Sunday Star-Times

March exposes anti-abortion rift


Thousands of activists at the annual March for Life in Washington, DC enjoyed a rare display of political firepower yesterday, with addresses by the US president, vice-president and House speaker all celebratin­g gains the antiaborti­on movement has made under Donald Trump. But the movement’s elevated status has come at the price of much internal debate.

‘‘Under my administra­tion, we will always defend the very first right in the Declaratio­n of Independen­ce, and that is the right to life,’’ Trump said in the White House Rose Garden, in a speech that was broadcast to marchers gathered near the Washington Monument.

The march – which typically draws busloads of Catholic school students, a large contingent of evangelica­l Christians and postertoti­ng protesters of many persuasion­s – falls each year around the anniversar­y of the 1973 Roe v Wade decision that recognised a legal right to abortion. The event is aimed at pressuring Congress and the White House to limit legal access to the procedure.

Trump said he was ‘‘really proud to be the first president to stand with you here at the White House’’. Ronald Reagan and George W Bush addressed the march by telephone when they were in office.

Megan Ensor, who came from Atlanta to attend her first March for Life, expressed her enthusiasm that Trump took the time to speak to the marchers. ‘‘When it comes to the greatest moral evil of our time, the question that is most important is that he cares,’’ she said.

However, Anna Rose Riccard, 25, who works for anti-abortion organisati­ons, called the president’s appearance not a boon but an ‘‘unfortunat­e distractio­n’’.

Riccard, of Alexandria, Virginia, said she did not believe the antiaborti­on cause was a priority for Trump, and she had seen fellow Catholics disagreein­g on social media about his appearance.

Trump touted his administra­tion’s anti-abortion policies, including new orders on Friday and yesterday establishi­ng an office to support medical profession­als who do not want to perform abortions, and making it easier for states to direct funding away from Planned Parenthood.

Most leaders of the anti-abortion movement don’t blame Trump for what they perceive as a lack of progress; they fault Republican­s in Congress for inaction.

Last year, the March for Life fell just days after Trump’s inaugurati­on, and the tone was ebullient. Marchers believed they were heralding a new administra­tion that would prioritise limiting abortion.

Jeanne Mancini, president of the March for Life, said then that she had four goals for policy in the president’s first year in office: appointing an apparently antiaborti­on Supreme Court justice, defunding Planned Parenthood, codifying the annual Hyde Amendment that restricts federal money from funding abortions, and passing a law banning abortion in many cases after 20 weeks.

A year later, only the first of those four goals has been accomplish­ed.

In his speech, Trump called to the podium a mother who became pregnant at 17 and later went on to help establish a facility to support homeless pregnant women.

Trump also repeated an erroneous claim he made during a presidenti­al debate against Hillary Clinton in 2016 – that a fetus in ‘‘a number of states’’ can be aborted ‘‘in the ninth month’’.

Vice-President Mike Pence praised Trump as ‘‘the most prolife president in American history’’ and vowed: ‘‘With God’s help, we will restore the sanctity of life to the centre of American law.’’

The message echoed a talk on Capitol Hill on Friday, where the Rev Samuel Rodriguez, one of Trump’s evangelica­l advisers, stood with House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi urging Congress to protect undocument­ed young adults.

Noting that the March for Life would be the next day, Rodriguez said the two topics were linked as ‘‘life’’ issues. Jessica Ponce, 26, marched at the very front of the pack at the Marh for Life with fellow parishione­rs from the Archdioces­e of Mobile, Alabama. She said it was her first march, and a poignant one, because she had just learned she was pregnant.

A native Mexican who is now a permanent resident in the US, Ponce said that to her, ‘‘pro-life’’ meant taking care of all human beings, including immigrants and refugees. ‘‘It’s not possible to care for people if you are separating families.’’

In an effort to make the same point, a group of Franciscan priests stood near the front of the stage during the rally. When Trump appeared on the screen, they raised banners saying: ‘‘Keeping families together is pro-life! Keep God’s dream alive!’’

About 50 demonstrat­ors staged their own rally outside the Smithsonia­n Air and Space Museum rather than joining the main rally on the Mall, to protest Trump’s address.

They said their belief that life begins at conception came from scientific research on fetal developmen­t, not from faith, and they wanted their ‘‘I am a pro-life feminist’’ signs to indicate that the anti-abortion movement was not just ‘‘a bunch of priests,’’ as Destiny Herndon-De La Rosa put it.

‘‘Let’s put some secular, pro-life, bad-ass feminists up front,’’ she said.

 ?? AP ?? Protesters on both sides of the abortion issue gather outside the Supreme Court in Washington, DC during the March for Life yesterday.
AP Protesters on both sides of the abortion issue gather outside the Supreme Court in Washington, DC during the March for Life yesterday.

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