Ex-Trump officials plot out sweeping abortion restrictions for return to office

Anti-abortion groups and former Trump administration officials are drawing up plans for sweeping abortion restrictions if Donald Trump returns to the White House in 2025.

The former president is reportedly telling advisers and associates in private that he supports a ban on abortions after 16 weeks of pregnancy.

But the conservative groups and other allies recognize that they need policies that can be enacted without Congress, because even if Trump were to publicly endorse specific limits, there is little chance such a national ban could become law.

The plans being drawn up would go far beyond a 16-week ban, which would impact only a small number of abortions.

Abortion historically has never been a major priority for Trump, though he was happy to embrace anti-abortion policies in his first term and takes credit for appointing the Supreme Court justices who overturned Roe v. Wade.

Trump for months has evaded taking a direct stance on abortion policy and has so far been able to avoid the backlash for unpopular abortion bans at the state level. Publicly backing a 16-week ban would not make sense politically.

“I think what’s ironic about a line like that is it makes no one happy. So why would you make that a policy goal?” said Kristi Hamrick, a strategist at Students for Life of America.

Students for Life is not pressing Trump for a commitment to ban abortions after a specific gestational period. While Hamrick said the group would prefer a national “heartbeat” ban, it has been speaking with the Trump campaign about potential administrative actions.

“Let’s talk about what we can do. What we can do with appointments, what we can do with policy. … Frankly, the appointments of people who care about life and law at HHS, and DOJ and FDA, I think are going to be hugely important,” Hamrick said, referring to the Department of Health and Human Services, the Department of Justice and the Food and Drug Administration.

One Republican strategist argued there is little political incentive for Trump to publicly declare support for a set number of weeks after which abortion should be banned.

The strategist noted Trump won over evangelical voters during his first term, and the former president romped to an easy victory in the Iowa caucuses in January despite having previously criticized the abortion ban in Florida and refusing to offer up his own preferred limits.

The New York Times last week reported Trump has privately indicated he likes the idea of a 16-week abortion ban that includes exceptions for rape, incest and when the life of the mother is at risk. A Trump campaign spokesperson did not directly address whether Trump supported that timeline but instead reiterated Trump’s pledge to find a solution for the issue that all sides can agree on.

Trump has over the past year repeatedly dodged when asked whether he would sign a national abortion ban if reelected. He has also avoided taking a public position on access to abortion medication, and on Friday said he supported the availability of IVF treatments in the wake of a controversial Alabama court ruling that said frozen embryos are people.

He blamed electoral losses on the anti-abortion movement and criticized Florida’s six-week ban.

When asked during a Fox News town hall in January to reassure a voter that he would fully protect the rights of unborn children, Trump demurred and noted it was important to win elections.

Trump’s vacillating positions on abortion frustrated anti-abortion groups earlier in the campaign, but they have put aside their criticisms to focus on what a second Trump term could do for the anti-abortion movement.

“What we know from President Trump is he put together the strongest pro-life administration in history and enacted the strongest pro-life policies in history, so that’s a good indication of, I believe, how President Trump would address these issues in a second term,” said Roger Severino, a former Trump administration official in the Department of Health and Human Services who led several anti-abortion initiatives.

Severino, who now serves as vice president of domestic policy at the Heritage Foundation, helped draft a portion of Project 2025, an effort aimed at preparing policies and personnel who would be ready for day one of the next GOP administration.

Project 2025 is comprised of 100 coalition partner groups, including Students for Life of America, Susan B. Anthony Pro-Life America and other anti-abortion groups.

According to Severino, Trump immediately could reinstate many of the policies President Biden has since rolled back, such as restrictions on fetal tissue research and limits on federally funded clinics that provide contraception and STD testing.

The Trump administration in 2019 banned any providers that receive Title X funds from referring people for abortions or even counseling them about abortions. It also required clinics that provided both abortion and family planning to have physically separate facilities and maintain separate staff and finances.

After the rules took effect, about one-quarter of nearly 4,000 providers left the program, including Planned Parenthood. As a result, several states were left with no Title X providers, which Health and Human Services estimated led to more than 180,000 unintended pregnancies.

Trump’s administration could also roll back access to abortion pills, reimposing a requirement that they be dispensed in-person at a physician’s office rather than by mail or at a pharmacy.

Students for Life of America is pushing for the Environmental Protection Agency to classify the chemicals in the abortion pill mifepristone as a “forever chemical,” subjecting it to stricter regulations and tracking.

Severino noted the next Republican president could undo the Pentagon policy providing paid leave to service members who travel for an abortion, as well as policies allowing abortions to be done at Veterans Affairs facilities.

Trump could also reimpose a rule to protect the “conscience” rights of medical workers to refuse to provide care based on their religious or moral beliefs. The rule went beyond abortion and would have allowed providers to opt out of procedures such as sterilizations and assisted suicides.

It never took effect, but advocates said they feared it was so broad it could be used to discriminate against gay or transgender patients and their children.

Trump and his campaign have offered few specifics about what actions they would take on abortion and reproductive health care during a second term.

If Trump were to publicly endorse a 16-week ban in an attempt to thread the needle between moderates and conservatives, it could backfire.

Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin (R) in November tried to rally voters around supporting “limits” on abortion after “a reasonable 15-week limit” with exceptions for rape, incest and life of the mother.

But Democrats, running heavily on protecting abortion access, won control of the state Legislature.

“We saw Glenn Youngkin claim that he had found some sort of special sauce here, that they could rebrand on this issue. And the fact is that this is not a branding problem — it’s their agenda,” Jessica Mackler, interim president of EMILY’s List, said during a Biden campaign call with reporters. “That is the problem. And voters know that.”

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