ST. GEORGE — For the first time in years, abortion opponents will have all the political momentum when they hold their annual rally Friday on the National Mall in the nation’s capital.
The “March for Life,” held each year in Washington to mark the anniversary of the 1973 Supreme Court decision legalizing abortion, will have one of its biggest-name speakers in years: Vice President Mike Pence.
Neither a president nor a vice president has ever addressed the march, which is now in its 44th year. One of President Donald Trump’s top advisers, Kellyanne Conway, is also on the speakers’ list.
Friday morning, U.S. Sen. Orrin Hatch sent out a video message welcoming participants to the event.
In one week alone, our nation has taken meaningful steps to protect the unborn. Just last Friday, a pro-life president took office, and he wasted no time in righting the wrongs of the previous administration.
As one of his first executive orders, President Trump rescinded an Obama-era policy that forced American taxpayers to fund abortions overseas. The House then voted to make permanent the Hyde Amendment, which further protects the conscience of pro-life Americans by prohibiting the use of taxpayer money for abortion.
A new poll shows that the American people overwhelmingly support such commonsense policies.
I first came to the Senate in the aftermath of Roe v. Wade — the infamous Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion-on-demand. Ever since, I’ve been fighting for the cause of life, and I’m truly encouraged by the progress we’ve made.
Today, a large majority of Americans support a broad range of restrictions on abortion.
Even though abortion advocates want to make enemies of pro-life supporters, nearly 80 percent of Americans believe that our laws can protect both women and unborn children. At the feminist march last Saturday — in the middle of the hostility and anger — a group of young people carried signs that read I am the pro-life generation.
Today, thousands of men and women will march under that banner. While our movement has real cause for celebration, we still have much work to do.
Know that I will always be by your side, fighting on behalf of the values we hold dear. I will always stand up for life, and I will never relent in my commitment to the unborn.
Organizers of the “March for Life” told the National Park Service in their permit application they expect 50,000 participants. Yet Trump insisted on the eve of the rally that the crowd would be far larger, saying “a lot of people are gonna be showing up.”
“You know, the press never gives them the credit that they deserve,” Trump told Republicans gathered in Philadelphia. “They’ll have 300, 400, 500, 600 thousand people. You won’t even read about it. When other people show up, you read big-time about it. Right? So, it’s not fair, but nothing fair about the media.”
One of Trump’s first official acts after taking office a week ago was to sign an executive order banning U.S. aid to foreign groups that provide abortions.
In Congress, Republican majorities in both chambers are vowing to end federal funding for Planned Parenthood, which provided more than a third of the nation’s abortions in 2014. They also hope to ban most abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy. Trump has pledged to sign both measures if they reach his desk.
Less than a year ago, with Barack Obama’s second term winding down, things were markedly different. The Supreme Court struck down Texas’ strict regulations on abortion clinics as interfering with a woman’s constitutional right to terminate a pregnancy. And with polls at the time suggesting Hillary Clinton would likely defeat Trump, abortion opponents worried about an era of liberal majorities on the court.
“The horizon looked bleak for the pro-life movement,” said Jeanne Mancini, president of the March for Life.
Mancini suggested that many voters chose Trump largely because he pledged to appoint a Supreme Court justice who shared their views on abortion, even if they disagreed with him on other issues.
“I don’t identify as a Republican or a Democrat but I do vote pro-life,” Mancini said.
Abortion opponents also were heartened by a recent study that found the number of abortions in the United States dropped under 1 million in 2014, the lowest total in 40 years. The report by the Guttmacher Institute, which supports abortion rights, credited increased access to birth control but also a surge in abortion restrictions in many states.
Americans remain deeply divided on abortion.
The latest Gallup survey, released last spring, found that 47 percent of Americans described themselves as pro-choice and 46 percent as pro-life. It also found that 79 percent believed abortion should be legal in either some or all circumstances.
Ilyse Hogue, president of NARAL Pro-Choice America, said that poll shows why abortion-rights supporters shouldn’t despair. She also said Republicans were taking actions that would result in more illegal abortions and deaths of pregnant women.
“The vast majority of Americans support Roe v. Wade and support the legal right to abortion,” Hogue said.
Friday’s march comes less than a week after one of the largest mass demonstrations in the city’s history, the “Women’s March on Washington,” which drew more than half a million people opposed to Trump on issues including abortion.
In St. George, over 1,400 people took part in a sister march to the one in Washington. Many of the participants who spoke to St. George News said they had accepted Trump as the president and were willing to give him a chance. One of these was Dallas Henry, an outreach and clinic coordinator for Planned Parenthood in St. George.
“We’re here for our community,” Henry said, “and we’re going to march together in solidarity with our sisters in Washington. … We as women, we’re standing together and giving him (Trump) that chance, and we’re going to hold him accountable no matter what.”
Mancini said she also had originally planned to participate in the Women’s March on Washington until organizers dropped an anti-abortion group as an official partner. She said its failure to embrace different views on abortion was a missed opportunity.
The March for Life is usually held on the anniversary of the 1973 Supreme Court decision — Jan. 22 — but it was pushed back this year because of Trump’s inauguration.
Associated Press reporter Ben Nuckols and St. George News reporter Hollie Reina contributed to this story.