RFK Jr. says he’s against government limits on abortion

Independent presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy Jr. said he’s against government limits on abortion at the federal or state level, backing legal abortions through the entire gestational period while arguing the state should not play a role in determining abortion access.

In a podcast interview with Sage Steele that was released Wednesday, Kennedy said he doesn’t “trust government to have jurisdiction over people’s bodies” and believes “we need to leave it to the woman … to make those decisions.” Kennedy stressed he believes “every abortion is a tragedy” and pledged as president to make child care more affordable to reduce pressures on women who are considering abortion due to high costs.

When pressed by Steele if he supports allowing individual states to determine abortion access for women, Kennedy said, “We shouldn’t have government involved.”

“I wouldn’t leave it to the states. My belief is that we should leave it to the woman. We shouldn’t have government involved,” Kennedy said.

“Even if it’s full term?” Steele asked, referring to the possibility of an abortion near the expected delivery date of a child.

“Even if it’s full term,” Kennedy replied.

The position stands in contrast with previous statements Kennedy has made on abortion, and with how his running mate Nicole Shanahan has characterized his abortion position. In an interview with Steele released last week, Shanahan said, “My understanding is that he absolutely believes in the limits on abortion.”

When pressed by Steele to confirm if Kennedy supported no government limits on abortion, Shanahan said, “That is not my understanding of his position, and I think maybe there was a miscommunication there.”

In a statement to CNN, Kennedy campaign spokesperson Stefanie Spear said the candidate believes “late-term abortions are horrifying” and that the “the mother has the final say, and moral responsibility, in such decisions.”

“He is committed to reducing the abortion rate by supporting mothers and families and implementing universally affordable child care,” Spear said.

Kennedy’s comments to Steele reflect the most explicit articulation of his views on state or federal gestational limits on abortion. Last year, Kennedy told a reporter he would support a three-month federal abortion restriction, but his campaign quickly walked back that position. Kennedy has often avoided answering directly whether he supports limits on abortion while highlighting his plan to subsidize child care and expand access to adoption services.

Kennedy acknowledged to Steele there is “a compelling argument” that the government should set a gestational limit on abortion access. He also conceded that his position is “not a very satisfactory outcome” because of the potential for “instances where bad things happen.”

“I think there’s a very, very good argument, a compelling argument that the state has a interest in protecting a fully formed fetus. I absolutely think that that argument is very convincing,” Kennedy said. “But again, I come down to the fact that I don’t trust the state, and I think we need to trust the woman. And I don’t think that that’s a satisfactory outcome because there’s always going to be instances where bad things happen.”

Kennedy said he believes cases where a woman would potentially undergo a late-term abortion would be driven by “extenuating circumstances” but reiterated his belief that the choice to have an abortion should be determined solely by the mother.

“I don’t think any woman ever, ever in history has said, ‘I’m going to have a, you know, I’m going to have a baby, I’m going to get pregnant and carry that baby to eight months term and then I’m going to terminate the pregnancy.’ I don’t think anybody wants to do that,” Kennedy said. “I’m sure it has happened. I would say in almost all those cases, there’s extenuating circumstances.”

“But I think, ultimately, nobody sets out to do that,” he added later. “And there are always some kind of extenuating circumstances that would make a mother make that kind of choice, a terrible, terrible choice which is, you know, you can’t overstate how bad that is. And I think, ultimately, we have to trust women.”

Susan B. Anthony Pro-Life America, a leading anti-abortion group, slammed Kennedy on Thursday for his remarks, with the group’s president calling him a “true extremist.”

“He would use the power of the federal government to wipe out protections for life in the states and impose unlimited abortion on demand all the way up to ‘full term,’ as he puts it, everywhere in America. That makes him unacceptable to millions of pro-life voters nationwide,” Marjorie Dannenfelser said in a statement.

Angela Stanton King, a Kennedy campaign adviser who has helped him with outreach to Black voters, criminal justice and abortion policies, criticized the candidate’s comments on Friday. She said it was the first time she had heard him voice such a perspective.

“It is inexcusable to take the life of a full-term baby. Abortion at this stage does not prevent the need for delivery, as the baby must still be birthed, whether alive or deceased,” Stanton King said.

This story has been updated with additional reaction.

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