On Friday, President Donald Trump became the first president in U.S. history to ever speak in person at the annual March for Life rally in Washington, D.C., where anti-choice advocates from around the country gather to protest abortion access. This year’s theme? Life Empowers: Pro-Life Is Pro-Woman.
So of course, a man accused of sexual assault, harassment, and rape by more than 20 women was the obvious choice to be this year’s headliner. (He has denied these claims.)
The rally was founded in 1974 as a response to SCOTUS passing the landmark abortion access case Roe v. Wade the year prior and organizers plan to hold the event every year until it’s overturned.
Trump’s attendance is unprecedented—former conservative presidents Ronald Reagan, George H. W. Bush, and George W. Bush declined to address the anti-abortion rally in person. Per a New York Times report, these leaders “saw [attending] as a step too far and instead showed their support in less visible ways.”
His appearance is also an unmistakable tell: The now-impeached president, who is currently on trial in the U.S. Senate for abuse of power and obstruction of Congress, spoke to marchers in order to appease his evangelical base and secure their support in the 2020 election. He used this moment as a stand-in for a campaign rally, telling the crowd, “Unborn children have never had a stronger defender in the White House.” (It’s worth noting that he announced his appearance after the anti-abortion PAC Susan B. Anthony List said it would donate $52 million to anti-abortion Republicans in the 2020 election cycle.)
MC onstage at the March for Life, to the live-streaming audience: “the crowd goes allllll the way back!”— Christina Cauterucci (@c_cauterucci) January 24, 2020
Here’s the view from 2/3 of the way back: pic.twitter.com/JM2bpbs3KO
It’s difficult to believe Trump’s disdain for abortion is genuine and not simply a gross political play. In a 1999 interview, Trump described himself as “very pro-choice,” even though he claimed he “personally” didn’t like abortion. “I hate the concept of abortion,” he said. “I hate it. I hate everything it stands for. I cringe when I listen to people debating the subject. But you still—I just believe in choice.”
These quotes were even used in attack ads by his Republican opponents during the 2016 primary. It was only when he was under fire did he change his tune. During a 2016 town hall with MSNBC’s Chris Matthews, Trump said there should be “some form of punishment” for women who seek and obtain abortion services. As a presidential candidate, he promised to elect anti-abortion judges to the Supreme Court, with the sole purpose of overturning Roe v. Wade. He spread dangerous lies about abortion later in pregnancy during the presidential debates, going so far as to say women have abortions “days before giving birth” and claim, “You can take the baby and rip the baby out of the womb in the ninth month, on the final day.” (Spoiler alert: You cannot.)
Since taking office, Trump has doubled down on the promises he made to anti-abortion voters during the 2016 campaign. Upon his swearing in as the nation’s 45th president, he enacted the Global Gag Rule, which halts international funding to any health care organization that provides, discusses, or refers patients to abortion services. He appointed conservative judges Justice Neil Gorsuch and Justice Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court, where they now stand to rule on an abortion case June Medical Services, LLC v. Gee, which could gut Roe v. Wade by allowing medically unnecessary barriers to abortion care to be enacted at the state level.
Calling this president or the anti-choice movement “pro-women” is a joke, as their shared agendas continue to champion anti-abortion legislation that is known to harm women and pregnant people. But Trump employs it with the self-indulgent hope that it will win him another four years in office. During his speech on Friday, he told the crowd, “Together, we are the voice for the voiceless. When it comes to Democrats—and you know this—you’ve seen what’s happened. Democrats have embraced the most radical and extreme positions taken and seen in this country for years and decades and you can even say for centuries. Nearly every top Democrat in Congress now supports taxpayer-funded abortion all the way up until the moment of birth.” (This is an absolutely false claim.)
“They are coming after me because I am fighting for you, and we are fighting for those who have no voice, and we will win because we know how to win,” he said. Yet Trump neglected to acknowledge that the latest polls show that he trails every Democratic presidential nominee. Or that 77 percent of Americans actually support Roe v. Wade—and that people will continue to have abortions as long as they are able to get pregnant.
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