Trump signals support for 15-week national abortion ban

FILE PHOTO: Former U.S. President Trump hosts a campaign rally, in Rome, Georgia
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By Doina Chiacu and James Oliphant

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump said he was leaning toward a 15-week national ban on abortion but supports exceptions for rape, incest and saving the life of the mother because "you have to win elections."

Abortion promises to be a galvanizing issue for some voters in the 2024 presidential election in which Trump will try to unseat Democratic President Joe Biden.

A call for a 15-week national ban is likely to displease both sides of the abortion debate, with conservative groups unhappy with what they view as an overly permissive time limit and abortion-rights activists opposing the idea of any kind of national ban.

The former Republican president, whose three conservative appointees to the U.S. Supreme Court secured the majority needed to overturn Roe v. Wade in 2022, has not been specific on whether he would sign a national ban into law.

In a call-in radio interview on Tuesday, he came close.

"The number of weeks now, people are agreeing on 15. And I'm thinking in terms of that. And it’ll come out to something that’s very reasonable. But people are really, even hard-liners are agreeing, seems to be, 15 weeks seems to be a number that people are agreeing at," Trump said on the "Sid & Friends in the Morning" show on WABC.

Trump said he backed exceptions to a ban on abortion when it involved rape, incest or saving the life of the mother, which he said the vast majority of Republicans support.

Trump said he tells Republicans who push a harder line: "Here's the problem, you have to win elections. And otherwise, you'd be right back where you started."

The Biden campaign has taken aim at Republican curbs on reproductive rights in states after the Supreme Court overturned the Roe ruling that recognized a woman's constitutional right to abortion. Voter backlash was widely credited with limiting Republican gains in the congressional elections that followed.

The Supreme Court's action allowed the matter to be decided on a state-by-state basis, and in response, Republicans have issued restrictive abortion laws in nearly two dozen states.

The New York Times reported last month that Trump has privately expressed support for a 16-week ban.

While Trump has argued for months that the six-week ban some states have enacted is overly harsh and politically toxic, he was reluctant to clarify his position regarding a national ban during his push for the Republican nomination when some rivals called for a more restrictive approach.

Abortion-rights groups have been warning that Republicans would attempt to institute a national ban if they won the White House after Roe v. Wade fell - and Trump's support for one likely will spur their advocacy and fundraising.

“Time and again, Donald Trump has shown us who he is — and we believe him. These latest comments reaffirm what we’ve long known: if given the chance, he will enact a national ban on abortion," said Mini Timmaraju, president of Reproductive Freedom for All, the group formerly known as NARAL.

Democrats see the issue as a potential difference-maker in the coming presidential and congressional elections in November.

"Women are being hurt today by Trump and his allies' actions," the Biden campaign said in a statement on Wednesday in response to Trump's interview.

The anti-abortion group Students for Life issued a statement urging Trump not to support such a federal ban, terming it a "bridge to nowhere" and arguing it would allow too many abortions to still take place.

(Reporting by Doina Chiacu, Susan Heavey and James Oliphant; Editing by Colleen Jenkins, Chizu Nomiyama and Daniel Wallis)