'A vital role:' Donald Trump endorses the idea of national abortion restrictions

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WASHINGTON - Before an adoring crowd of religious conservatives, Donald Trump marked the one-year anniversary of the end of Roe v. Wade by adopting new language and endorsing the idea of national abortion restrictions.

Trump, who has previously discussed abortion as more of a state issue, told the cheering members of the Faith and Freedom Coalition "I will fight for you like no president ever" on the abortion issue.

He did not endorse any specific anti-abortion legislation or time limits in his nearly 90-minute speech to members of the coalition in D.C. but did say "there of course remains a vital role for the federal government in protecting unborn life."

The former president and front-runner for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination also attacked prosecutors who have indicted him, threatened China, and avoided talking about an armed insurrection in Russia.

Donald Trump at the Faith and Freedom Coalition
Donald Trump at the Faith and Freedom Coalition

Some campaign opponents, including his former vice president Mike Pence, have questioned Trump's commitment to fighting abortion, noting that the former president has blamed the issue for Republican defeats in last year's congressional elections.

Democrats welcomed Trump's endorsement of federal abortion legislation. They agreed that the issue hurt GOP candidates last year and will hurt them again in 2024.

In a statement, the Democratic National Committee said Trump is changing his abortion views under pressure from other Republican candidates, and they all "won’t rest until every woman in this country is stripped of their reproductive freedom."

Indictments, Russia, China

Beyond abortion and other faith issues, Trump spent more time with the group of religious conservatives protesting the two indictments and other investigations against him. He also noted that, if anything, the charges have bolstered his standing with conservative Republican voters.

"My numbers went up," Trump said, drawing a standing ovation.

As for Russia, Trump - whose admiration for Russian leader Vladimir Putin has been the source of much criticism - again claimed that he can quickly settle the Russian-Ukrainian war. Yet he made no mention of Saturday's drama in which the head of a private Russian military company marched on Moscow before halting as part of a deal to avoid prosecution.

On another foreign policy issue, Trump threated to put more tariffs on China if it pursues a spy base in Cuba.

The abortion issue

Given his audience of Christian conservatives, Trump played up past efforts and future proposals to end abortion.

Hailing the one-year anniversary of the Supreme Court decision reversing Roe v. Wade, Trump stressed that he appointed three justices who were pivotal votes in striking down the abortion rights ruling.

Pledging to continue to fight against the abortion, Trump reflected his skittishness over the topic by saying he still supports exceptions for rape, incest, or to save the life of the mother.

Earlier in the conference, Pence did not name Trump, but called on other candidates to prove their commitment to the anti-abortion credentials by backing a federal ban after 15 weeks of pregnancy.

Trump also denounced transgender policies before the religious group.

'I'm being indicted for you'

Beyond faith issues, Trump again spent much of his speech asking supporters to stick with him in the face of criminal indictments and investigations.

Telling the pro-Trump crowd that the indictments are aimed at his campaign and its voters. Trump said "I consider it a great badge of courage ... I'm being indicted for you."

A federal grand jury in Miami indicted the ex-president on obstruction of justice charges stemming from his removal of classified documents from the White House.

In late March, a state grand jury in New York indicted Trump on charges of falsifying business records to shield hush-money payments.

Trump could face two other trials. He is the subject of investigations in Atlanta and Washington, D.C., concerning efforts to overturn his 2020 election loss to President Joe Biden.

Trump also protested the plea bargain of presidential son Hunter Biden, and accused Biden himself of corruption.

Other candidates avoid attacking Trump - except Christie

Trump's speech capped the Faith and Freedom Coalition's policy conference featuring other presidential candidates, few of whom ventured to take on the front-runner.

Ron DeSantis, Nikki Haley, and Pence made only glancing references to their differences with Trump.

The exception was former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who earned boos and catcalls on Friday when he said that Trump has let down his supporters and should be rejected.

Trump is "unwilling to take responsibility for any of the mistakes that were made" and "any of the faults that he has," Christie said.

In his speech Saturday night, Trump mocked Christie and other opponents by telling delegates: "Were your other candidates treated this way? I don't think so."

A lane for dark horses?

Hours before Trump took the stage Saturday, anti-Trump candidate Will Hurd spoke to members of the Faith and Freedom conference, but did not mention the front-runner.

Afterward, Hurd said he only had five minutes to speak and "my goal was to introduce myself." He said Trump's re-nomination is "not a fait accompli," and that he and others will continue to make the case against him.

"There's a lane for a dark-horse candidate like me," Hurd said.

Not voting for a pastor

Religious voters play a large role in Republican presidential races, particularly evangelicals in the early states of Iowa and South Carolina.

Trump had a lot of supporters at the Faith and Freedom Coalition.

Delegates said they continue to support Trump, despite reports of un-Christian behavior that range from hush money to an adult film star - the source of the New York indictment - to the verdict of a New York civil jury finding him liable for sexual abuse of writer E. Jean Carroll.

Christian supporters stressed that Trump has followed through on items important to them, particularly with the Supreme Court and abortion.

During one of the conference sessions, Republican communications consultant Alice Stewart drew loud applause when she said that "we may not like how he does things, but he has delivered on what we wanted."

Stewart also said "I didn't vote for him to be my pastor."

'A phenomenon'

Ralph Reed, the founder and chairman of the Faith and Freedom Coalition, said Trump has as much evangelical support as he has ever had.

While Reed is neutral in the 2024 presidential race, he said Trump is as a strong a front-runner as the GOP has seen in decades and he will be hard to overtake.

"He's a phenomenon," Reed said. "There's no question about it."

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Donald Trump supports national abortion restrictions in new speech