Why Trump doesn't want to talk about abortion rights

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President Donald Trump waves as he walks from Marine One to the White House in Washington, Thursday, Oct. 1, 2020, as he returns from Bedminster, N.J. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

WASHINGTON – President Donald Trump doesn't want to talk about abortion.

After years of saying he would appoint "pro-life” judges and bragging that the landmark Roe v. Wade decision would be overturned “automatically" if he won, Trump is now tiptoeing around the issue as he tries to get another justice confirmed to the Supreme Court before the Nov. 3 election.

“You don’t know what’s on the ballot,” Trump interjected during this week's first presidential debate when Democrat Joe Biden said the ruling giving women the right to an abortion was at stake.

“Why is it on the ballot? Why is it on the ballot?” Trump demanded. “It’s not on the ballot. ... There’s nothing happening there."

That reticence stands in stark contrast to his past statements and underscores the risks Trump and Republicans are facing as they rush to confirm Judge Amy Coney Barrett before the election.

With polls showing Trump trailing Biden nationally and in some battleground states, Trump is trying to deliver for his conservative base while avoiding making abortion a central focus of the election. His campaign worries it could turn off voters who support abortion rights and drive on-the-fence or undecided voters — especially women — to turn out for Biden en masse.

“He knows at the end of the day that opposing access to safe, legal abortion is a losing strategy," said Kelley Robinson, executive director of the Planned Parenthood Action Fund.

While Trump insisted during the debate that Barrett's views on Roe v. Wade are unknown, there is little doubt she opposes abortion personally. She belonged to the University of Notre Dame’s “Faculty for Life” group. She signed a 2015 letter to Catholic bishops affirming the “value of human life from conception to natural death." In 2006, she signed onto a newspaper ad sponsored by an anti-abortion group in which she said she opposed “abortion on demand."