These women support both Trump and abortion rights — and feel they don't have to choose

A group of female Pennsylvania voters who backed former President Donald Trump in 2020 and support at least some abortion rights said in focus group interviews that they don’t see their views on abortion as a barrier to voting for Trump again in 2024.

It’s an illuminating window into how a group of potential swing voters — previous Trump voters concerned about abortion access — are engaging with one of Democrats’ key issues ahead of the next election. Despite labeling abortion as a top issue facing women in America, most of the women who participated in the two focus groups said they’d back Trump in a rematch against President Joe Biden, explaining that other issues are more important to their vote.

And critically, the participants largely refused to hold Trump responsible for the end of Roe v. Wade, though he appointed three of the five Supreme Court justices who backed the June 2022 decision.

Importantly, however, two of the 15 Pennsylvanians who voted for Trump in 2020 said they wouldn’t do so again, citing his personal behavior, his conduct after the 2020 election and Trump’s “business shenanigans.”

The findings come from two focus groups produced in collaboration with Engagious, Syracuse University and Sago as part of the NBC News Deciders Focus Group series. These two focus groups heard from 15 different female Pennsylvania voters who said they voted for Trump in 2020 but also opposed the Supreme Court’s Dobbs decision overturning Roe v. Wade.

A national NBC News poll from last year showed 61% of all registered voters disapprove the Supreme Court’s 2022 decision overturning Roe, including 31% of women who say they voted for Trump in 2020. It was an important part of Democrats’ 2022 midterm performance, both for motivating Democrats and earning swing votes. And abortion figures to be an important part of Biden’s re-election pitch, too.

But to the focus group participants, the issue was far from a guarantee of conversion from supporting Trump.

For many of the women, abortion isn’t a top issue that will decide their vote in the 2024 general election, even among those who vocally criticized the court for overturning those abortion protections. Only three of the 15 women considered Trump at least partially responsible for the court’s decision. And many don’t believe Trump would seek to sign a future federal ban on abortion into law.

“I think people should have their own right to choose what they want to do with their own bodies. But, I mean, it’s not a No. 1 factor on who I’m going to vote for either way,” Stacey M., a 50-year-old woman from Philadelphia, told the group.

“I know I’m a woman, and I should have more of a say about it, but honestly it doesn’t matter that much to me as it might matter to someone else.”

Sarah E., a 35-year-old from Creaco who is pregnant with her second child, told the group the issue wasn’t weighing on her as she chooses her vote.

“It means nothing in the grand scheme of everything to me. I’m going to vote for who I think is going to do the best for my family,” she said.

Just minutes earlier, Sarah said the 2022 Supreme Court decision striking down a national minimum for abortion rights made her worried for her 14-year-old boy and that “one mistake” could “derail” his life without the freedom to access an abortion. But she said she was more concerned about other issues when it comes to deciding her vote.

Weighing abortion along with other issues

In the focus group, moderated by Engagious president Rich Thau and produced in collaboration with Syracuse University’s Institute for Democracy, Journalism & Citizenship, the group of women largely shared Sarah’s sentiment: The decision may have been a step backward for women’s rights, they said, but it doesn’t move the needle much in influencing their vote.

Three supporters smile at a Trump rally. (Lindsay DeDario / Reuters file)Three supporters smile at a Trump rally. (Lindsay DeDario / Reuters file)

Three supporters smile at a Trump rally. (Lindsay DeDario / Reuters file)

“I think it’s one less thing that the government needs to worry about, that should be a woman’s choice, not the government’s choice. We’re going back in time prior to the 1960s when birth control was illegal, and thank goodness that’s now legal,” Kathi T., a 62-year-old from Shickshinny.

Faced with Trump’s past statements taking credit for overturning Roe v. Wade, Kathi replied: “Barf.”

But when asked how her views on abortion and Trump factored into her vote, she said it was “unfortunately” the fifth-most important issue on her mind when it comes to her 2024 choice.

While the women disagreed with the decision to overturn Roe v. Wade, they largely said they were comfortable with some restrictions on abortion, including a national ban at a certain point.

Most of the participants said they were comfortable with a ban on abortion after 15 weeks, with exceptions for rape and incest victims, as well as when a mother’s health is at risk. But some women warned that was too early, pointing to their own personal experiences of not knowing they were pregnant by eight weeks — or in one case through her whole first trimester, because she was nursing her infant child when she got pregnant again.

Both the economy and immigration weighed far heavier on the minds of most of the women when discussing their vote in November.

“Prices of everything have gone up, and the cost of living is going up like crazy and it’s not being compensated in our jobs, or our work, or our pay,” said Lisa G., a 47-year-old from Schwenksville.

On immigration, the respondents largely expressed frustration with the idea that America’s resources were being spent on immigrants coming in from other countries, particularly when they believe Americans are facing so many economic challenges. Some had harsh words for immigrants that hewed closely to Trump’s own language, lamenting them “bringing in drugs” and “viruses” and questioning whether terrorists were taking advantage of the situation at the border to “set up cells in our country.”

“It shows that as a country we don’t have control,” Mary Beth G., a 69-year-old from Springfield, said.

“To the rest of the world it makes us appear weak, that we can’t even control who’s coming into our country,” she continued. “Our enemies are going to take advantage of that.”

The 2024 choice

Twelve of the 15 women said that they would vote for Trump over Biden or top third-party and independent candidates if the presidential general election was held today. Overall, these voters had deeply negative opinions of Biden, calling him “old,” “incompetent,” “slow” and “sleepy.” And they had even more unflattering things to say about Vice President Kamala Harris, describing her as “useless” and a “puppet.”

That contrasts with more positive opinions of Trump, referring to him as “ballsy,” “powerful” and “comical.”

“He did a lot more for our country than any other president, and he takes chances. I just really like him,” 51-year-old Helen M. from Philadelphia said.

Still, some of the women backing Trump expressed disappointment or apathy over their choices for president.

Angie R., a 42-year-old from Mont Clare, said she’s seriously considering not voting, even though she said that if she had to choose between Trump, Biden, Robert F. Kennedy Jr., Cornel West and Jill Stein, she’d choose Trump.

“Sometimes I think, like, what’s the point? They all suck, but you’ve got the worst of all the evils,” she said of the choice for president.

Two 2020 Trump voters in the group said they definitely wouldn’t be supporting the former president in 2020, calling him “arrogant” and “erratic.”

Mary Beth G. ruled out both Trump and Biden altogether: “I think Trump and Biden are both horrible candidates. I think our country deserves better.”

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