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A year after the Dobbs decision, Trump reminds conservative voters of his role in it

AYESHA RASCOE, HOST:

On the anniversary of the Supreme Court ruling that enabled abortion bans around the country, former President Donald Trump spoke to his base. He reminded conservative Christian voters that as president, he'd handpicked three justices.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

DONALD TRUMP: Exactly one year ago today, those justices were the pivotal votes in the Supreme Court's landmark decision ending the constitutional atrocity known as Roe v. Wade.

(APPLAUSE)

RASCOE: Trump spoke at a gathering hosted by the Faith and Freedom Coalition last night in Washington, D.C. NPR's Sarah McCammon was there and joins us now. Hi, Sarah.

SARAH MCCAMMON, BYLINE: Good morning, Ayesha.

RASCOE: So what was Trump's message to these voters?

MCCAMMON: Well, Trump took a bit of a victory lap, as you might expect, in front of this audience of conservative Christian activists. He'd promised these voters when he ran for president in - back in 2016 that he would choose Supreme Court justices who would oppose abortion rights, and he delivered on that. I mean, three of the six justices who voted with the majority in the Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Organization decision were Trump nominees, of course. So last night, he cast himself as a fighter who can accomplish things that others can't.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

TRUMP: They've been fighting - good people, strong people, smart people - have been fighting for 50 years, and it never even came close to getting done.

MCCAMMON: Now, there actually was a case, Planned Parenthood v. Casey in 1992, in which anti-abortion rights activists had hoped to see Roe v. Wade overturned. But it wasn't - not until last year.

RASCOE: So Trump is a part of a growing field of Republican presidential hopefuls. How are his rivals for the nomination talking about abortion?

MCCAMMON: Well, first, it helps to understand there's a concern among some in the GOP that as new abortion restrictions have taken effect across the country, there may be backlash from voters. And the party's presidential hopefuls have each been navigating that concern differently. You know, I asked Ralph Reed, the founder of the Faith and Freedom Coalition, about this yesterday.

RALPH REED: There's a perception out there that we're on the defensive right now, post-ops. So what I've tried to say is, you know, get off your back heels, get on your toes and get on offense and off defense.

MCCAMMON: And Reed notes that while most Americans support legal abortion, at least in the first trimester, that support does weaken later in pregnancy. So he thinks there's an opportunity for Republicans there.

RASCOE: So what would getting on the offense, as Reed puts it, mean for Republicans who oppose abortion rights?

MCCAMMON: Well, many anti-abortion rights activists are pushing Republican leaders to advocate for a national ban on abortion. Of course, they don't have the votes for that in Congress, and that's something former South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley, another presidential candidate, acknowledged. You know, she says a national ban is not realistic and that she will work toward finding consensus on abortion. But former Vice President Mike Pence is calling on every GOP candidate to support at least a 15-week nationwide ban. Here he is at the Faith and Freedom Coalition on Friday.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

MIKE PENCE: We must not rest and must not relent until we restore the sanctity of life to the center of American law in every state in this country.

(APPLAUSE)

MCCAMMON: Now, Trump says he would fight against what he calls late-term abortion, but he hasn't endorsed any specific national policy.

RASCOE: The Dobbs decision a year ago was obviously a major defeat for Democrats. What have they been saying this weekend?

MCCAMMON: You know, Democrats hope they can put Republicans on the defensive about the abortion issue in the 2024 election. They had some success in the midterms. They want to build on that. President Biden on Friday signed an executive order designed to protect birth control access, but there's not much he can do as president except try to paint Republicans as extreme. Meanwhile, Republicans will be pointing to polls showing that most Americans support at least some abortion restrictions, and they'll try to argue that Democrats are out of step.

RASCOE: That's NPR's Sarah McCammon. Thank you so much.

MCCAMMON: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Ayesha Rascoe is a White House correspondent for NPR. She is currently covering her third presidential administration. Rascoe's White House coverage has included a number of high profile foreign trips, including President Trump's 2019 summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Hanoi, Vietnam, and President Obama's final NATO summit in Warsaw, Poland in 2016. As a part of the White House team, she's also a regular on the NPR Politics Podcast.
Sarah McCammon
Sarah McCammon is a National Correspondent covering the Mid-Atlantic and Southeast for NPR. Her work focuses on political, social and cultural divides in America, including abortion and reproductive rights, and the intersections of politics and religion. She's also a frequent guest host for NPR news magazines, podcasts and special coverage.