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Abortion-Rights Opponents Energized By New Administration

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Some past Republican presidents have phoned in their support for an annual anti-abortion protest in Washington, D.C. This year, President Trump sent his vice president, Mike Pence.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

VICE PRESIDENT MIKE PENCE: On behalf of President Donald Trump...

(CHEERING)

PENCE: ...My wife, Karen, our daughter, Charlotte, I'd like to welcome you all to Washington, D.C., for the 44th annual March for Life.

SIMON: The vice president is the highest-ranking official to ever appear at the rally in person. As NPR's Sarah McCammon reports, abortion opponents at yesterday's gathering feel energized by a new administration.

SARAH MCCAMMON, BYLINE: The annual rally known as the March for Life is definitely Vice President Mike Pence's kind of crowd.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PENCE: President Trump actually asked me to be here with you today.

(CHEERING)

PENCE: He asked me to thank you for your support.

MCCAMMON: As the former governor of Indiana, Pence gained popularity among social conservatives for his plainspoken style and hard-line stances against abortion and same-sex marriage. He helped Trump shore up his support with the Republican base, many of whom were worried about Trump's temperament and history of describing himself as very pro-choice. In the end, Trump and Pence won more than 80 percent of white evangelical voters. Pence promised the crowd that Trump's victory will prove to be a victory for them.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PENCE: That's why this administration will work with the Congress to end taxpayer funding of abortion and abortion providers.

(CHEERING)

PENCE: And we will devote those resources to health care services for women across America.

MCCAMMON: Under current law, federal funding for abortions is already illegal in most cases, but Planned Parenthood does receive about half a billion dollars in federal funds each year to provide services like health exams and contraceptives to low-income women. Iowa Senator Joni Ernst told the marchers she's preparing to introduce a pair of bills aimed at diverting family planning funds away from the organization.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

JONI ERNST: Folks, we're going to stop it.

(CHEERING)

MCCAMMON: Abortion-rights opponents are hoping that Trump and the Republican Congress will move their agenda forward.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: (Unintelligible) Together, OK?

MCCAMMON: At the march, participants filled a section of the National Mall near the Washington Monument and poured onto nearby streets. Among them was Rose Romero, an attorney from Fort Worth, Texas, who saw Pence's appearance as a positive sign.

ROSE ROMERO: It took 44 years - right? - for someone in his position in government, the vice president of the United States, to come and celebrate life and appreciate life. That is amazing to me.

MCCAMMON: Attending the march for roughly the 10th time was Richard MacDonald from New Jersey. For him, Pence was a reassuring presence.

RICHARD MACDONALD: To be honest, Trump was not my No. 1 choice. I do like Pence's pro-life stance and, you know, he seems a more kind of levelheaded kind of guy. But with Trump, I mean, he's got the right idea. We've got to put our country first, not just on the pro-life issue but with everything. We've got to put - get jobs back into the country, and I think it's the right approach.

MCCAMMON: Already Trump has signed a presidential memorandum blocking U.S. funding to groups that provide or, quote, "promote" abortion abroad. He's promised to announce a Supreme Court nominee next week - a move activists on both sides of the abortion debate will be watching closely. Sarah McCammon, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Sarah McCammon worked for Iowa Public Radio as Morning Edition Host from January 2010 until December 2013.
Sarah McCammon
Sarah McCammon is a National Correspondent covering the Mid-Atlantic and Southeast for NPR. Her work focuses on political, social and cultural divides in America, including abortion and reproductive rights, and the intersections of politics and religion. She's also a frequent guest host for NPR news magazines, podcasts and special coverage.