Presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump will meet in June with conservative religious leaders, including those from anti-choice and anti-LGBTQ organizations, in a closed-door “conversation.”
Conservative organizations United in Purpose and My Faith Votes announced Wednesday in a press release that former GOP presidential candidate Ben Carson would facilitate “a guided discussion between Trump and diverse conservative Christian leaders to better understand him as a person, his position on important issues and his vision for America’s future.” The event, first reported on by Time, will be held June 21 in New York City and attended by more than 400 so-called social conservative leaders.
“Our goal is to be able to have a conversation that could lead to a better understanding of what Donald Trump has to offer to the country,” said Tony Perkins, head of the Family Research Council (FRC), according to Fox News. FRC is classified as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center for its anti-LGBTQ rhetoric.
Trump has said he would change the Republican platform of opposing abortion rights to include exceptions for cases of rape, incest, and life endangerment.
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Perkins, like many other extremists, had supported Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) in his run for the Republican nomination, but was left reeling by the candidate’s sudden departure from the presidential race. Evangelical voters’ support for Trump has been widely acknowledged, but leaders such as Perkins have questioned Trump’s commitment to conservatism.
Carson, chair of My Faith Votes, told Time that addressing these misgivings—including Trump’s ever-shifting position on abortion—would be part of the event. “Donald Trump is pro-life,” Carson assured the publication. “Now he might not be quite as pro-life as I am, but he definitely believes in the sanctity of life, does not believe in abortion on demand. That is a misconception that people have.”
Though some anti-choice leaders have signaled their support for Trump, others expressed hesitation about the Republican candidate when approached about attending the meeting.
Penny Nance, president of Concerned Women for America, told Time that a Trump campaign surrogate had reached out early this year about setting up a meeting, but after Nance demanded a policy discussion, Trump’s campaign backed out, and declined the group’s offer to brief the candidate on anti-choice issues.
Tom McClusky, vice president of March for Life Action, signaled concern about Trump. “Our theme for the March this year is that pro-life and pro-women go hand in hand,” McClusky told Time. “Some of his statements have been, to put it mildly, misogynist.”
These concerns about Trump follow months of criticism by Republicans and those who oppose abortion rights. Despite the GOP presidential candidate’s promises to defund Planned Parenthood and nominate Supreme Court justices who would overturn Roe v. Wade and criminalize abortion, Trump has come under fire for suggesting that abortion patients should be punished for undergoing the procedure, should it become illegal.