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Anti-abortion activists celebrate in in front of the Supreme Court on June 24, 2022 after the Court's decision erased a federal right to an abortion.
Anti-abortion activists celebrate in in front of the Supreme Court on June 24 after the Court's decision erased a federal right to an abortion. Brandon Bell / Getty Images file

Analysis: Trump, Pence underscore GOP’s differing paths on abortion

Do 2024 Republicans lean into Roe v. Wade’s demise? Or sidestep it?


Former Vice President Mike Pence believes the Supreme Court’s overturning of Roe v. Wade is arguably Donald Trump’s most consequential legacy as president.

“I truly believe the opportunity to restore the sanctity of life to the center of American law may be among the most consequential legacies of the Trump-Pence administration, if not the most consequential,” he said on “Meet the Press.”

Trump, by contrast, never once said the words “abortion,” “Roe” or “Dobbs” when he announced his 2024 presidential bid last week. 

Those two differing approaches highlight a potential divide in the incredibly early start to the next presidential race (thanks to Trump’s November 2022 announcement).

Do Republican candidates lean into the overturning of Roe v. Wade, as Pence might do if he runs?

Or do they avoid it altogether as Trump did last week — as the midterm results and exit polls revealed that abortion was a GOP liability in the last election? 

Trump, in 2016, campaigned on being “pro-life”; he nominated three conservative Supreme Court justices who ruled to overturn Roe v. Wade; and he praised the Dobbs decision that overturned Roe. 

But abortion was never an issue that animated Trump (or many of his voters) quite the same way that immigration, China, race or personal vendettas did. 

Indeed, in his presidential announcement, Trump said the word “border” 24 times; and he said “China” 18 times; and he said “Biden” another 18 times. 

But he never once said the words “abortion,” “Roe” or “Dobbs.”

By comparison, abortion certainly animated Pence when he talked about the issue on “Meet the Press.”

“The Dobbs decision not just overturned Roe v. Wade, but it returned the question of abortion to the states and to the American people. And I celebrate that from really the depths of my heart,” Pence said, adding: “To have been able to champion life in the Congress and as governor, but to have been a part of an administration that gave the American people this new beginning for life is something I’ll cherish the rest of my life.”

But abortion and the Dobbs decision were drawbacks for Republicans in the 2022 midterms.

Sixty percent of all voters said abortion should be legal in all or most cases, according to NBC News’ exit poll, and 61% said they were “dissatisfied” or “angry” with the decision overturning Roe v. Wade. 

Still, among the 37% of voters who said they were “enthusiastic” or “satisfied” with the ruling, nearly all of them (87%) voted for a Republican candidate in the midterms. 

That shows how potent abortion remains among Republicans — even if it’s a drag with the rest of the electorate.