At March for Life, Trump Prods Senate to Act on 20-Week Abortion Ban

Vice President Pence declared Trump "the most pro-life president in American history."

President Donald Trump speaks at the March for Life event on January 19. Lauryn Gutierrez / Rewire

President Donald Trump used his March for Life address on Friday to urge the U.S. Senate to pass an unconstitutional 20-week abortion ban, asking Congress to “send it to my desk for signing.”

Trump didn’t acknowledge Senate Democrats’ narrow legislative firewall, which would likely prevent the chamber from reaching the 60-vote majority needed to advance controversial legislation and halt the U.S. House of Representatives-passed bill, in his remarks. He instead reaffirmed his commitment to a far-right base that has repeatedly overlooked his transgressions in exchange for anti-choice wins. The broadcast, made from the White House Rose Garden to the crowd assembled on the National Mall, marked the first time a sitting president addressed March for Life via satellite.

Vice President Mike Pence, who introduced Trump, ticked through some of those actions and declared Trump “the most pro-life president in American history.” The administration’s anti-choice actions include vastly expanding the so-called global gag rule; undermining Title X family planning protections that ensure contraceptive access for people with low incomes; and installing judges like U.S. Supreme Court Associate Justice Neil Gorsuch, along with a growing list of far-right nominees to the federal bench.

“This president has been a tireless defender of life and conscience in America,” Pence said.

Pence’s hat tip to “conscience” wasn’t made in the abstract.

As abortion rights foes gathered for the march, Trump’s U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) furthered plans to bolster so-called conscience protections in the name of  “religious freedom,” or religious imposition. Top HHS officials announced on Friday morning a 216-page proposed rule expected to hurt LGBTQ patients and curtail access to reproductive health care. The rule would bolster the power of the agency’s new health-care discrimination wing, launched a day earlier.

Trump’s religious imposition executive order in May gave virulently anti-choice, anti-LGBTQ administration officials the precedent they needed to act. Trump touted his public health agency’s latest actions, along with rolling back an Obama-era effort to stop states from cutting off Planned Parenthood’s Medicaid funding, while addressing March for Life.

House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) and a number of congressional Republicans, fresh from an anti-abortion victory based on junk science and scare tactics, appeared at the march in person. On Friday morning the House passed the Born-Alive Abortion Survivors Protection Act,” which is based on the myth that infants are “born alive” after abortions and routinely murdered by abortion providers.

“Do you know why the pro-life movement is on the rise?” Ryan repeatedly asked the crowd. One of his answers: “Because science is on our side.”

Ryan’s elevation of junk science isn’t a new strategy. In 1997, White House Counselor Kellyanne Conway argued that “science and medicine” could shift opinions on abortion rights.

Earlier in the program, Trump echoed a dramatic mischaracterization of later abortion care he made as a presidential nominee. “Right now, in a number of states, the laws allow a baby to be born from his or her mother’s womb in the ninth month,” he said to the March for Life crowd, presumably meaning “aborted” rather than “born.”

Illinois Rep. Dan Lipinski (D), who advises Democrats for Life of America, a group that often echoes conservative talking points and junk science, was scheduled to address the march—but didn’t. Lipinski faces a tough primary against challenger Marie Newman, a pro-choice Democrat endorsed by NARAL Pro-Choice America and other progressive groups.

Lipinski was one of six Democrats to vote for the “born alive” bill.

A Lipinski spokesperson when contacted by Rewire could not immediately say why the congressman was unable to attend the march.