Biden seeks to make Trump the face of anti-abortion movement

April 18, 2024

The Biden campaign is seeking to make former President Trump the face of the anti-abortion movement as Democrats look to harness voter fury following the overturning of Roe v. Wade.

At campaign stops in the days since a Civil War-era abortion ban was upheld in Arizona, Vice President Kamala Harris has gone hard against “Trump abortion bans” and accused the former president of “gaslighting” Americans about whether he’d sign a national ban if he wins a second term.

Meanwhile, an ad released by the Biden campaign last week featured a woman who suffered near-fatal complications after being denied an abortion. “Donald Trump did this,” the ad said.

“The more bans, the better for Biden. The more bans, the worse for Trump,” said Democratic strategist Hank Sheinkopf. “Leaning in on abortion bans, for Democrats, is the smart move. Why? It’s another way to isolate Trump, and Trump’s gotta respond to that.”

Biden’s team is trying to make sure abortion will “hang around [Trump’s] neck” in states with close presidential race margins, Sheinkopf said, as Democrats more broadly hope the issue — along with state-level ballot measures aimed at enshrining abortion rights — juices turnout for candidates up and down ballot.

“Overturning Roe was just the opening act … of a larger strategy to take women’s rights and freedoms — part of a full-on attack, state by state, on reproductive freedom,” Harris said in Tucson last week after the Arizona Supreme Court approved an 1864 law that made performing the procedure a felony. “And we all must understand who is to blame — former President Donald Trump did this.”

The Arizona ban came shortly after a Florida state Supreme Court decision gave the greenlight to a strict six-week ban in the Sunshine State. That followed a February decision by the Alabama state Supreme Court declaring frozen embryos are children under state law, raising questions about in vitro fertilization (IVF) and forcing Republicans to scramble to respond amid bipartisan blowback.

The developments have pushed what’s been a winning issue for Democrats in previous cycles further into the national spotlight ahead of November. They have also raised questions about Trump’s stance on the issue as the former president walks a thin line in an effort to appeal to moderates while also not alienating the anti-abortion Republicans who make up the base. 

“Democrats broadly — the [Biden] campaign, candidates — are absolutely right to be tying this to Trump,” said Democratic strategist Jon Reinish. And in a highly competitive election cycle where recent polling has shown Trump with the edge in critical swing states, “this could be a very key lift for the president and for the campaign,” Reinish said. 

Trump appointed three conservative justices to the Supreme Court during his tenure in the Oval Office, leading to the 5-4 decision in 2022 to overturn Roe v. Wade and turn the regulation of abortion over to individual states. Fury over the Supreme Court’s decision was seen as crucial fuel for Democrats in the midterms that year.

Trump, who as president supported a House bill to ban most abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy, doubled down in a video last week that he was “proudly the person responsible” for ending Roe. But in the same video, he also declined to say whether he would support federal abortion restrictions if he were elected again and said abortion limits should be left to the states.

Arizona’s ruling, which came not long after his video was released, promptly put the spotlight back on Trump’s views. The former president later told reporters he wouldn’t sign an abortion ban if it came to his desk, leading the Biden campaign to call him a “liar.”

Michael Tyler, communications director for the Biden campaign, said in a statement that Trump “has one track record: banning abortion every chance he gets,” and the campaign’s new ad tells the story of a Texas woman who was denied access to abortion “because Donald Trump killed Roe v. Wade.” 

Harris has been the administration’s main surrogate on abortion, and she kick-started a nationwide tour early this year focused on the fight over abortion access.

She’s now playing a “particularly effective” role for the campaign on abortion as the 2024 race heats up, Reinish said. 

“It is a woman taking the lead on talking about women’s health and decisions that lie first and foremost with women,” Reinish said. “She also, I think, has a history of going harder, going stronger, going deeper than Biden himself does on the issue. And he seems very happy to have her play that role.”

In a Monday stop in Nevada, another key swing state with a competitive Senate race, Harris railed against the former president for evading the question of a federal ban as she rallied support for an abortion-related ballot measure effort in the state. 

“There is a direct track between what we’ve seen in states like Arizona, what the people of Nevada are fighting for, and who the previous president was,” Harris told supporters in Las Vegas on Monday. 

Abortion is legal in Nevada within the first 24 weeks of pregnancy, but organizers are pushing for a Reproductive Rights Amendment to the state constitution. Similar efforts are already on the ballot in New York and Maryland — both blue strongholds, but ones that could play critical roles in the battle for the House and Senate, respectively — as advocates look to safeguard abortion against future threats.

Campaigns to get abortion measures on the ballot in November are also underway in red states like Missouri, Montana and Nebraska.

Strategists say the measures could be a big turnout boost as much of the electorate shows a lack of enthusiasm for the Biden-Trump rematch at the top of the ticket.  

“Not all these women are going to go out and protest,” said Martha McKenna, a Democratic strategist and veteran of EMILY’s List, a group that backs female candidates for office. “Not all these women are going to get involved in politics, but when you give people a chance to go to the voting booth and affirm women’s reproductive freedom, they will take it.”

Voters in Michigan, California and Vermont approved ballot measures enshrining abortion rights in their state constitutions during the midterms, as did deep-red Ohio last year. And in the wake of the recent Alabama ruling, a Democratic candidate who campaigned on reproductive rights flipped a conservative state House seat in a recent special election.

Putting abortion rights at the fore is “the right thing to do from a policy perspective,” McKenna said, pointing to polling that shows widespread support for protecting access to the procedure. “It’s also electorally beneficial for Democrats and a huge problem for Republicans,” she said.  

A measure to enshrine abortion rights is set to appear on the November ballot in Trump’s home state of Florida, where advocates are hoping to undo a restrictive ban by protecting the procedure before viability.

Amid growing national scrutiny on the issue, the former president is likely to face mounting pressure over how he’ll vote on the measure in the fall, said Republican strategist Liz Mair. 

“However he answers” will risk alienating voters in a party largely split on cutoffs and exceptions, Mair said. Trump last year called Florida’s six-week ban a “terrible mistake,” but last week he called Democrats “radical” for supporting later abortions. 

Abortion is “about the only card that Democrats have to play,” Mair said. “But I think it’s a pretty good one. I don’t know if it’s enough to win them the election, but it might.”