In 1973, the U.S. Supreme Court dropped its landmark abortion ruling, Roe v. Wade. Half a century later, the country still can’t stop arguing about what women are allowed to do with their bodies when they become pregnant. The issue can still attract or repel huge swaths of voters, so politicians must choose sides wisely. And there’s Donald Trump, who can’t seem to get his sh*t together on the issue, though it remains to be seen if that will hurt him or not at the polls this November (it obviously hasn’t so far). Those famous off-the-cuff mannerisms — which have won him many points with followers who find him refreshing — have met their match with abortion.
He’s a flip-flopper by nature, seemingly willing to say whatever he needs to say in the moment, but Trump’s inability to stick with an abortion stance has angered people more than his characterization of Mexicans as criminals and rapists and continued anti-Islamic rhetoric. Abortion should never be the butt of a joke, but the issue presents a comical blip for a teflon candidate and illustrates the awkwardness of his newfound Republican identity. Let’s run down this timeline, which shows staggering differences in Trump’s abortion stance over the years, months, and days.
October 24, 1999 – Pro-Choice
As Ivana Trump recently revealed, someone (Ronald Reagan, she said) put a bug into Trump’s ear about running for president in the late 1990s. Perhaps that explains why Trump visited Meet the Press and said this to Tim Russert: “I’m very pro-choice. I hate the concept of abortion. I hate it. I hate everything it stands for. But … I just believe in choice.” He also insisted that he would not ban partial-birth abortion. Ted Cruz’s camp trucked out this interview (as proof that Trump’s “New York values” were not desirable) during the current presidential race.
December 1, 1999 – Still Pro-Choice, But Slightly Apathetic
Trump is quoted as telling reporters that abortion shouldn’t be up for public debate: “I want to see the abortion issue removed from politics. I believe it is a personal decision that should be left to the women and their doctors.” Sadly for the future Republican candidate, abortion and politics would continue to enjoy a combative marriage.
June 28, 2015 – Pro-Life, Possibly
Some folks theorize that people become more conservative with age, but anyone who noticed Trump’s liberal ways were surprised when he chose to run for president on the GOP side. Likewise, Trump himself seemed wobbly while speaking with Jake Tapper on CNN’s State of the Union:
TAPPER: I know you’re opposed to abortion.
TRUMP: Right. I’m pro-choice.
TAPPER: You’re pro-choice or pro-life?
TRUMP: I’m pro-life.
This interview is queued up to where Tapper jumps into social issues.
August 6, 2015 – Megyn Kelly Asks Trump To Get Real
During this first fiery confrontation between Trump and Kelly, she reminded him of his former approval of partial-birth abortions. She noted how he calls his opponents “clowns and puppets” and wanted to know, “When did you actually become a Republican?” Trump explained that he’s “evolved” just like Ronald Reagan on many issues. He said, “I am pro-life … I hate the concept of abortion.” Trump spoke of a friend’s child, who was “going to be aborted, and that child today is a total superstar.”
August 16, 2015 – Not Into Abortions For ‘A Cold’
During a Meet the Press interview, which was held on the candidate’s private jet, Chuck Todd asks about Trump’s twisty abortion stance and receives this answer:
“Look, Planned Parenthood has to stop with the abortions. Women’s health issues to me are very important. I cherish women. My mother was this incredible woman. I have great children. I have a great wife. I have such great respect for women. I understand the importance.”
Trump continued and said he would allow the procedure if “death” was involved, but not if a woman simply has “a cold” and wants an abortion.
February 25, 2016 – Loves Planned Parenthood, Sort Of
“As far as Planned Parenthood is concerned, I’m pro-life. I’m totally against abortion, having to do with Planned Parenthood. But millions and millions of women — cervical cancer, breast cancer — are helped by Planned Parenthood.”
After commending the organization for helping millions of women, Trump went on to say that he’d strip all federal funding from Planned Parenthood because he is pro-life.
March 30, 2016 – A Giant Mess, Take One
This MSNBC Town Hall arrived amid criticism that journalists only ask softball questions of Trump. So, Chris Matthews may have pushed a little too hard while grilling those pro-life claims. Specifically, Matthews wanted Trump’s thoughts on what would happen when women pursued abortion after a legal ban. After evading the question several times, Trump admitted, “The answer is … that there has to be some form of punishment.” He also made it clear that the man who impregnated the woman would not be punished.
March 30, 2016 – Take Two
The above interview leaked before it aired, so Trump’s campaign scrambled to amend the statement before the on-air collision. Ali Vitali, an NBC reporter who’s on the Republican beat, relayed a statement on Twitter:
“This issue is unclear and should be put back to the states for determination. Like Ronald Reagan, I am pro-life with exceptions, which I have outlined numerous times.”
March 30, 2016 – Take Three
You can almost hear the background yelling at this point, right? Trump’s website then published an official, clarifying statement, in which the candidate says doctors who perform illegal abortions should be punished:
“If Congress were to pass legislation making abortion illegal and the federal courts upheld this legislation, or any state were permitted to ban abortion under state and federal law, the doctor or any other person performing this illegal act upon a woman would be held legally responsible, not the woman. My position has not changed — like Ronald Reagan, I am pro-life with exceptions.”
April 1, 2016 – Pro-Life With Some Butt-Covering
While speaking with Face the Nation‘s John Dickerson, Trump continued to aim for clarification after folks didn’t take the “punishment” quote well. In doing so, he modified his stance again by saying the question (and his answer) were only “hypothetical.” He also believes states should decide the issue:
“The laws are set now on abortion and that’s the way they’re going to remain until they’re changed. I would’ve preferred states’ rights. I think it would’ve been better if it were up to the states. But right now, the laws are set. And I think we have to leave it that way.”
Trump Press Secretary Hope Hicks — who has one of the toughest jobs in the biz — followed up the trifecta of awkwardness with this promise about how the Trump presidency will treat the abortion issue:
“Mr. Trump gave an accurate account of the law as it is today and made clear it must stay that way now — until he is President. Then he will change the law through his judicial appointments and allow the states to protect the unborn. There is nothing new or different here.”
April 21, 2016 – Pro-Life, But Cool With Exceptions
A few weeks after the dust settled, Trump made a cheery visit to Today where he spoke about this serious issue in the morning light of Rockefeller Plaza. He detailed his plans of sticking with the classic trio of exceptions — rape, incest, and life of the mother:
“Yes, I would. Absolutely. For the three exceptions, I would. I would leave it for the life of the mother, but I would absolutely have the three exceptions.”
May 18, 2016 – Trump’s Final Pro-Choice Word?
In a detailed profile of the presumptive Republican nominee, the New York Times asked Trump to — once again — clarify his abortion stance. Journalist Robert Draper alluded to some obvious backpedaling:
Now he argued to me, rather unconvincingly, that he had been misinterpreted: “I didn’t mean punishment for women like prison. I’m saying women punish themselves. I didn’t want people to think in terms of ‘prison’ punishment. And because of that I walked it back.”
Is this really the definitive Trump stance on abortion? No freaking way. General election season will arrive soon, and Trump will almost certainly battle Hillary Clinton for the White House. She has plenty of baggage of her own, but she has never wavered on her pro-choice abortion stance. You can bet that Clinton will soon confront Trump on the subject in heated debates.