President Donald Trump urged pro-life activists to keep up the fight while criticizing Democrats for their "extreme" abortion positions, as he became the first sitting president in American history to attend the annual March for Life.
"We are fighting for those who have no voice," Trump said. "As president, I'm truly proud to stand with you…. Unborn children have never had a stronger defender in the White House."
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He spoke at length about the administration's record on the issue, pointing to preserving religious liberty in the adoption process, regulatory enforcement to restrict taxpayer funding for abortionists abroad and through the Title X program, as well as the judges he has appointed to the bench. He praised rallygoers for their commitment to defending "the dignity and sanctity of every human life."
"You embrace mothers with care and compassion. You are powered by prayer and motivated by pure, unselfish love. We are so grateful," Trump told tens of thousands of attendees gathered on the National Mall.
Trump's appearance required additional security measures for tens of thousands of rallygoers, which left thousands more waiting. Julie Hansberry of Asheville, N.C., has been attending the march since 2000. The president's appearance, she said, would rank as the second most memorable rally of her life—she met her husband at the 2005 rally. She said she hoped the president's address would bolster attention to the threat abortion poses to the unborn.
"I think that that's going to affect the pro-life movement because it gives us a lot of coverage that we've been lacking in the past," she said. Hansberry said the speech could also solidify support among activists who are "getting the vote out too because Trump has done so much for the pro-life movement in his presidency."
Dozens of Trump campaign staff and volunteers were on hand distributing materials that touted the White House's accomplishments on that front. Trump took direct aim at Democrats for holding "the most radical and extreme" positions on the issue. He pointed to state laws overturning limits on late-term abortion and parental notification rules, as well as Senate Democrats, including 2020 hopefuls Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D., Mass.), Bernie Sanders (I., Vt.), and Amy Klobuchar (D., Minn.), who blocked protections for infants who survive abortions. He focused much of his criticism on taxpayer funding for abortion, which has become a major theme of the Democratic primary. Former vice president Joe Biden abandoned his longstanding opposition to taxpayer funding at the outset of the 2020 campaign, joining other leading contenders who want to repeal the Hyde Amendment.
"Together we are the voice for the voiceless…. They are coming after me because I am fighting for you," Trump said. "When it comes to abortion … Democrats have embraced the most radical and extreme positions taken in this country for years and decades…. Nearly every top Democrat in Congress now supports taxpayer funding for abortion all the way up until the point of birth."
Trump identified as "pro-choice" before the 2016 campaign. Some rallygoers said his record as president has proven his commitment to the issue. Ohio resident Joel Patrick told the Washington Free Beacon that he "firmly" supports Trump in light of his positions on taxpayer funding.
"I don’t know what the president’s religious views are necessarily, but I think for him to say, ‘I’m pro-life and I’m going to come and speak at a pro-life event,' shows how passionate he is about this," Patrick said. "I think this is the perfect place for him to show up [with] the steps he’s taken to defund Planned Parenthood, how he’s come out in strong support of life from the beginning [of conception]."
Pro-life activists praised Trump for his willingness to make abortion a major campaign theme in 2020. Terry Schilling, executive director of the American Principles Project, said the White House successfully "set a standard for all future pro-life presidents."
"President Trump's attendance at the March for Life prevented the media from continuing to ignore the hundreds of thousands of pro-life activists who show up every year," Schilling said. "It gives him an opportunity to make his case to millions of pro-life Americans across the country."
Kari Beckman, a Catholic educator, traveled from Georgia to support the movement. She said that abortion should be a unifying issue for lawmakers. That has not been the case in her home state where a Republican majority passed legislation largely restricting abortion beyond the first six weeks of pregnancy. State Democrats vowed to mount a primary challenge against the lone Democratic lawmaker who supported the bill. Beckman called on lawmakers to reject the "extreme position" that there is a "right to kill children."
"The one issue that should unite this country is the issue of life. We should all want to defend life from conception to natural death," she said.