Former President Trump has expressed willingness to delegate abortion rights “to the states” if re-elected—but the latest draft Republican Party platform explicitly states otherwise. Gerald Herbert/AP

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After perusing reports of the Republican Party platform in prominent news sources recently—the New York Times, the Washington Post, or Fox News, for example—you might infer that the GOP has “weakened” its stance on abortion.

Indeed, that is precisely the impression Republicans wish to convey. Yet, it’s fallacious.

The new platform does not outright declare the party’s intention to enforce a national abortion prohibition, which was interpreted by many major news outlets as an indication of the purported “softening.” It is also more concise—merely four sentences long—and significantly less detailed than the anti-abortion platforms from the party’s past, which opposed public funding for organizations performing abortions and advocated for the appointment of anti-abortion judges, among other measures.

However, according to legal scholars, the new platform implies a hidden menace to abortion rights by hinting at establishing the notion of “fetal personhood” in the legal system—a longstanding objective for the conservative wing—which would effectively result in a quasi national abortion ban. It also promotes conflicting commitments, such as seemingly endorsing fetal personhood while also pledging support for IVF, a process involving embryo disposal that would contradict fetal personhood in practice.

Examine it yourself:

We proudly uphold families and Life. We uphold that the 14th Amendment to the Constitution of the United States assures that no individual can be deprived of Life or Liberty without Due Process, and that the States are, hence, free to enact Laws safeguarding those Rights. Over 51 years, due to our efforts, that authority has been delegated to the States and to the People’s vote. We will combat Late Term Abortion, while endorsing mothers and policies that promote Prenatal Care, access to Birth Control, and IVF (fertility treatments).

The Fourteenth Amendment, which concerns citizen’s rights, is what the Republican platform has referenced as the foundation for fetal personhood since 1984, when the party initially expressed its support for “legislation to clarify that the Fourteenth Amendment’s protections extend to unborn children.” Moreover, let us not forget that just last month, Senate Republicans blocked a bill that would safeguard contraception access at the federal level and thwarted another bill that would preserve IVF.

Hence, if you are bewildered by the GOP’s assurances to delegate abortion rights to the states and suddenly endorse access to contraception and IVF, you are not alone. “I believe the strategy is to be perplexing,” Mary Ziegler, a respected abortion scholar and law professor at the University of California, Davis, told me, further stating, “I think that Trump’s aim is to be perplexing enough that individuals, regardless of their stance on abortion, can support him.”

Elizabeth Sepper, a professor at the University of Texas at Austin School of Law whose academic work has focused on reproductive rights, informed me that she perceives the new platform as a “100 percent commitment to fetal personhood,” suggesting that it also relies on a lack of understanding of how the Fourteenth Amendment could be leveraged to enact a federal abortion prohibition.

The uncertainty surrounding the platform’s interpretation also seemed to exist on the conservative side, where some anti-abortion advocates commended the platform, while others censured it for not going far enough to their liking.

Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the anti-abortion organization SBA Pro-Life America, stated in a release Monday in response to the platform, “It is crucial that the GOP reaffirmed its commitment to protect unborn life today through the 14th Amendment.” Kristan Hawkins, president of Students for Life of America, celebrated the platform’s mention of the Fourteenth Amendment as “an open door to enacting comprehensive pro-life federal legislation”; she also mentioned that she and others advocating for the passage of the Life at Conception Act are “using the Fourteenth Amendment to justify why abortion, all abortion, should be terminated nationwide.” However, Hawkins also expressed disappointment over the updated RNC platform portraying abortion as a state issue.

Similarly critical were Trump’s former vice president, Mike Pence, whoStated that the latest platform was deeply disappointing to many Republicans who support the sanctity of human life, with a call for a restoration of language acknowledging the fundamental right to life of the unborn child. Lila Rose from Live Action, a group against abortion, Described the current anti-abortion platform as a downgrade from previous years, laying the blame on Trump for its approval and his attempt to backtrack on his anti-abortion positions.

The Biden campaign strongly criticized any portrayals of Trump as becoming more lenient on abortion issues: “Donald Trump’s intentions are clear through his statements and actions – he plans to restrict women’s freedoms, penalize women, and enforce a nationwide ban on abortion,” Sarafina Chitika, a campaign spokesperson, stated in a release. (As per my prior reports, Trump could enforce a nationwide abortion ban under the Comstock Act, as advocated by his followers at Project 2025 to halt the mailing of abortion medication.)

In contrast, the Trump campaign Commended the new Republican National Committee platform. Karoline Leavitt, the national press secretary for the Trump campaign, remarked, “President Trump has consistently advocated for the rights of states to determine their stance on abortion.”

However, no responses were immediately provided by representatives from the Trump campaign or the RNC to Politics’ queries regarding their support for establishing fetal personhood in legislation, the apparent contradiction between their support for expanding contraception and IVF availability and the recent obstruction by Senate Republicans on these matters, in addition to addressing criticisms from Republican Dissenters like Pence.

As viewed by Ziegler, the evasion of specific questions about the platform is probably a strategic maneuver. “Remaining ambiguous is technically a form of ‘softening’ in comparison to being explicit and endorsing personhood, but essentially, it leaves a question mark,” she noted. “If the meaning remains vague, it might not be a form of ‘softening’ at all.”