The former president and current frontrunner for the 2024 Republican nomination created a stir this week with his comments to NBC's Kristen Welker in a "Meet The Press" interview on Sunday (image above). Trump's highly critical remarks of the "heartbeat bill" signed into law by Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, Trump's chief primary rival, were like flashing red lights for those in the pro-life camp who believe Trump's commitment to the unborn has weakened.
Florida Republicans proposed the bill during the first moments of this year's legislative session. DeSantis had already said he'd sign it. He had already signed a bill prohibiting almost all abortions at 15 weeks, which is the time frame that has become the talking point in the national conversation since first proposed by Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-South Carolina).
Florida's six-week law bars physicians "from knowingly performing or inducing a termination of pregnancy after the gestational age of the fetus is determined to be more than six weeks," according to its text. There are exceptions for rape, incest or the endangered life of the mother.
"I think what he did is a terrible thing and a terrible mistake," Trump told Welker.
Many pro-lifers moved quickly to distance themselves from Trump, who has referred to himself as America's "most pro-life president ever" in the wake of the Supreme Court's landmark ruling in Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Organization, which last summer returned abortion law to the states.
Did Trump stick it in the eye of pro-lifers?
"You just stuck it in the eye of the entire pro-life movement," Rep. Chip Roy (R-Texas) said on American Family Radio earlier this week, referring to Trump. "You just said to pro-life voters and activists and people who worked their whole lives in Florida and across the country, you just stuck it in their eye, saying they're wrong, that [signing that bill] was a mistake."
Pavone, the national director of Priests for Life and a leading pro-life activist, says people should slow down and take a deeper look.
He was on the podium behind DeSantis when the governor signed a bill banning abortion procedures in Florida after 15 weeks. He was traveling but was with DeSantis in sprit when the governor signed the heartbeat bill in April. But before that, he was an adviser on pro-life issues for Trump in both the 2016 and 2020 campaigns.
He remains solidly in Trump's camp even after the "Meet The Press" interview.
"In light of the Dobbs decision, I think the whole movement is still wrestling with what do we do practically? In my mind, I make that distinction all the time – in meetings with politicians, pro-lifers and activists – between the principle and the practical," Pavone said on American Family Radio this week.
Interesting numbers from NPR poll
A National Public Radio poll in April drew roughly 1,300 showing 25% of Americans said abortion should be allowed only in cases of rape, incest or endangered life of the mother. Another 25% said abortion should be allowed only during the first three months of pregnancy.
Three months would fall within 15 weeks, which seems to be the middle ground favored by many politicians. Certainly not all – whether in office or not – favor 15 weeks. The same poll showed 39% of Democrats believe abortion should be available at any time during the pregnancy.
In Pavone's eyes, Trump remains a pro-life candidate.
"He constantly repeats that every child is made in the sacred image of God and deserves protection," Pavone noted. "Furthermore, he's saying this is going to be up to the states, but there's a federal role. He's acknowledging that Florida is not New York, it's not Mississippi, it's not California. He knows that practically speaking, the American people and the American states are deeply divided on this issue."
Division is so deep that one progressive organization – which according to its website also supports Black Lives Matter and transgender rights – has been so staunchly pro-life that it has had members arrested under the FACE Act that Roy is trying to repeal.
The Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act, signed into law by President Bill Clinton in 1994, is designed to prevent demonstrations from infringing on the rights of Americans to access care or counsel whether the clinic's management leans pro-choice or pro-life.
However, the Justice Department has not applied the law equally, barely touching individuals who favor abortion.
"Of all of the prosecutions under the FACE Act, 126, four were against people who were pro-choice. The bias is clear. I think we ought to repeal it," Roy said on Washington Watch Thursday.
Among those four has been at least one member of the group Progressive Anti-Abortion Uprising. One other member of the group had FBI agents knock on her door, she believes for purposes of intimidation. She explained her story to Fox News.
Pro-lifers are divided, too
As Pavone acknowledged, not all pro-lifers would agree with a heartbeat bill.
"A lot of pro-life leaders and pro-life strategists would say 'It's a bad mistake,' because it doesn't protect babies earlier than that," he stated. "We've got states that are passing laws to protect [babies] from conception, and that's where our principle lies: that a human life is a human life [at conception] and gets human rights. Human rights begin when human lives begin. So, we're all wrestling with the practical question of what kind of bill should there be?"
Trump's effort at practicality was evident in his desire for middle ground in the interview.
"What's going to happen is you're going to have to come up with a number of weeks or months. I think they're all going to like me. Both sides are going to like me," Trump said.
In the quest for practicality, it's also important not to rush to judgment after TV sound bites, Pavone warned. "The statement, what did it take … three or four seconds, two seconds? I don't form my view of his stance on a complicated issue like this from 'Meet The Press.'"