During the third and final presidential debate of the 2016 presidential race, Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump faced off on the question of abortion. During the exchange, Trump boasted about his pro-life bona fides; however, his stance on the issue has shifted over the years.
“I feel that the justices that I am going to appoint—and I’ve named 20 of them—the justices that I’m going to appoint will be pro-life,” Trump said in response to a question from moderator Chris Wallace about Supreme Court appointments, “they will have a conservative bent, they will be protecting the second amendment, they are great scholars in all cases and they’re people of tremendous respect. They will interpret the constitution the way the founders wanted it interpreted.
“I am pro-life and I will be appointing pro-life judges,” Trump continued.
He went on attack Clinton’s support for partial-birth abortion. “I think it’s terrible if you go with what Hillary is saying in the ninth month you can take the baby and rip the baby out of the womb of the mother just prior to the birth of the baby,” he said.
Seventeen years ago, Trump, doing the media rounds while testing the waters for an ultimately abandoned presidential run on the Reform Party ticket, expressed a very different attitude in an interview with Tim Russert on Meet The Press.
“Partial birth abortion… abortion in the third trimester, is a big issue in Washington. Would President Trump ban partial birth abortion?” asked Russert.
“I am very pro-choice,” Trump declared. “I hate the concept of abortion. I hate everything it stands for.”
“But you would not ban it?” Russert interjected.
“No,” Trump replied.
“Or partial-birth abortion?” asked Russert.
“No,” said Trump. “I am pro-choice in every respect.”
There is a history of Republicans shifting their previously moderate views on abortion while running for president. During his 2002 campaign for Massachusetts governor, Mitt Romney said during a debate, “I will preserve and protect a woman’s right to choose and am devoted and dedicated to honoring my word in that regard.”
However, when he ran for president against Barack Obama in 2012, Romney said he was pro-life and pushed for the Supreme Court to overturn the Roe v. Wade decision that legalized abortion in all 50 states. For his part, Romney has publicly acknowledged this position on abortion had evolved over time—crediting his change of heart to a conversation with a Harvard University stem cell researcher.