Robert F. Kennedy Jr. Retracts ‘Full-Term Abortion’ Support, Backs Viability Limit

In a post on X late Friday night — just two days after his comments — Kennedy said he “would allow appropriate restrictions on abortion in the final months of pregnancy” and highlighted that even the now-defunct Roe v. Wade ruling allowed for such rules.

Robert F. Kennedy Jr. on the Sage Steele Show
Robert F. Kennedy Jr. on the Sage Steele Show (photo: Screenshot / YouTube)

Independent presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy Jr. is walking back his recent statement of support for “full-term abortion” on demand and conceding to some restrictions on abortion once a fetus reaches viability, which occurs around 23 to 24 weeks of pregnancy.

The Catholic Democrat-turned-independent embraced the legality of on-demand “full-term abortion” in an appearance on “The Sage Steele Show” last Wednesday. The candidate told Steele — who is a Catholic — that abortion should be legal “even if it’s full term.” He said that he does not think “it’s ever OK” to abort a full-term child but that “nobody sets out to do that and there are always some kind of extenuating circumstances that would make a mother make that kind of choice.” 

After facing backlash from numerous pro-life organizations and eliciting confusion within his own campaign, Kennedy walked back that position. 

In a post on X late Friday night — just two days after his comments — Kennedy said he “would allow appropriate restrictions on abortion in the final months of pregnancy” and highlighted that even the now-defunct Roe v. Wade ruling allowed for such rules.

“Abortion has been a notoriously divisive issue in America, but actually I see an emerging consensus — abortion should be legal up until a certain number of weeks and restricted thereafter,” Kennedy said.

The presidential candidate wrote in his post that he trusts “women’s maternal instincts” and said he is “leery of inserting the government into abortion” because of instances such as the unborn child having “some fatal condition that ensures it will survive just hours or days after birth in intense suffering.” In those situations, he asked, “can we, should we, legislate such painful decisions and take them away from the mother?” 

“I had been assuming that virtually all late-term abortions were such cases, but I’ve learned that my assumption was wrong,” Kennedy continued. “Sometimes, women abort healthy, viable late-term fetuses. These cases of purely ‘elective’ late-term abortion are very upsetting. Once the baby is viable outside the womb, it should have rights and it deserves society’s protection.” 

Kennedy said in his statement that he “learned this because I was willing to listen — to my family, advisers, supporters, and others who shared their perspectives” and added that he promised to “continue to listen and incorporate what I learn into my decisions.”

The presidential hopeful added that he supports “the emerging consensus that abortion should be unrestricted up until a certain point” and that he believes “that point should be when the baby is viable outside the womb.”

Kennedy then referred back to previous statements he has made on abortion, claiming that “the biggest reason [women obtain abortions] according to studies is affordability.” He plugged his “More Choices, More Life” abortion reduction plan, which would seek to address affordability with government-subsidized child care so “abortion isn’t their only choice.”

In a statement to CNA last week, a Kennedy spokesperson said that the independent candidate also supports legislation to codify the abortion standards set in Roe v. Wade. This would make abortion legal nationwide and prevent states from implementing legal protections for unborn life in earlier stages of pregnancy. In an interview with EWTN last month, Kennedy said he opposes states being allowed to control their own abortion policies.

Pro-life Groups React to Kennedy’s Policy Change

Following Kennedy’s shift on full-term abortion, Marjorie Dannenfelser, the president of Susan B. Anthony Pro-Life America, told CNA that Kennedy “has taken a variety of positions on abortion throughout his campaign.” 

“Most late-term abortions in the U.S. involve healthy moms and healthy babies, as even the abortion industry admits,” Dannenfelser added. “We’re one of only eight countries, alongside China and Vietnam, that allow abortion on demand with no national protections for unborn babies at any point in pregnancy.”

However, Dannenfelser said, “even Kennedy’s latest shift of no protections until a baby can survive outside the womb — well past the point when the child can feel pain — still leaves America as a global human rights outlier.” She encouraged legal protections for unborn children at the federal level at 15 weeks of pregnancy. 

National Right to Life President Carol Tobias told CNA that it appears Kennedy realized the unpopularity of on-demand abortion up until the point of birth.

“Robert F. Kennedy Jr. said the abortion decision should be up to the woman, even if that meant an abortion at any time up to birth,” Tobias said.

“He, obviously, received so much pushback that he again changed [his] position, moving it back to sometime around viability,” Tobias added. “Kennedy realized that the American public at large does not accept abortion for any reason throughout pregnancy. [President] Joe Biden is now the only candidate supporting that radical position.”

How Kennedy Compares with Biden and Trump

Biden has backed efforts to codify the abortion standards previously held in Roe v. Wade. The language of the text would legalize abortion nationwide until the point of viability — however, it would not set a clear week-based limit but instead allow the unborn child’s viability to be determined by the woman’s treating physician, who may be the abortionist.

Kennedy did not say whether he would support a specific week-based limit to prevent late-term abortions or whether he would support the same language. 

Biden also supports repealing budget language that prevents federal agencies from directly funding abortion.

Former President Donald Trump, the presumed Republican nominee, said in April that he would not sign a national abortion ban if Congress sent one to him. Rather, he supports states making their own laws regarding abortion. 

“Many states will be different,” Trump said in April. “Many will have a different number of weeks, or some will have more conservative [policies] than others, and that’s what they will be.”

After the United States Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade in June 2022, more than 20 states passed pro-life laws that imposed stricter limits on abortion than were permitted under the now-defunct ruling.

United States Supreme Court in Washington, D.C. The blockbuster news of the week was the high court’s announcement on Wednesday that it would hear the Biden administration’s appeal of the abortion-pill case decided in Texas federal courts earlier this year.

Abortion’s Tumultuous Week

COMMENTARY: In the 18 months since Roe v. Wade was overruled, supreme courts in Montana, North Dakota and South Carolina (at first) have overturned abortion bans in favor of women’s privacy and autonomy. Will the high courts in Arizona, New Mexico, Texas and Wyoming follow suit?