WASHINGTON (OSV News) — Democratic presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy Jr. offered his support to a federal abortion ban limiting the procedure to around the first trimester of pregnancy, but quickly backtracked after earning the praise of a pro-life group.
Kennedy, an environmental lawyer and son of the late Sen. Robert F. Kennedy and nephew of President John F. Kennedy, is running a long-shot challenge to President Joe Biden for the Democratic presidential nomination. Both Biden and Kennedy are Catholic.
Although Kennedy comes from one of the most famous families in Democratic politics, polls show he is seen more favorably by right-leaning voters as opposed to the party’s left-leaning base. Kennedy trails Biden in the Democratic primary by more than 50 percentage points, according to recent polls. His campaign has been marred by controversial claims about vaccines and recent comments related to COVID-19 widely criticized as antisemitic and racist.
Kennedy has previously described himself as “pro-choice,” but in comments to NBC News from the Iowa State Fair Aug. 13, Kennedy said, “I believe a decision to abort a child should be up to the women during the first three months of life.” He added that “once a child is viable, outside the womb, I think then the state has an interest in protecting the child.”
Kennedy expressed openness to signing a federal ban on abortion either after 15 weeks or 21 weeks of pregnancy if he were elected president.
Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of Susan B. Anthony Pro-Life America, praised those comments in an Aug. 13 statement.
“Robert F. Kennedy Jr.’s stated position is a stark contrast to the Democratic Party’s radical stance of abortion on demand, with no protection for babies in the womb or their mothers, right up to the end of pregnancy. It recalls a party that most of its leaders today, including Joe Biden before he caved to the extreme Left, have abandoned — one that believed, or at least claimed to believe, that abortion should be ‘rare,'” Dannenfelser said.
Dannenfelser argued, “Seven in 10 Americans, including millions of rank-and-file Democrats, support limiting abortion to the first three months of pregnancy at most.”
“A solid majority agrees Congress should act to protect babies when science shows they feel pain at 15 weeks. While pro-life advocates ultimately want every child protected under our laws, Kennedy is one of the few prominent Democrats aligned with the consensus of the people today. Every candidate should be asked, ‘Where do you draw the line?'” she said.
However, Kennedy’s campaign shortly afterward said the candidate did not mean to support any federal limits on abortion.
Reacting to the campaign’s statement walking the comments back, Dannenfelser said in an Aug. 14 statement, “Today’s Democratic Party tolerates no debate on abortion, strictly enforcing a platform of abortion on demand right up to birth and paid for by taxpayers. Kennedy is no staunch pro-life advocate.”
Dannenfelser said Kennedy “merely expressed the consensus of Americans — and a majority of rank-and-file Democrats — that unborn babies should be protected at least when they feel pain by 15 weeks.”
“Yet most Democrat leaders refuse to name any protections they support for babies or their mothers. Democrat pollsters tell them to avoid discussing milestones that humanize the child in the womb at all costs, and instead to paint their Republican opponents as the extremists,” she said. “It seems clear someone told Kennedy to step back in line.”
Kennedy, a political liberal, has said that he wants to reclaim the Democratic Party from its more progressive politicians. However Kennedy has been condemned by Democrats, including his own family members, for his recent comments that COVID-19 could have been “ethnically targeted” to spare Ashkenazi Jews and Chinese people. The remarks echoed antisemitic and anti-Chinese racist conspiracy theories that have circulated since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Kennedy has embraced conspiracy theories including claiming a link between common childhood vaccines and autism, which has been debunked by health experts.
Republican presidential candidate Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida recently suggested that if elected president, he would consider appointing Kennedy to a health policy role, which led to criticism from other Republicans, including former Vice President Mike Pence.
Kate Scanlon is a national reporter for OSV News covering Washington. Follow her on Twitter @kgscanlon.