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Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump said on Monday that abortion laws should be determined by U.S. states, stopping short of proposing a national ban that could have imperilled his chances with swing voters in the November election.

Mr. Trump previously signalled support for a ban beyond 15 weeks of pregnancy but said political considerations were paramount in the first presidential election since the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade decision, ending a nearly 50-year federal right to the procedure.

“Always go by your heart. But we must win. We have to win,” Mr. Trump said in a video posted on his social media platform.

The former president reiterated that he backed exceptions for rape, incest and to protect the life of the mother, and also that he supported the availability of in vitro fertilization.

A call for a national ban could have dented Mr. Trump’s support in the six or seven U.S. states that swing between Democratic and Republican candidates and are therefore likely to decide the election outcome.

Overall, 57 per cent of Americans think abortion should be legal in most or all cases, a March Reuters/Ipsos poll found.

While his statement aimed to carve out a political middle ground, it drew criticism from Democrats on the left who favour abortion rights and from anti-abortion groups on the right who want stricter limits, underscoring the divisions over the issue.

“Trump is scrambling. He’s worried that since he’s the one responsible for overturning Roe the voters will hold him accountable in 2024,” said President Joe Biden, a Democrat, who has made Mr. Trump’s opposition to abortion rights a tenet of his re-election campaign.

“Well, I have news for Donald. They will,” Mr. Biden said in a statement.

Marjorie Dannenfelser, head of anti-abortion group Susan B. Anthony Pro-Life America, said she was deeply disappointed in Mr. Trump’s position as it would allow Democratic lawmakers to take steps to expand access to the procedure in some states.

Alluding to the three conservative justices he appointed to the nine-member Supreme Court, Mr. Trump took credit for the high court’s overturning of the Roe v. Wade decision, which had protected a right to abortion at up to around 24 to 28 weeks.

The court’s 2022 decision triggered a voter backlash that was widely credited with curbing Republican gains in the congressional midterm election that year and propelling Democrats to victories in some state elections last year.

“This 50-year battle over Roe v. Wade took it out of the federal hands and brought it into the hearts, minds, and vote of the people in each state, it was really something,” Mr. Trump said. “Now, it’s up to the states to do the right thing.”

The reversal of Roe v. Wade allowed the matter of abortion to be decided state-by-state, and Republicans responded by enacting restrictive laws in nearly two dozen states.

In a media call on Monday, Mr. Biden’s campaign highlighted that Mr. Trump did not say he would veto legislation banning IVF treatment, or that he opposes abortion bans currently in place that do not have exceptions for cases of rape or incest.

Mr. Trump has criticized a six-week ban pursued by Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, a former rival for the Republican nomination, as overly restrictive and politically toxic. But Mr. Trump is aligned with many Republicans in Congress and evangelical Christians urging strict curbs on the procedure.

While Americans tend to accept restrictions on abortion after the first trimester, polls also show that a sizable majority prefer to have the decision made by the patient and her doctor, not the government.

“With Roe v. Wade overturned, leaving abortion to the states is his way of punting on the issue,” Jeanette Hoffman, a Republican political consultant, said of Mr. Trump’s position. “Now that the primary is over, there’s nothing to be gained from proposing a national abortion ban, as he’ll lose support from voters in many swing states.”

The Reuters/Ipsos poll in March found a sizable majority of Democrats – 83 per cent – think abortion should be legal in most or all cases while most Republican poll respondents – some 57 per cent – think abortion should be outlawed in most or all cases.

Mike Pence, who served as Trump’s vice-president, called his former boss’s position a “slap in the face” to the millions of anti-abortion voters who supported him in 2016 and 2020.

But Carol Tobias, president of the National Right to Life Committee, said Mr. Trump made the right call by not seeking a national limit that would be seen as overly permissive by anti-abortion voters.

“A 15-week ban is very controversial within the pro-life movement, because it would still allow 95 per cent of all abortions to continue. Not supporting that measure is not going to hurt President Trump,” she said in an interview.

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