that you do not intend to weaken the pro-life plank.” Specifically, it asks him to commit to keeping language in the platform that the party supports a “human life amendment to the Constitution” and legislation to “make clear that the 14th Amendment’s protections apply to children before birth.”

It was co-signed by 10 anti-abortion leaders, including Marjorie Dannenfelser of Susan B. Anthony Pro-Life America, Ralph Reed of the Faith and Freedom Coalition, Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council and Penny Nance of Concerned Women for America. Ms. Dannenfelser delivered the letter via email to Mr. Trump’s top adviser, Susie Wiles, on June 10, as the party prepares to hold its national convention in Milwaukee starting July 15.

While the conservative leaders praise Mr. Trump as “the most pro-life president in American history,” the subtext of their letter is the growing concern in social conservative circles that Mr. Trump may try to weaken the anti-abortion language in the party platform to make himself appear more moderate on the issue. Democrats are expected to spend hundreds of millions of dollars over the next four months reminding voters of Mr. Trump’s anti-abortion record as president.

Mr. Perkins, who is on the Republican National Committee’s platform committee, said that it was crucial for the party not to backtrack in its platform and that the Trump team had not sufficiently explained its plans to leaders of the anti-abortion movement.

“This has probably been the worst communication we’ve had of any preconvention R.N.C. or campaign that I’ve been involved with,” Mr. Perkins said in an interview. He warned that diluting language related to abortion “because now it’s once again somewhat politically tough” would incur its own backlash. “It is not going to sit well with the pro-life voters,” he said.

A spokeswoman for Mr. Trump, Danielle Alvarez, said the platform committee had yet to convene to discuss what language should be in the final document and the campaign had sent a message to platform members about its plans to present “a streamlined platform in line with President Trump’s principled and popular vision for America’s future.”

Heightening the concerns of anti-abortion leaders is the fact that the Republican National Committee has decided to hold the meeting of its platform committee behind closed doors in Milwaukee a week before the convention. Past platform meetings dating back to at least 1984 have been televised, according to C-SPAN archives. After those meetings next month, the full convention would then ratify the platform the following week.

Some conservative activists who have asked to attend as guests have been told they will not be allowed, including representatives of the Eagle Forum, which was founded by the social conservative leader Phyllis Schlafly.

“This is something that we’ve done for decades,” said Tabitha Walter, the Eagle Forum’s executive director. “It’s not that we want to disrupt their meetings. We want the delegates to feel supported and knowledgeable.”

Her group is among those pushing to keep what is known as the personhood amendment in the platform. It states that the G.O.P. believes the equal protections guaranteed by the 14th Amendment apply to fetuses.

“There is intense concern about this plank of the platform — it’s brought up on a daily basis,” Ms. Walter said. If Mr. Trump excludes the personhood amendment or waters it down, she said, “that would alienate a good portion of the base of his voters.”

She continued, “A lot of voters in the Republican Party make that their only issue they vote on.”

In the two years since the Supreme Court that Mr. Trump transformed decided to overturn Roe, he has grown ever more convinced that hard-line abortion restrictions are electoral poison. Mr. Trump has long approached abortion as a matter of political transaction rather than of morality. He supported abortion rights for most of his adult life. Then he announced in early 2011 that he was anti-abortion as he considered running for president in the Republican primary.

He won over skeptical social conservatives in the 2016 campaign by promising to implement anti-abortion policies and appoint justices to the Supreme Court who would overturn Roe. He fulfilled both promises and delighted evangelicals.

Mr. Trump is attempting yet another abortion rebrand ahead of the 2024 election — this time a swerve back to the left. He has rejected some calls by social conservatives for a national 15-week abortion ban, and he has attacked the six-week abortion ban passed by Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida, calling it a “terrible mistake.”

Now that he is the presumptive nominee, Mr. Trump settled on leaving the decision of how to legislate abortion limits up to the states.

“You have to get elected,” he said during his debate on Thursday with President Biden.

But the previous party platform, which Mr. Trump ran on in 2016 and 2020, embraces legislation that would impose a 20-week federal abortion ban.

When discussing potential vice-presidential candidates, Mr. Trump has often asked privately whether they are “OK on abortion.” He dismissed as unelectable any Republican who he heard did not support “the three exceptions” to abortion restrictions — in cases of rape or incest, or to save the life of the mother.

In a statement to The Times, Ms. Dannenfelser, one of the co-signers of the June 10 letter, emphasized that the anti-abortion movement remained “all-in” on electing Mr. Trump. She said they were undertaking a massive voter outreach program in battleground states to contrast Mr. Trump’s message on abortion against President Biden’s.

“Our only request is that the G.O.P. platform retains a key principle as it has for 40 years asserting a constitutional right to life for the unborn under the 14th Amendment,” Ms. Dannenfelser said in her statement.

Kristan Hawkins, president of Students for Life of America, who was not among the letter signers, wants the platform to explicitly call abortion a state and federal issue.

“He believes it is merely a states issue now,” she said of Mr. Trump. “That is deeply wrong. State lines should not determine whether you have human rights.”

Her organization is already lobbying R.N.C. members for stricter language.

“In 2016, we had a deal from the president that he would” appoint pro-life judges “and he kept his word,” she said. “It is time the pro-life movement has a new deal.”



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