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 Supreme Court decision Roe v. Wade that recognized a legal right to abortion. The goal of the marchers is to pressure Congress and the White House to limit legal access to the procedure.
Trump said he was "really proud to be the first president to stand with you here at the White House"; Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush addressed the march by telephone when they were in office.
Megan Ensor, who traveled 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. ... When he comes today, that's a good thing. We don't have to agree with him on everything," she said.
Yet underlying the movement's elevated status is tense internal debate.
Anna Rose Riccard, 25, works for anti-abortion organizations and called the president's appearance not a boon but an "unfortunate distraction." Riccard, of Alexandria, Va., 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," 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."
Though Trump said Friday that "Americans are more and more pro-life; you see that all the time," American views on abortion have remained quite steady for decades. Since the mid-1990s, about half of residents, give or take a few percentage points, have said abortion should be legal in all or most cases, while about 40 percent have said it should be illegal in all or most cases.
Last year, the March for Life fell just days after Trump's inauguration, and the tone was ebullient. Marchers believed they were heralding a new administration that would prioritize limiting abortion. Mancini said then that she had four goals for policy in the president's first year in office: appointing an apparently anti-abortion Supreme Court justice, defunding Planned Parenthood, codifying the annual Hyde Amendment that restricts federal money from funding abortions and passing a law banning abortion in many cases after 20 weeks.
A year later, only the first of those four goals has been accomplished.
Even abortion-rights supporters said they were surprised that anti-abortion policies haven't made more headway in the past year.
"I think it goes to show how the Republicans just didn't have a plan, in many ways," said Heather Boonstra, director of public policy at the Guttmacher Institute.
The White House has advanced several policies through executive orders rather than legislation, starting with an expanded version of the Bush-era Mexico City policy, which bars U.S. funding to public health organizations that promote abortion overseas and which Trump reinstated upon taking office.
Vice President Mike Pence, when he spoke, mentioned the Roe v. Wade anniversary, 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 White House satellite appearance was among a slate of speakers, including House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis.
The crowd gave the rock star treatment to Ryan, greeting him with whoops and applause. "How grateful are we to have a pro-life president back in the White House!" Ryan said.
Arkansans, including four Jefferson County residents, traveled to Washington to participate in Friday's march.
Amber Bucy, 34, of White Hall said she underwent an abortion when she was 17 years old. It was, in hindsight, a "selfish decision," she said.
Now, she is committed to overturning Roe v. Wade and said she enjoys rallying with others who share that goal.
"There's so many of us that believe the same way and want the same thing, which is ultimately to stop abortion altogether," she said. "It may be one step at a time, but ultimately we want it to just completely end."
She said she was thankful that Trump took time to address the crowd.
"What he said really touched us," she added.
Information for this article was contributed by Michelle Boorstein, Michael Alison Chandler, Julie Zauzmer and Sarah Pulliam Bailey of The Washington Post and by Frank E. Lockwood of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.
Participants in the March for Life on Friday pass the Supreme Court in Washington during the event that takes place each year around the anniversary of the court’s 1973 Roe v. Wade decision that recognized a legal right to abortion
A Section on 01/20/2018
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