WASHINGTON – Thousands of activists at the annual March for Life enjoyed a rare display of political firepower Friday, with addresses by the president, vice president and House speaker all celebrating gains the anti-abortion movement has made under Donald Trump.
“Under my administration, we will always defend the very first right in the Declaration of Independence, and that is the right to life,” Trump said in the White House Rose Garden, in a speech that was broadcast to the marchers gathered near the Washington Monument.
The march – which typically draws busloads of Catholic school students, a large contingent of evangelical Christians and poster-toting protesters of many persuasions – falls each year around the anniversary of the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision that recognized a legal right to abortion and intends to pressure Congress and the White House to limit legal access to the procedure.
Megan Ensor, who came from Atlanta to attend her first March for Life, expressed her enthusiasm that Trump took the time to speak to the marchers.
“When it comes to the greatest moral evil of our time, the question that is most important is that he cares. ...We don't have to agree with him on everything,” she said.
But Anna Rose Riccard, 25, who works for anti-abortion organizations, called the president's appearance an “unfortunate distraction.” Riccard, of Alexandria, Virginia, doesn't believe the anti-abortion cause is a priority for Trump, and she saw fellow Catholics disagreeing on social media about his appearance.
“I give him credit for appointing a conservative justice,” she said.
Trump, however, touted his administration's anti-abortion policies, including new orders Thursday and Friday establishing an office to support medical professionals who do not want to perform abortions and making it easier for states to direct funding away from Planned Parenthood.
Most leaders of the anti-abortion movement don't blame Trump for what they perceive as a lack of progress; they fault Republicans in Congress for inaction.
“It's because of the Senate. I put the blame with the Senate,” said Jeanne Mancini, president of the March for Life, said in an interview last week. “I think that some of our members of Congress are afraid to be courageous on these issues.”
Pence mentioned the Roe v. Wade anniversary in his remarks, saying, “Forty-five years ago, the Supreme Court turned its back on the inalienable right to life. But in that moment, our movement began.” He praised Trump as “the most pro-life president in American history” and vowed, “With God's help, we will restore the sanctity of life to the center of American law.”
At the marchers' noon rally east of the Washington Monument, the crowd gave the rock star treatment to House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., greeting him with whoops and applause.
“One thing that gets lost is how compassionate the pro-life movement is,” he said. “To help women who have gone through the pain of abortion, to help single mothers, to give them resources through thousands of pregnancy centers: this is the face of the pro-life movement.”