(WASHINGTON) -- Former President Donald Trump's campaign on Wednesday defended his record from criticism from other Republican leaders on the issue of abortion in the wake of Trump denouncing rival Ron DeSantis for signing a six-week ban in Florida.
In an interview that aired Sunday on NBC, Trump declined to say whether -- if he were president again -- he would sign federal legislation banning abortion. He also declined to say at what cutoff during pregnancy he supported imposing bans, argued it was "probably better" to leave the issue to the states and labeled Gov. DeSantis' decision to sign a six-week abortion ban in Florida "a terrible thing and a terrible mistake."
At the same time, Trump trumpeted his role in striking down national abortion protections through his three Supreme Court appointees.
"I did something that nobody thought was possible, and Roe v. Wade was terminated. ... Now, people, pro-lifers, have the right to negotiate for the first time," he said.
"Now it's going to work out. Now, the number of months [when a ban begins] will be determined," he said, going on to say, "It could be state or it could be federal. I don't frankly care."
His comments immediately triggered criticism both from his Republican presidential opponents and GOP governors of states who have signed similar abortion legislation -- notably, Iowa's Kim Reynolds, who wrote on Tuesday on social media that it was "never a 'terrible thing' to protect innocent life."
Iowa is the first state that votes in the GOP primary; Reynolds hasn't endorsed a candidate.
Reynolds came under attack from Trump earlier this summer for staying "neutral" while maintaining a close relationship on the trail with DeSantis, who has come to her defense against the former president before.
DeSantis doubled down on Reynolds' rebuke of Trump's attacks on him, calling the former president "wrong" and writing Tuesday on social media that "standing up for life is a noble cause."
Georgia's Republican Gov. Brian Kemp, who also signed legislation in his state banning most abortions at around six weeks, echoed Reynolds on Wednesday, writing in a post on X, formerly known as Twitter, that there was "nothing "terrible" about "standing up for life."
In addition to DeSantis' admonishment, fellow 2024 GOP candidate Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina delivered some of his harshest comments of the former president to date.
"Frankly, today, those pro-life folks that we really want to stand with us, they're not standing," Scott said at a Monday town hall in Mason City, Iowa. "President Trump said he would negotiate with Democrats and walk back away from where I believe we need to be, which is a 15-week limit on the federal level."
Trump's former running mate and current primary opponent Mike Pence called Trump's comments a departure from what they had accomplished while in office.
"Donald Trump continues to walk away from the pro-life legacy of our administration," Pence said in a statement to ABC News Monday, first given to The New York Times, adding, "We will not rest, we will not relent, until the sanctity of life is restored to the center of American law in every state in the nation."
In response to these comments, a Trump campaign spokesman said in a Wednesday statement, in part: "President Trump's unmatched record speaks for itself.
The spokesman singled out Trump's role in Roe and added that "there has been no bigger advocate for the movement than President Trump."
Some Trump supporters back his abortion positions
Trump spent Wednesday campaigning in Iowa where some supporters seemed to be sticking by his side, arguing the stances of politicians like their governor skew too conservative on the issue.
"She's just playing games with the six weeks abortion cutoff. Trump wants to come to some consensus between everyone, 15 weeks. He's never said no abortion," said Kathy Schmitz, who said she used to work as a prenatal clinical nurse in the Navy.
Schmitz argued that candidates like Pence, who back some of the strictest abortion restrictions, are pandering to Iowa's predominantly Evangelical Christian voter base. Pence has long cited his deep Christian faith as part of his views on abortion.
"You don't even know you're pregnant at six weeks," Schmitz said.
"I think [it] is just politicking," said Gregory Erickson, echoing similar sentiments heard from Trump supporters who were attending his events on Wednesday. "Whether it's 12 or 15 weeks, I'm OK with partial. A limited choice."
Trump has doubled down on his abortion stance
Trump likens his position to former President Ronald Reagan's: supportive of abortion restrictions with exceptions for rape, incest and the life of the mother
At the Christian PrayVote Stand summit in Washington, D.C., on Friday, he began much of his remarks articulating how he feels Republicans need to "properly" campaign on the issue of abortion.
He also insinuated, as he has in the past, that the issue was to blame for some Republican losses during the 2022 midterm elections, when they failed to retake the Senate and only narrowly retook the House.
"Many politicians who are pro-life do not know how to properly discuss a topic which is so important to the people in this room and so important to millions and millions of people in our country," Trump said.
In a statement to ABC News on Monday, Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the leading anti-abortion advocacy group Susan B. Anthony Pro-Life America, criticized Trump's criticism of DeSantis on abortion and Trump's own comments.
"Trump is criticizing a law and lawmaker that acted, following the will of the people, on what he made possible through the Dobbs decision [on Roe]. Both Trump and DeSantis should focus on their concrete pro-life plan for the future and contrast that with [President Joe] Biden. He is their opponent," she said.
ABC News' Gabriella Abdul-Hakim, Libby Cathey, Soo Rin Kim, Oren Oppenheim and Kendall Ross contributed to this report.
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