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Trump campaign scrambles over abortion ban report as Democrats seize the moment

The Trump campaign said it was "fake news" that he supports a 16-week abortion ban, as Democrats were quick to hit him on it.
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WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden’s campaign and abortion rights advocates ripped into former President Donald Trump on abortion Friday following a report that he has given private signals in favor of a national ban on abortions after 16 weeks of pregnancy that would include exceptions in cases of rape, incest and when the woman’s life is in danger.

During his presidential campaign, Trump has steered clear of taking a public position on a prospective national ban — which would require congressional approval — but The New York Times reported Friday that he has indicated behind closed doors that he likes the idea of prohibiting abortion after 16 weeks in most cases.

A source familiar with conversations told NBC News that he has talked to his advisers about supporting abortion rights up to 16 weeks as well, although a separate source cautioned he had not settled on a federal ban. The Trump campaign in a statement blasted reporting suggesting otherwise as "fake news."

“As President Trump has stated, he would sit down with both sides and negotiate a deal that everyone will be happy with,” Trump campaign national press secretary Karoline Leavitt said in a statement. “Joe Biden and virtually every Democrat in Congress is on the record supporting radical on-demand abortion.”

The Biden campaign and abortion rights advocates seized on the potential political fallout, quickly hosting a press call to frame the former president as a dangerous and extreme possibility should he be elected in November.

Biden himself released a lengthy statement laying out the impact of Roe v. Wade's reversal, including the passage of stringent anti-abortion laws in conservative states.

"Now, after being the one responsible for taking away women’s freedom, after being the one to put women’s lives in danger, after being the one who has unleashed all this cruelty and chaos all across America, Trump is running scared. He’s afraid the women of America are going to hold him responsible for taking away their rights and endangering their rights at the ballot box in November," Biden said in the statement. "The choice is very simple. Kamala and I will restore Roe v. Wade and make it once again the law of the land. Donald Trump will ban abortion nationwide."

In a January NBC News poll of registered voters, 44% said they thought Biden would handle abortion better than Trump, with 32% saying the reverse. Trump, who appointed three of the Supreme Court justices who voted to overturn Roe v. Wade abortion protections in 2022, has blamed Republican electoral losses on GOP candidates pushing stricter abortion bans at the state and national levels.

“I just want folks to understand that all abortion bans are radical and voters dislike them deeply,” Reproductive Freedom for All President Mini Timmaraju said on a call hosted by the Biden campaign on Friday. “Exceptions are designed not to work, and they’re impossible to enforce in these incredibly draconian states with these extreme bans. So it’s gonna be our job as advocates to make that clear to the American people, this is not a moderate position, and we have to debunk that aggressively and often.”

Marjorie Dannenfelser, a key Trump ally on the issue and president of the anti-abortion SBA List, lauded the idea of a 16-week ban Friday.

"We strongly agree with President Trump on protecting babies from abortion violence at least by a point when they feel pain," Dannenfelser said in a statement to NBC News. "President Trump wants to lead in finding consensus, and this is around where the nation is."

Trump once took credit for his role in limiting access to abortion, having boasted in May: “I was able to kill Roe v. Wade.” In a September interview with NBC’s “Meet the Press,” he toned down his talk but mentioned 15 weeks as a possible number.

Trump said then that “people are starting to think of 15 weeks” as “a number that people are talking about right now” in terms of a federal abortion ban, but quickly added, “No, no,” when asked if he would sign such legislation as president.

“We’re going to agree to a number of weeks or months or however you want to define it,” he said. “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.”