Anti-abortion activists welcome Trump administration support

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Counselor to the President Kellyanne Conway and Vice President Mike Pence briefly spoke to anti-abortion opponents gathered at the National Mall during the March for Life on Jan. 27. Photo by Iman Smith.

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ANTONIO MORA: But first: Less than a week after Saturday’s massive Women’s March on Washington, demonstrators again gathered in the nation’s capital today.

Their message was to call for an end to legal abortion.

Jeffrey Brown has the story.

JEFFREY BROWN: This was the 44th March For Life, but it held special significance for tens of thousands of anti-abortion activists, with the coming of a Republican president and Congress.

Many arrived in groups from churches and schools after long bus rides. President Trump began their day with a tweet, saying: “To all of you marching, you have my full support.”

And at a rally before the march, a sitting vice president addressed the annual gathering for the first time.

VICE PRESIDENT MIKE PENCE: Because of all of you and the many thousands who stand with us in marches like this all across the nation, life is winning again in America.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

JEFFREY BROWN: It’s a cold and windy morning here on the National Mall, but people are out in numbers. And they speak to us of a new optimism and new energy around this issue that has galvanized them for so long. People feel they’re on the very cusp of change.

Donna Katzung of Washington, Missouri, has made the trip to Washington, D.C., for the last eight years.

DONNA KATZUNG, Protester: This year, with President Trump and Vice President Pence, you know, there’s a feeling that maybe we’re going to get somewhere, that somebody is hearing us, that our voice is out there and being heard.

JEFFREY BROWN: The president has already signaled he’s listening. On Monday, he signed an executive order reinstating the so-called Mexico City policy, which bars federal funds to international aid organizations that offer abortions or abortion advocacy.

He’s also said he will soon announce his Supreme Court nominee to replace the late Justice Antonin Scalia, one with similar views on abortion. Many here see that as a move toward overturning Roe v. Wade, the court’s 1973 decision that legalized abortion.

JEFFREY ZACHA, Protester: We would be happy with anything. Anything means we’re moving in the right direction. But, I mean, a complete repeal would be our ultimate goal. I have been hoping for that for — nothing against President Trump, but that’s one of the main reasons I voted for him.

JEFFREY BROWN: The March For Life followed on the heels of last Saturday’s Women’s March on Washington, protesting the new president. City officials said it drew more than half-a-million people here, many more around the globe.

Some women today, like Abbey Bongiorno of Green Bay, Wisconsin, said they’d felt excluded.

ABBEY BONGIORNO, Protester: The pro-lifers weren’t really invited to that. As a woman, it was really interesting that I wasn’t really allowed to march with fellow women because I believe that it’s wrong to have abortions in the United States.

JEFFREY BROWN: But they did march today. Officials offered no immediate estimate of the crowd.

Abortion rights supporters were also out, in far smaller numbers, in a counterprotest. A recent poll by the Pew Research Center found 57 percent of the public supports legal abortion in all or most cases, as high as it’s been in two decades.

And now we look at today’s march and beyond with Marjorie Dannenfelser. She’s president of the Susan B. Anthony List, a national anti-abortion group.

Welcome to you.

To what extent do you see the election as having changed the politics of abortion? What is possible now?

MARJORIE DANNENFELSER, President, Susan B. Anthony List: It’s revolution as the politics of abortion.

We have control of the House and the Senate. And we have strong commitments from the administration to make real changes for the first time in decades. So, we’re very well positioned to enact some change.

JEFFREY BROWN: The march today is an annual event. It was long in the planning, but did you come to see it as a kind of response to last weak’s Women’s March?

MARJORIE DANNENFELSER: Well, I see a contrast, but it’s not a response.

It happens every single year, and it has for 44 years, which shows the staying power and the conviction of this group of people. There are a lot of differences between those two. There is a clear mandate for this one.

The — last week’s march was an amorphous kind of hodgepodge of issues. You could even be marching for something you didn’t necessarily agree with because you weren’t even sure last week. I think that happened to a lot of women in that march.

JEFFREY BROWN: Now, as we said, polls continue to show broad support for abortion rights. As your movement gains more in the political arena, why does it continue to lag in the larger culture?

MARJORIE DANNENFELSER: It doesn’t lag in the larger culture, especially the agenda that we have set forward that Trump is behind that the Congress is poised to pass that is a 20-week ban, no abortions in this nation after 20 weeks. That’s wildly popular.

There is no limit currently. Also, a redirect of Planned Parenthood funding to organizations that address the whole health of women and don’t provide abortions. These are very common ground issues, and no taxpayer funding of abortion at all.

These are 60 percent, 70 percent issues, and that is actually what’s on the agenda of this president, and in the voice of that one marcher that you interviewed, it will be tremendous progress. Any change in the pro-life direction will mean that there is progress, and it will come far closer to the will of the people, whereas right now they have got nothing.

JEFFREY BROWN: Well, we do — the kinds of things you’re talking about are in state legislatures, but still the larger polls, to come back to my question about the larger culture, you don’t see too much of a shift.

MARJORIE DANNENFELSER: There is an enormous shift.

When you ask the question, do you like pro-choice or pro-life, you generally get about an even split, but generally people are comfortable with the term pro-choice. When you start to break down what they mean by that, they are definitely for late-term bans.

And, no, this is definitely a federal bill that has been voted on by House and Senate last session and will be voted on again. All the issues I mention are federal priorities, and they have the tremendous backing of the American people, especially women.

JEFFREY BROWN: All right, this goes to my next question, though, because a lot of the success in recent years has been at the state level. Does the focus now shift to more federal types actions of the kind you were just talking about?

MARJORIE DANNENFELSER: It’s both/and.

The state level will continue because we’re even stronger on the state level, which speaks for the pro-life movement. And then now, because we have the strength on the federal level, we can finally stand for a nation for a reasonable abortion policy, going from one there are no restrictions whatsoever to reasonable restrictions that match up to public policy, and again especially women’s views on this.

JEFFREY BROWN: Now, next week, as we know, Donald Trump has said he will nominate a new Supreme Court justice. Do you see the end of Roe v. Wade in this and what will finally bring it? When might it occur?

MARJORIE DANNENFELSER: I doubt very much there will be a day that someone proclaims that there is an end to Roe vs. Wade. It was poorly decided in conjunction with Doe vs. Bolton.

Liberal jurists say that this was a legislative action, more than it was a juridical action. So, what I think we will see is an erosion. When a 20-week ban passes on the federal level, that will contradict some of the premises of Roe v. Wade.

And there will be an adjustment. I would be all for overturning it in a day. I think it’s more likely that we will see modest proposals that are enacted into the law and that slowly the will of the people will be enacted into the law as well.

JEFFREY BROWN: Many people are still parsing the recent election and the outcome. And I have to ask you, even personally, I saw a letter from January 2016 in which a number of anti-abortion leaders wrote a letter saying anybody but Donald Trump.

And there was a quote in there that said, “As women, we are disgusted by Mr. Trump’s treatment of individuals, women in particular.”

MARJORIE DANNENFELSER: Yes. I was the author of that letter. I was the author of that letter.

(CROSSTALK)

JEFFREY BROWN: I know. That’s why I’m asking you.

MARJORIE DANNENFELSER: I know. I’m — that’s why I’m saying, good question.

And, yes, I was the author of that letter. He was our last choice because of the reasons that were stated in that letter. He was our last choice, and then until he was our first choice. And why was he our first choice?

He was, because we are comparing two people with fatal character flaws, in our opinion, at that point. We thought that we weren’t sure before that who we could trust. But there was no question that, when compared to Hillary Clinton, her treatment of the women that went through her husband’s life, and Trump and how — and the concerns that we had about the outrageous things that he said, we were voting on policy in the end.

And policy must rule the day, when you have a choice like that, and, for us, he was far greater committed pro-life and is turning out to be the far better choice because he is following through on the commitments and become the person that we hoped that he would be.

(CROSSTALK)

JEFFREY BROWN: Excuse me.

I just wanted to ask you one more question, briefly, if you could.

MARJORIE DANNENFELSER: Sure.

JEFFREY BROWN: Just thinking again about the causes and the factors behind the election, how much do you think abortion was a factor in the end in Donald Trump’s victory?

MARJORIE DANNENFELSER: It was the biggest factor in any election. In any election, abortion was a major factor. He believes that. We know that. We saw the numbers of voters that we brought to the polls in battleground states.

It was the number one Googled item the day before the election. It was on their minds. And we brought those votes to the battleground states for a win. And he knows that, and so does Mike Pence.

JEFFREY BROWN: Marjorie Dannenfelser, thank you very much.

MARJORIE DANNENFELSER: Thanks.

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