Pro-life activists react to GOP platform change on abortion at Trump's direction

WASHINGTON (OSV News) -- Members of the Republican National Committee have approved changes to platform on abortion at the direction of former President Donald Trump, the party's presumptive presidential nominee, over the objections of pro-life activists who previously asked delegates not to remove the platform's previous call for federal abortion restrictions.

The RNC was widely expected to modify the Republican Party's stance on abortion after Trump in April announced his position that abortion should be left to the states to legislate after the Supreme Court's 2022 Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Organization overturned prior precedent declaring abortion as a constitutional right.

Trump later lashed out at critics of that position on social media, including Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of Susan B. Anthony Pro-Life America, who had demanded GOP federal candidates embrace a federal minimum 15-week abortion limit and warned the organization "will oppose any presidential candidate who refuses to embrace at a minimum a 15-week national standard to stop painful late-term abortions while allowing states to enact further protections." According to national health statistics, that proposed ban -- without taking into account exceptions -- would have affected approximately 6% of abortions in the U.S. while leaving the overwhelming majority of abortions legally protected. Nearly nine out of 10 abortions take place within the first trimester.

The text of the new GOP platform, released July 8 by the Trump campaign, states that Republicans will "protect and defend a vote of the people, from within the states, on the issue of life." The document stated the party believes the 14th Amendment "guarantees that no person can be denied Life or Liberty without Due Process, and that the States are, therefore, free to pass Laws protecting those Rights."

"After 51 years, because of us, that power has been given to the States and to a vote of the People," it added. "We will oppose Late Term Abortion, while supporting mothers and policies that advance Prenatal Care, access to Birth Control, and IVF (fertility treatments)."

The party's previous platform -- last updated in 2016 -- included a call for a 20-week federal abortion ban that was removed from Trump's version. That proposed national ban would have affected little more than 1% of all abortions in the U.S.

In a post on his social media platform Truth Social, Trump argued, "We are, quite simply, the Party of Common Sense!"

Pro-life activists previously sent a letter asking RNC delegates "to support pro-life planks and vote down any platform that weakens the party's commitment to the cause of life."

Signatories on the letter included Dannenfelser, who had warned in a July 2 statement, "If the Trump campaign decides to remove national protections for the unborn in the GOP platform, it would be a miscalculation that would hurt party unity and destroy pro-life enthusiasm between now and the election."

However, in a July 8 statement, Dannenfelser asserted that under the new platform, "The Republican Party remains strongly pro-life at the national level."

"It is important that the GOP reaffirmed its commitment to protect unborn life today through the 14th Amendment," she said. "Under this amendment, it is Congress that enacts and enforces its provisions."

Dannenfelser, whose group works to elect pro-life candidates to public office, argued the new platform "allows us to provide the winning message to 10 million voters, with four million visits at the door in key battleground states." She said the "mission of the pro-life movement, for the next six months, must be to defeat the Biden-Harris extreme abortion agenda."

But former Vice President Mike Pence, Trump's former running mate -- who later broke with the former president over his unfounded claims of a stolen election and actions surrounding the Jan. 6, 2021, Capitol riot -- called the platform change a "profound disappointment to the millions of pro-life Republicans that have always looked to the Republican Party to stand for life."

"Now is not the time to surrender any ground in the fight for the right to life," Pence said in a statement. "The 2024 platform removed historic pro-life principles that have long been the foundation of the platform. I urge delegates attending next week's Republican Convention to restore language to our party's platform recognizing the sanctity of human life and affirming that the unborn child has a fundamental right to life which cannot be infringed."

Pence argued the new platform "also cedes this fight to the states, leaving the unborn in California and Illinois to the far-left's extremist abortion policies."

"The right to life is not only a state issue; it is a moral issue, and our party must continue to speak with moral clarity and compassion about advancing the cause of life at the federal, state and local level," he said.

Pence argued the Dobbs decision "did not return the question of abortion to the states only but to the elected representatives of the people."

"Every life, born and unborn, is precious and deserving of their rights endowed by their Creator. The 14th amendment, though rightly cited, will not protect the unborn across the country without further federal action," Pence said.

He argued the platform "is part of a broader retreat in our party, trying to remain vague for political expedience."

"The GOP platform may be retreating, but we in the pro-life movement never will," Pence said.

On several occasions, Trump has blamed the issue of abortion and pro-life voters for the Republican Party's underperformance in the 2022 midterm election cycle. Analysts, by contrast, blamed in part quality issues with Republican campaigns in that cycle and Trump's repeated, unproven claims of a stolen 2020 election for the party's underperformance.

However, several states have enacted abortion protections as the result of ballot measures since Dobbs: voters in Ohio, California, Kentucky, Michigan, Montana, Vermont and Kansas either rejected new limitations on abortion or expanded legal protections for it. But abortion itself will be on the ballot again in several states in November, including Florida, Nevada and likely Arizona, where closely-watched races for the U.S. Senate are also taking place.- - - Kate Scanlon is a national reporter for OSV News covering Washington. Follow her on X (formerly known as Twitter) @kgscanlon.