|Tens of thousands gather near the Washington Monument for the annual March for Life on Friday in Washington, D.C. M. Scott Mahaskey/POLITICO|
|A demonstrator holds up a sign in support of President Donald Trump.|
M. Scott Mahaskey/POLITICO
|Vice President Mike Pence arrives to speak at the annual March for Life.|
M. Scott Mahaskey/POLITICO
|Katharine Hanks, 4, of New Orleans listens as Pence speaks.|
M. Scott Mahaskey/POLITICO
|Pence waves to the March for Life crowd with his wife, Karen Pence, and his daughter, Charlotte Pence.|
M. Scott Mahaskey/POLITICO
Will the Pro-Life Movement Split With Trump on Issues Other Than Abortion?
The Trump administration is all about the March for Life. The president highlighted the 43-year-old event in an interview on Wednesday, promising large crowds—even daring to say they might be larger than those at the Inauguration. Kellyanne Conway, the president’s counselor, was invited to join the line-up before she had even accepted an administration position, organizers say, and the “surprise VIP guest” who has been promised for weeks turned out to be Vice President Mike Pence—the first vice president or president in history to speak at the March, organizers say.
The real question is: Will the March for Life be all about Trump?
In just the first week of his administration, Trump has moved quickly to restrict abortion. He reinstated the so-called Mexico City policy, prohibiting U.S. aid money from going to foreign groups that offer abortion counseling. Next week, he will nominate a new Supreme Court justice, who, he has said, will be pro-life. And during his campaign, he promised to support legislation that would prevent Medicaid reimbursements from going to Planned Parenthood and permanently establish the Hyde Amendment, a policy that bans the use of federal money to pay for most abortions.
Trump has also introduced plans to reduce the number of refugees coming to the United States, temporarily banning entry to people from a handful of war-torn countries. He has promised to deport an even greater number of immigrants than President Obama and support the repeal of his predecessor’s signature health-care bill. These might not seem like “pro-life” issues. But for many in the movement, Trump’s actions present a fundamental tension: While they celebrate his apparent seriousness about limiting abortion, they don’t necessarily support his other policies that threaten life after birth.
On Thursday evening, thousands gathered at a pro-life prayer vigil at the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, the towering Roman Catholic basilica in Northeast Washington, D.C.* New York’s Cardinal Timothy Dolan gave the homily, speaking on the connection between immigrants and abortion. “Today, refugees and immigrants continue to believe that this nation is still a sanctuary, as they arrive with relief and thanksgiving,” he said. “We pray they are never let down!” Their struggle, he said, is the same struggle as that of children in the womb. “We come together this evening ... to reclaim the belief of nature and super-nature that a mother’s womb is the primal sanctuary,” he said.
When asked what obligation pro-life people have to speak out for the lives of immigrants and refugees, Dolan said, “A lot. And they do.” But at the same time, “they’re also very practical, and they’re very strategic,” he said. “We want to protect all human life: the immigrant, our grandmothers who are dying, people who are starving. ... What is the greatest danger today? When you look at the numbers of the babies whose lives are terminated in the womb, you’ll say, “‘Uh oh. There’s our priority.’”
“We’ve gone from a defensive approach … to a moment where we are truly advancing the ball.”
Other groups seem to share this sense that abortion trumps other issues. Focus on the Family, an advocacy group founded by the conservative Christian leader James Dobson, “helps condition the environment for what people in public policy view as the most important issues to evangelical Christians,” said Tim Goeglein, the former Bush administration official who serves as the organization’s vice president of external relations. While the group co-sponsored an event called Evangelicals for Life in Washington on Thursday before the March, they haven’t held similar events or rallies to support robust health care for families, expansion of family medical leave or maternity and paternity leave, or government support for poor mothers.
“We tend to look to the private sector more than government to engage with that, although helping families in need is important for government to do,” said Jim Daly, Focus on the Family’s president. “We’re more comfortable in [the] arena” on issues directly related to abortion, he said, but “there’s not quite the same energy and openness” on issues like government support for needy families. While the group has prioritized public advocacy against abortion, Daly claimed it hasn’t taken up other issues because of frustrations with bureaucracy. “You can push and push on the government side, but oftentimes, little change occurs,” he said. But now, change is happening—at least on abortion. “We’ve been encouraged by what the administration has done thus far in the first week … because of the things we care about,” he said.
For groups that care exclusively about abortion, Trump has given them a lot to look forward to—and they’re feeling that excitement as they head into the March for Life. “We’ve gone from a defensive approach … to a moment where we are truly advancing the ball,” said Marjorie Dannenfelser, the president of the pro-life group Susan B. Anthony List. She said she’s worked personally with a number of White House staffers on their abortion agenda, and she’s very optimistic. “They’ll be marching in unity rather than bickering about whether to handle the issue or not,” she said. “And you’ll see at the top Mike Pence and Kellyanne.”
“Right now, the biggest voice for the pro-life movement is Donald Trump. And I don’t feel like he stands for pretty much anything.”
Jeanne Mancini, the president of March for Life, said she “was pretty impressed with how the [president] addressed these issues.” On the campaign trail, “he went farther than any other candidate has ever gone in talking about [Supreme Court] justices and talking about late-term abortion and the reality of it,” she said. “I’m very happy with what he’s promised to enact while he’s in the White House.”
For most Americans, though, the Trump administration won’t be judged on a single issue. As the leaders of the pro-life movement cheer on the new president at the March for Life, they risk associating the movement with all of his policies—including the exclusion of refugees, immigration restrictions, and a newly undermined health-care system. They also risk alienating the people who have often been their most enthusiastic marchers: the young women and men who turn out by the thousands to march against abortion every year. But unlike their older peers in the movement, who voted for Trump en masse, only 37 percent of Millennial voters chose Trump in this election.
“Politically right now, the biggest voice for the pro-life movement is Donald Trump,” said Jeanne Marie Hathway, a 19-year-old student at the Catholic University of America who plans to attend the march. “I don’t feel like he stands for pretty much anything. He’s clearly not for women’s health care, and he’s not for the dignity of human life.”
She wouldn’t identify as conservative or liberal or anything in particular—to her, the most important thing is following a “consistent life ethic,” which means caring about women just as much as unborn children, she said. Republicans like Trump “have the biggest voice for the pro-life movement right now,” she added. But “a lot of times, I think they’re Republicans before they’re pro-life activists.”
Pence, Conway cheer on March for Life
The vice president and one of President Donald Trump's top aides cheered on the March for Life Friday, two high-profile surrogates from the new administration signaling their support for the anti-abortion rights rally.
"Life is winning again in America," Vice President Mike Pence told the crowd. "That is evident in the election of pro life majorities in the congress of the United States of America."
"But it is no more evident in any way than in the historic election of a president who stands for a stronger America and a more prosperous America and a president who I proudly say stands for the right to life - President Donald Trump."
Pence is the highest ranking public official to ever address the March for Life rally personally. He said the President asked him to attend.
White House adviser Kellyanne Conway had earlier said the President was planning to call in to the large annual gathering of anti-abortion activistis, then later clarified that his plans were dependent upon his schedule and the call may not work out if it conflicted with his meeting with British Prime Minister Theresa May.
The March for Life happens annually near the January anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court decision making abortion legal.
Pence reminded the crowded that Trump signed an executive order earlier this week blocking federal funding for abortions overseas and promised that Congress will work to end federal funding going to American organizations that perform abortions.
"And we will devote those resources to health care services for women across America," he said.
And the Vice President said next week Trump will announce a Supreme Court Justice next week that will back anti-abortion policies and "will uphold the god given liberties in our Constitution in the tradition on of the late and great justice Antonin Scalia."
Trump tweeted his support for the march earlier.
The President mentioned the march Thursday while meeting with GOP leaders at the Republican retreat in Philadelphia and Vice President Mike Pence announced on Twitter Thursday that he will address the attendees in person. It's the first time a sitting vice president has addressed a March for Life rally, according to administration spokeswoman Lindsay Walters.
Conway also spoke at the annual event reminding attendees of the Trump administration's commitment to the anti-abortion voting bloc.
"Allow me to make it very clear: We hear you, we see you, we respect you and we look forward to working with you," she said.
"The March for Life began in Washington, DC, as a small demonstration and rapidly grew to be the largest pro-life event in the world," according to the march's website.
At past events, Presidents Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush addressed the event via telephone.
Several Republican lawmakers and activists hope to use the event to "unite and strategize around a common message," according to the group's mission
More than 60% of Republicans said abortion should be illegal in all or most cases, according to a Pew Research Center poll.
Trump often campaigned on promising to nominate a Supreme Court justice with conservative views on abortion and pledged to back anti-abortion rights justices who would overturn Roe v. Wade as well as send the issue back to the states, in an interview with "60 Minutes."
Nearly seven-in-ten Americans say Roe v. Wade should not be completely overturned, according to a Pew Research Center poll.