"Coast-to-coast abortion desert": Experts slam media for claiming GOP "softened" abortion platform

The Trump campaign is trying to project "moderation," even as it signals its extremism to anti-abortion activists

By Charles R. Davis

Deputy News Editor

Published July 9, 2024 10:50AM (EDT)

Former U.S. President Donald Trump delivers remarks during the Georgia state GOP convention at the Columbus Convention and Trade Center on June 10, 2023 in Columbus, Georgia. (Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images)
Former U.S. President Donald Trump delivers remarks during the Georgia state GOP convention at the Columbus Convention and Trade Center on June 10, 2023 in Columbus, Georgia. (Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images)

Donald Trump, as a second-term president, would likely sign a national ban on abortion and appoint more judges who think a zygote has more rights than an adult woman. But Donald Trump, the Republican candidate, does not want any pro-choice independents to know that.

So, then, we have the 2024 Republican Party platform. Unveiled Monday, it was greeted by headlines from CNN to NBC News noting its “softening” stance on terminating a pregnancy. Manufactured by a platform committee that excluded a pair of “hardline anti-abortion delegates” at the Trump campaign’s behest, it does indeed stop short of demanding that “The Handmaid’s Tale” be made real — at least at the federal level, at least for now.

The purported moderation reads like it was crafted to provide swing voters just enough cover to rationalize a vote for Trump.

“We will oppose Late Term Abortion,” the document states (the vast majority of such abortions are carried out when doctors discover a severe abnormality or threat to the mother’s life), “while supporting mothers and policies that advance Prenatal Care, access to Birth Control, and IVF.”

At the same time, it provides license to other Republicans, at the state level, to forget about that focus group-tested moderation, albeit in language that only makes sense to anti-abortion campaigners. “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,” it says, “and that the States are, therefore, free to pass Laws protecting those Rights.”

What that means is that Republican-led states, most of which now have draconian limits on reproductive freedom, are free to define life as beginning the moment a sperm finds an egg. That would make an abortion legally tantamount to homicide and it is the same reasoning that led Alabama’s Supreme Court to rule that in vitro fertilization, which inevitably entails the destruction of some embryos, was effectively mass murder.

As feminist writer Jessica Valenti notes, the platform contains “a clear contradiction,” omitting talk of a national abortion ban even as it says an amendment to the U.S. Constitution is grounds for total prohibition of anything having to do with a fertilized egg.

"The RNC draft platform does not 'moderate' on abortion," wrote Liz Sepper, a law professor at the University of Texas. "It commits to constitutional personhood for fetuses. It takes the view that it is not a mere statute but rather the constitution that bans abortion nationwide."

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As for increasing access to birth control: No one, least of all a member of a GOP platform committee, actually thinks the Republican Party will do anything to promote the use of condoms or other forms of contraception. The Heritage Foundation, the hard-right think tank that authored the Project 2025 blueprint for an authoritarian second Trump term, is instead talking about “ending recreational sex” and the “senseless use of birth control pills” (and at the state level, Republicans are already going after IUDs).

The Republican platform exists to get the party through the next four months; to provide the Trump campaign a thin veneer of centrism, and potentially a few more votes, even as it signals to the base that the 2022 Dobbs decision overturning Roe v. Wade and the national right to choose is just the start. But don’t take the liberal media’s word for that: It’s what the base is saying too.

“The platform allows us to provide [a] winning message,” Marjorie Dannenfelse, head of Susan B. Anthony Pro-Life America, said in a statement, referencing the group’s efforts to reach voters in swing states. “The Republican Party remains strongly pro-life at the national level.”

Lisa Rubin, a legal analyst at MSNBC, observed that the new GOP platform “is like a Rorschach test,” suggesting newfound moderation to some and a doubling down on anti-choice extremism to others. The truth, she argued, can be gleaned from the reaction of right-wing activists who are savvy enough to know that a game is being played.

“SBA’s reaction tells you everything you need to know about what GOP leaders really have planned if they secure both houses of Congress and retake the White House,” Rubin wrote on social media. “And it’s not a post-Dobbs world in which states’ rights flourish; it’s a coast-to-coast abortion desert.”

By Charles R. Davis

Charles R. Davis is Salon's deputy news editor. His work has aired on public radio and been published by outlets such as The Guardian, The Daily Beast, The New Republic and Columbia Journalism Review.

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Donald Trump Jessica Valenti Lisa Rubin