March for Life activists credit Trump with embracing agenda

Antiabortion demonstrators attend the 2019 March for Life.

If there’s is any segment of the electorate that President Trump has secured, it’s voters whose No. 1 priority is to end legalized abortion.

Trump will make history today as the first president to give an in-person address to the annual March for Life, a protest that started after the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision legalizing abortion and draws tens of thousands — sometimes hundreds of thousands — of protesters to the Mall in Washington every January. 

This year’s march theme is “Life Empowers: Pro-Life is Pro-Woman.” Speakers include House Minority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.), Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.) and Louisiana first lady Donna Hutto Edwards, an antiabortion Democrat who often speaks of how she was encouraged to have an abortion when her now-adult daughter, Samantha, was discovered to have spina bifida.

And, of course, Trump will also address the crowd after sending video greetings for each of the past three years, By personally attending the march as he seeks reelection this year, the president is cementing his alliance with an antiabortion movement that initially viewed him with hostility but is now wholeheartedly behind Trump after a his slew of actions furthering its cause.

The March for Life is honored to announce @realDonaldTrump will be the first U.S. President to speak at the March for Life Rally. Thank you, President Trump, for being a voice for the unborn and continuously working to build a culture of life.

— March for Life (@March_for_Life) January 22, 2020

“President Trump has done more for the pro-life community than any other president, so it is fitting that he would be the first president in history to attend the March for Life,” White House spokesman Judd Deere said.

It’s hard to argue with that assessment of Trump’s three-year record on reproductive rights. The president has moved to cut abortion providers out of Medicaid and the Title X family planning program, banned fetal tissue research, revised an Obama-era policy requiring employers to cover contraceptives, and created a new religious freedom office to handle the cases of health providers pressured to provide services to which they’re morally opposed, such as abortion.

Antiabortion group Susan B. Anthony List:

— Susan B. Anthony List (@SBAList) January 22, 2020

But antiabortion leaders say the president has done even more to help their cause over the long term. They say Trump’s single most important achievement to restrict abortions has been his laser focus, bolstered by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), on filling the federal courts with conservative judges.

“Two words: Supreme Court,” said Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the group Susan B. Anthony List, which seeks to get antiabortion female candidates elected.

“Nothing compares with the impact of a transformed federal court system,” Dannenfelser told me. “That’s why this pro-life movement has never been stronger.”

Trump has sent two justices to the Supreme Court: Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh, who filled the spot vacated by moderate Justice Anthony Kennedy and tilted the court toward the conservatives, worrying abortion rights activists that the Roe v. Wade ruling is seriously in danger. But Trump has also filled dozens of seats on federal district and appeals courts.

In December, the Senate approved Trump’s 50th circuit judge over his three years in office. That’s just five away from the total number of judges confirmed during President Barack Obama’s entire eight years in office. The result: Courts are more likely than ever before to uphold the administration’s new policies.

People march on Constitution Avenue in Washington during the March for Life rally in 2019.

Kristen Waggoner, senior vice president of the U.S. legal division of Alliance Defending Freedom,  an influential Christian conservative nonprofit, also spoke glowingly of Trump’s judicial appointments. The administration has done “a really stellar job” in ensuring judges have a philosophy of focusing on the original intent of words, she said.

Waggoner also sees a strong ally in Trump’s Justice Department, which frequently adopts stances in favor of state antiabortion measures. She pointed to two prominent Supreme Court cases in which the department sided with “crisis pregnancy centers” and stricter standards for abortion clinics and doctors.

— In the first case, NIFLA v. Becerra, the Supreme Court struck down a California law requiring “crisis pregnancy centers” to notify women that the state provides free or low-cost access to abortion — even though these centers counsel women against getting abortions.

— In the second case, which the court will hear in early March, Louisiana is asking the court to uphold a law requiring abortion providers to obtain admitting privileges at hospitals within 30 miles of the abortion clinic. In a brief filed earlier this month, the Justice Department urged the court to uphold the law, arguing it is legal for states to ensure abortion is performed in a way that ensures “maximum safety for the patient.”

The court struck down a similar law in Texas several years ago, saying the state was placing an “undue burden” on women seeking abortions. But this time around, antiabortion activists are hoping for a win from the court’s new conservative majority.

The bottom line in all of this: Trump has made it virtually impossible for antiabortion voters not to support him in 2020, even if they disagree with his policies in other areas.

This dynamic is especially remarkable considering Trump has undergone a shift on the issue of abortion rights. Two decades ago he described himself as “very pro-choice” despite hating “the concept of abortion.” In 2016, he didn’t give an answer when New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd asked whether during his days as a “swinging bachelor in Manhattan” he was ever involved with any woman who had an abortion.

“Such an interesting question,” Trump responded. “So what’s your next question?”

Catherine Glenn Foster, president of Americans United for Life, said the president immediately endeared himself to the movement upon taking office in 2017 by reinstating and broadening the so-called Mexico City policy, which bans U.S. funding for foreign organizations that perform or actively promote abortion.

“It’s such a strong precedent that he would take life as one of his very first issues,” Foster said. “To say we have someone in our corner is so powerful.”

AHH: As demonstrators gather in Washington for the annual March for Life, where the candidates seeking the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination stand on various questions about abortion restrictions and abortion coverage. 

—Every candidate still in the race would seek to repeal the Hyde Amendment, the long-standing ban on federal funding for abortion except in cases of rape, invest or if the woman’s life is at risk.

—Six candidates — Mike Bloomberg, Pete Buttigieg, Bernie Sanders, Tom Steyer, Elizabeth Warren and Andrew Yang — say there should be no restrictions on abortion at any point during a healthy pregnancy.

—Eight candidates — Buttigieg, Sanders, Steyer, Warren, Yang, Michael Bennet, John Delaney, and Deval Patrick — say federal law should require private insurance plans to cover abortion.

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