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Fight about abortion breaks out between Trump and DeSantis in the GOP presidential race

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Fight about abortion breaks out between Trump and DeSantis in the GOP presidential race

Sep 25, 2023 | 7:00 pm ET
By Michael Moline
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Fight about abortion breaks out between Trump and DeSantis in the GOP presidential race
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Former U.S. President Donald Trump and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis speak at midterm election rallies, in Dayton, Ohio, on Nov. 7, 2022, and Tampa on Nov. 8, 2022. (Reuters/Gaelen Morse, Marco Bello)

Gov. Ron DeSantis fears Donald Trump’s recently expressed qualms about banning abortion after six weeks could fuel a pending state constitutional amendment drive to protect the right to abortion in Florida.

The governor spoke during an interview on Glenn Beck’s podcast that was released Monday, after Beck asked about Trump’s statement during an interview with NBC News that the six-week ban DeSantis signed into law in April was “a terrible thing and a terrible mistake.”

That law is contingent on the Florida Supreme Court upholding the existing 15-week abortion law, which took effect in July 2022. The court, bolstered by conservative DeSantis appointees, recently heard oral arguments and might rule at any time.

Fight about abortion breaks out between Trump and DeSantis in the GOP presidential race
Abortion rights advocates speak out after oral arguments at the Florida Supreme Court on abortion bans and the state’s privacy clause. Sept. 8, 2023. Credit: Mitch Perry.

A group called Floridians Protecting Freedom is gathering voter signatures to place their initiative on the 2024 General Election ballot. It reads, “No law shall prohibit, penalize, delay, or restrict abortion before viability or when necessary to protect the patient’s health, as determined by the patient’s health care provider. This amendment does not change the Legislature’s constitutional authority to require notification to a parent or guardian before a minor has an abortion.” It would countermand any ruling by the state Supreme Court against abortion access.

DeSantis told Beck Trump’s words could wind up in a political ad for the pro-choice forces.

“Do you think they’re [Floridians Protecting Freedom] going to run ads to Republicans and independents … voters saying Trump didn’t like this, vote the other way? Of course, they are. They’re going to weaponize what he said to try to defeat the cause of life. And so, it was a really hurtful thing, was really harmful,” DeSantis said.

The governor spoke on the Beck podcast following release of polls suggesting shrinking support for him in early voting states including Iowa and New Hampshire.

DeSantis signed the six-week ban during a late-night ceremony in his office without inviting the public or press to participate.

Trump appointed enough U.S. Supreme Court justices to overrule Roe v. Wade in the summer of 2022, but said in a recent NBC interview that Florida’s prospective six-week was “a terrible thing and a terrible mistake.” He refused in the interview, broadcast on “Meet the Press,” to stake out his own position on abortion, but said he’d like to negotiate some sort of settlement between pro-choice and anti-abortion factions, whether at the state or national levels.

Losing issue

“We’re going to agree to a number of weeks or months or however you want to define it,” Trump told NBC. “And both sides are going to come together and both sides — both sides, and this is a big statement — both sides will come together. And for the first time in 52 years, you’ll have an issue that we can put behind us.”

The ex-president cast the issue as a political loser for Republicans.

“Other than certain parts of the country, you can’t — you’re not going to win on this issue. But you will win on this issue when you come up with the right number of weeks,” he told NBC.

DeSantis shot back during his Beck interview.

“Protecting unborn babies that have detectible heartbeats is not terrible. It’s noble. It’s just. And it should be something that anyone [who] says that they’re prolife would embrace. I don’t see how you could claim to have been at one time pro-life and then turn around and say that it’s terrible that a state would enact protections for life” he said.

“It doesn’t matter whether 80% of the people think it should be protected or only 20% of the people think it should be protected. It’s not a poll question; it’s a fundamental question about your values about what you think.”

However, the governor’s support for abortion restrictions has cut into his support from some of his largest donors — including hotel and aerospace executive Robert Bigelow, investor Ken Griffin, businessman Thomas Peterffy, and Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner, according to reporting by Politico — some of whom cite his extremism on abortion and other social issues.