What Trump and Biden Had to Say About Abortion in the First Presidential Debate

Ashley Sadler

Communications Director

(Oregon Right to Life) — U.S. President Joe Biden and former President Donald Trump sparred about the abortion issue during the much anticipated June 27 presidential debate, clashing over late-term abortion and the overturning of Roe v. Wade.

Biden reaffirmed his intention to codify Roe v. Wade if re-elected, while Trump promoted his role in overturning Roe and argued that leaving the issue of abortion up to the states is “what everyone wanted.”

What did Biden say?

President Biden reaffirmed his support for the provisions of Roe v. Wade, the 1973 Supreme Court decision that established a federal “right to abortion.” Roe was overturned by the Court in Dobbs v. Jackson in 2022 after President Trump appointed three conservative justices to the bench. 

“The idea that the politicians – that the founders wanted the politicians to be the ones making decisions about women’s health, is ridiculous,” Biden said. “A doctor should be making those decisions. That’s how it should be run.”

“And if I’m elected, I’m going to restore Roe v. Wade,” he said.

What would that mean?

Following the rollback of Roe in 2022, over 20 states have implemented legislation establishing protections for the unborn in varying degrees. Some (including Idaho and Texas) have created laws protecting the unborn in nearly every circumstance, likely saving many thousands of innocent lives.

Codifying Roe v. Wade would once again strip away the right of pro-life states to create meaningful legislation protecting the unborn.

What did Trump say?

“Under Roe v. Wade, you have late-term abortion,” Trump said. “We don’t think that’s a good thing. We think it’s a radical thing.”

“We think the Democrats are the radicals, not the Republicans,” he said.

Is that true?

Under Roe v. Wade, states were not authorized to implement protections for the unborn prior to viability – but they could allow elective abortion up to the moment of birth. 

States like Oregon and New Jersey did just that, refusing to enact any laws to limit abortion for any reason or at any gestational age. 

What did Biden say?

Biden said it “is simply not true” that his support for Roe v. Wade means he also backs extreme late-term abortions nearly at the moment of birth. “Roe v. Wade does not provide for that,” he said.

“Only when the woman’s life is in danger, if she’s going to die – that’s the only circumstance in which that can happen,” Biden said. “But we are not for late-term abortion, period, period, period.”

Is that true?

Roe v. Wade did, in fact, leave states free to allow elective abortions up until the moment of birth. And late-term abortions are not exclusively performed with the intent to protect the life of the mother.

About 1% of annual U.S. abortions are performed after 21 weeks. That means thousands of late-term abortions take place every single year. And those numbers are likely undercounted. 

“Abortion reporting in the United States is inconsistent and largely voluntary,” National Right to Life points out, adding that “[a]bortions late in pregnancy are underreported.” 

In a 2013 study published in a journal for the pro-choice Guttmacher Institute, the authors noted that the “data suggests that most women seeking later terminations [from about 20–26 weeks] are not doing so for reasons of fetal anomaly or life endangerment.”

In an interview with The Atlantic in 2023, Colorado late-term abortionist Warren Hern said he’s performed many late-term abortions for reasons entirely different from serious medical conditions.

“Abortions that come after devastating medical diagnoses can be easier for some people to understand,” The Atlantic reported. “But Hern estimates that at least half, and sometimes more, of the women who come to the clinic do not have these diagnoses.”

In rare cases, a mother may have a life threatening condition in which medical procedures intended to treat her condition may result in the unintended death of her preborn baby. However, modern medical practice has and will continue to increase the ability to save both the life of the mother and the baby.

What did Trump say?

“I put three great Supreme Court justices on the Court, and they happened to vote in favor of killing Roe v. Wade and moving it back to the states,” Trump said. “Now the states are working it out.”

“If you look at Ohio, it was a decision that was… it was an end result that was a little bit more liberal than you would have thought. Kansas, I would say the same thing,” he continued. “Texas is different. Florida is different.”

“But they’re all making their own decisions right now. And right now, the states control it,’ he said. “That’s the vote of the people.”

What does that mean?

Leaving the issue of abortion permanently up to the states, with no effort to create national protections, means that an unborn human being’s right to life will be contingent on the state in which his or her parents live. 

Moreover, pro-life protections in individual states will actually be rendered largely ineffective by incentive programs in pro-choice states designed to lure abortion-vulnerable women to engage in “abortion tourism.”

Pro-life advocates recognize Trump’s achievement in appointing justices who overturned Roe v. Wade. But most also strongly desire that Congress will approve meaningful pro-life legislation that will be signed by a president who recognizes that the unborn are human beings who deserve equal protection under the law.

What did Biden say?

“[If Trump] gets elected and the MAGA Republicans [have] control of the Congress and they pass a universal ban on abortion, period, across the board – at six weeks, or seven, or eight or ten weeks, something very, very conservative – is he going to sign that bill?” Biden said.

“I’ll veto it. He’ll sign it,” he said.

Is that true?

It seems unlikely. Trump has repeatedly stated that he believes abortion should be litigated by the states, disappointing many pro-life advocates. 

He also said during the debate that he supported the U.S. Supreme Court’s recent decision not to block access to the abortion drug mifepristone (Trump said the Court “approved” mifepristone, but it didn’t – it merely dismissed the case for lacking standing).

Trump also previously called Florida’s bill protecting the unborn after six weeks gestation a “terrible mistake.”

What did Trump say?

“Like Ronald Reagan, I believe in the exceptions,” Trump said. “Some people, you have to follow your heart, some people don’t believe in that. But I believe in the exceptions for rape, incest, and the life of the mother.”

“I think it’s very important,” Trump said.

What does that mean?

Many laws aimed at protecting the unborn contain exceptions for rape, incest, and the life of the mother. Pro-life advocates and legislators often see this as an incremental move toward broader safeguards for the unborn and for vulnerable women, not an end goal. 

Pro-life advocates believe that rape and incest are horrific acts of violence that ought to be punished and that women who have been victimized deserve care, compassion, and healing. They also believe that the unborn are genetically distinct, growing human beings with an inherent right to life.

Legislation should protect women and girls from sexual violence and punish rapists. Abortion in the case of rape or incest is an additional act of violence that causes further trauma to victimized women and girls.

And while medical interventions to save a mother’s life can sometimes result in the unintentional and tragic death of the unborn child, deliberately ending the life of the unborn baby is never necessary at any stage of pregnancy.

Oregon Right to Life believes in the sanctity of all human life from the moment of conception to natural death. Abortion ends the life of a genetically distinct, growing human being. We oppose abortion at any point of gestation. In rare cases, a mother may have a life threatening condition in which medical procedures intended to treat the condition of the mother may result in the unintended death of her preborn baby. At the same time, ORTL recognizes that modern medical practice has and will continue to increase the ability to save both the life of the mother and the baby. Read this and all of our position statements here.


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