Anti-abortion marchers celebrate a new era under Trump – Politico

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Peggy James of Seaford, Del. (right) joins the March for Life 2016 rally on Jan. 22, 2016. Vice President Mike Pence and Trump counselor Kellyanne Conway are headlining this year’s event, | AP Photo

With Vice President Mike Pence and Trump counselor Kellyanne Conway headlining this year’s event, anti-abortion activists have plenty to celebrate.

Tens of thousands of demonstrators are expected in Washington Friday for an anti-abortion march that’s shaping up as a triumphant affair under President Donald Trump — despite his ambitious projection of crowds as large as 600,000.

The March for Life, as it’s known, has kicked off on the National Mall every year since 1974 to mark the Jan. 22 anniversary of the Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision establishing abortion rights. With Vice President Mike Pence and Trump counselor Kellyanne Conway headlining this year’s event, anti-abortion activists have plenty to celebrate even as the president’s fixation on turnout for his inauguration threatens to pull focus from the issues to the number of marchers.

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After falsely claiming that at least 1 million people attended his inauguration, Trump predicted Thursday that the anti-abortion march would draw from 300,000 to 600,000 people.

“You won’t even read about it,” Trump told congressional Republicans gathered in Philadelphia for their annual retreat. In a veiled reference to the millions of demonstrators worldwide who participated in so-called Women’s Marches in opposition to his agenda, Trump added: “When other people show up, you read big time about it.”

March for Life organizers estimated on their request for a National Park Service permit that 50,000 would attend Friday’s event, which ends with a march to the Supreme Court after scheduled speeches from Pence, Conway, Sen. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa), and Reps. Mia Love (R-Utah) and Chris Smith (R-N.J.), among others.

Trump’s conservative base has rallied behind his emphasis on Inauguration Day turnout, challenging the media to cover the March for Life and encouraging comparisons with the expectation-shattering turnout for the liberal women’s marches. Anti-abortion groups have asserted that previous versions of the march drew hundreds of thousands of protesters.

As of press time, 95 buses were registered to carry marchers on Friday, according to a spokeswoman for Events DC, which is assisting event organizers. Trump’s inauguration had 450 buses registered, and the Women’s March had 1,800 buses registered, a spokesman for the D.C. Department of Transportation said by email.

The March for Life usually brings a boost in Metro rail ridership, according to figures provided by WMATA. The biggest uptick from the event in recent years came in 2009, when the march was held two days after President Barack Obama’s first inauguration. That day saw 824,060 Metro rail trips. The day of the 2016 march saw just 321,735 Metro trips, but a blizzard hitting Washington likely played a role in tamping down turnout.

Trump proved a polarizing figure for some anti-abortion activists before his election, having labeled himself “very pro-choice” in 1999 and acknowledging on the campaign trail that “people will perhaps go to illegal places” to end pregnancies if abortion is banned. But Trump’s selection of Pence, a hero of the anti-abortion movement, and his Monday signing of an anti-abortion executive order have generated warmer feelings among activists.

On Thursday, Pence described Trump as “pro-life” in remarks to GOP members of Congress in Philadelphia, according to a pool report. Singling out Trump’s order on Monday barring organizations abroad that provide abortion services from receiving federal funds, Pence added: “As another pro-life American, I couldn’t be more proud.”

For the vice president, the march represents something of a celebratory homecoming. The fiercely anti-abortion Midwesterner has been a presence at the march for years. He repeatedly said on the 2016 campaign trail that Trump could help deliver a Supreme Court that would relegate Roe v. Wade “to the ash heap of history, where it belongs.”

In 2003, Pence, then a congressman with some black hairs still visible on a head since turned white, told the 30th Annual March for Life that “abortion is in steep decline in America today … less morally acceptable than any time since 1973.”

He has come a long way since then — and since he addressed the crowd in January 2010, a year into Obama’s first term, decrying “a pro-abortion majority in Congress” and “the most pro-abortion president in American history.”

“Ending an unborn human life is morally wrong, and it’s also morally wrong to take the taxpayer dollars of millions of pro-life Americans and use it to subsidize abortion at home or abroad,” Pence said at the rally that year, wearing a black leather jacket as women behind him held black signs that read “I Regret My Abortion.”

“Abortion is not health care,” Pence thundered. “Abortion funding has no place in health care legislation now or ever. Abortion organizations overseas have no right to American foreign aid. And the time has come to deny any and all federal funding to Planned Parenthood of America.”

With Republicans now in complete control of the White House and Congress, a vow to end funding for Planned Parenthood will carry great weight for those gathered on the Mall — where, less than a week ago, Planned Parenthood President Cecile Richards declared to liberal Women’s March demonstrators that “our doors stay open.”

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