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Former U.S. President Donald TrumpBrandon Bell/Getty Images

(LifeSiteNews) — Former President and leading Republican primary candidate Donald Trump has doubled down on his disavowal of heartbeat laws in the face of pro-life criticism, claiming in the process that the pro-life movement had been ineffectual for 52 years “until I came along.”

During an interview this month on NBC’s Meet the Press, Trump slammed signing heartbeat laws, which ban abortion around six weeks of pregnancy, as a “terrible thing and a terrible mistake,” as part of a broader discussion in which he insisted on rape and incest exceptions and refused to commit to at least signing a 15-week ban, but instead laid out a vision for mediating a grand compromise on abortion that would find a cutoff point agreeable to both Republicans and Democrats, after which the issue could be put to rest nationally.

READ: Dear President Trump: Heartbeat laws save unborn lives

The remarks provoked a backlash from pro-life leaders and groups who said that they undermined work to advance life in the states and raised doubts as to whether Trump would be a reliable ally in a second term. They also received condemnation from Trump’s chief rival for the GOP nomination, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who questioned how Trump could continue to call himself pro-life and warned pro-life voters that the former president was “preparing to sell you out.”

Trump has issued a handful of follow-ups on the subject on his personal social network Truth Social, first on September 19 (Part 1, Part 2, Part 3), then on September 23. In them, he did not clarify his stance on a 15-week ban or a potential abortion compromise, but doubled down on the need for exceptions (which most pro-life bills introduced in Congress over the last several years, most recently Sen. Lindsey Graham’s 15-week ban, already contain), repeated the false insinuation that Ronald Reagan supported rape and incest exceptions while president, again touted the pro-life movement’s “TREMENDOUS NEGOTIATING POWER” as the key takeaway of Roe v. Wade’s overturn last year, claimed that abortion “cost us unnecessarily, but dearly” in the 2022 congressional midterm elections (a diagnosis disputed by pro-lifers), and called for exposing Democrats as the “true Radicals on the Abortion issue.”

Most notably, he claimed that “Pro lifers had absolutely zero status on the subject of abortion until I came along. For 52 years everyone ‘talked,’ but got nothing. I GOT IT DONE! There would be no talk of a six week ban, or anything else, without me” because the three justices he nominated to the U.S. Supreme Court (from a list given to him by the Heritage Foundation and Federalist Society, finalists from which Trump did not ask about Roe prior to nominating them) joined with two previous Republican nominees to overturn Roe in last year’s Dobbs decision. “Before our victory, they had nothing, and they will have nothing again if we don’t win ELECTIONS,” Trump said.

“You have to follow your HEART, but without the Exceptions, it will be very hard to win Elections,” the former president said. “The six week ban on abortion, among other things, like his fight against Social Security & MediCare, killed the DeSanctus Campaign” (a reference to proposed entitlement reforms that Trump also supported in the past).

Some pro-lifers took Trump’s comments as denigrating decades’ worth of work and progress by pro-life activists to save babies and mothers on an individual level, pass hundreds of state laws, elect the three Republican presidents and hundreds of Republican senators responsible for the Dobbs majority, and pressured Trump in 2016 to commit to pro-life policies and personnel. Others suggested there was a kernel of truth to the former president’s critique (concerning some national organizations, not grassroots activists), but rather than contrasting against it, Trump was actually aligning with it:

In an interview with libertarian pundit Glenn Beck, DeSantis predicted that pro-abortion activists will use Trump’s comments in advertising campaigns to nullify pro-life state laws and pass pro-abortion ballot initiatives:

Trump maintains a commanding lead for the nomination, even as grave questions persist as to whether Trump can defeat President Joe Biden in a rematch. Primary voting begins next January with the Iowa caucuses, where DeSantis supporters hope the governor’s ground operation will deliver a victory that reverses the trajectory of the nomination battle.