President Donald Trump, seeking to court evangelical voters, addressed thousands of activists gathered Friday on the National Mall for the nation’s largest annual anti-abortion rally.
Trump, who this week revealed his “Pro-Life Voices for Trump” coalition for his 2020 reelection campaign, has strong ties to the anti-abortion community and is the first president to speak onstage at the event. Activists see him as a key ally in delivering policy priorities aimed at limiting abortion that he promised in 2016.
“On behalf of our marchers, I’d like to thank you for your stance and your record,” said Jeanne Mancini, president of March for Life, as she introduced the president.
The crowd began assembling hours before the event, and a wave of red and blue winter hats boasting the “Make America Great Again” and March for Life logos could be seen on all sides. Near the stage, a supporter danced with a Trump teddy bear, and signs slamming Planned Parenthood and touting “the pro-life generation” were ubiquitous.
“Today as president of the United States, I am truly proud to stand with you,” Trump said, while also touting the “tremendous turnout” of the crowd.
Trump ticked off a laundry list of actions he’s taken to support abortion opponents since taking office, including restrictions to eligibility for the family planning funding program known as Title X and funding restrictions on nonprofits that support abortion abroad, known as the Mexico City policy.
He also called on Congress to take action to limit abortion late in pregnancy and referenced legislation that Republicans say would protect infants born after attempted abortions.
“The unborn have never had a stronger defender in the White House,” he said. “Young people are the heart of the March for Life and it’s your generation that is making America the pro-family, pro-life nation.”
“Let’s go for the win and hear your pro-life voices heard in November,” said Dannenfelser, who also co-chairs Trump’s new anti-abortion campaign coalition.
Vice President Mike Pence also spoke to the crowd Friday via a video message recorded in Rome, where he met with Pope Francis in the Vatican.
“Today is also a day of progress and a day of celebration,” he said. “Life is winning in America again.”
“In 2013, Barack Obama became the first president to address Planned Parenthood’s annual conference,” Scalise said to boos and jeers from the crowd. “Today, Donald Trump became the first president to address the March for Life. Don’t tell me elections don’t have consequences. You know what’s at stake.”
Scalise also emphasized the legislation referenced by Trump that Republicans say would protect infants who are born during attempted abortions.
“We know that we need to protect life at every stage,” he said. “Our bill has been blocked for a vote on the House floor by Speaker Nancy Pelosi.”
He added that anti-abortion advocates in the House have 204 of the 218 signatures needed to force a vote.
The day and week of the annual march are always marked by abortion policy pushes.
The Department of Health and Human Services’ Office for Civil Rights announced Friday morning that it would issue a notice of violation to the state of California related to its mandated insurance coverage for abortions.
OCR Director Roger Severino, in a call with reporters, said federal officials had received two complaints that the state was violating an annual policy rider known as the Weldon amendment, which prohibits states that receive federal funds from discriminating against plans and facilities that do not cover abortion.
“States who received federal funds cannot discriminate against health insurance plans that don’t cover abortion. It’s very black and white,” he said. “Abortion is not health care. It does not need to be required as a policy matter. As a legal matter, it cannot be forced on others.”
Severino said he does not want those in California who are opposed to these plans to be “left hanging in the wind.”
“People will not be forced to choose between having insurance for their families and failing their conscience,” he said. “This is serious business, and we want California to come to the table to do the right thing for the benefit of its own citizens.”
The state has 30 days to come into compliance before further action is taken, but Severino did not elaborate on the next steps or say which other states may also be violating this policy.
He compared the alleged violation to a prior controversy over complaints over a California law that required crisis pregnancy centers to post notices advertising state-funded abortions, against their beliefs.
That disagreement was eventually settled by the Supreme Court, which blocked the law through its National Institute of Family and Life Advocates v. Becerra decision.
On Thursday, HHS Secretary Alex Azar issued a statement in support of the march. Azar and Severino also spoke Friday morning at a separate anti-abortion summit hosted by the Family Research Council.
“We’ve fought to protect the conscience rights of those who provide healthcare and participate in HHS-funded programs,” Azar said in the statement. “We are proud to be ‘the department of life’ and will continue protecting life and lives while upholding the fundamental freedoms and inherent dignity of all Americans.”