At the National Mall in Washington, D.C., not far from where the Senate was debating his historic impeachment, Donald Trump on Friday made a different sort of history. He became the first president to attend the annual March for Life anti-abortion rally.
The event, now in its 47th year, is held nationally on the anniversary of the Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision that legalized abortion in all 50 states.
Security was so painstaking that many of the attendees hadn’t made it through when President Trump addressed the crowd, declaring, “Unborn children have never had a stronger defender in the White House.” Trump pointed to the confirmation of 187 conservative federal judges during his time in office — likely one of his lasting legacies — including two Supreme Court justices.
In his 15-minute address, he talked about the immense crowd size and the thousands waiting to get inside and he lamented Democrats’ position on abortion.
Sens. Mike Lee of Utah and James Lankford of Oklahoma flanked the president, taking a break from their responsibilities as jurors in Trump’s impeachment trial at the Capitol. (Trump himself did not refer to his impeachment, though he not been shy about assailing it through his Twitter account and elsewhere.)
Vice President Mike Pence and Second Lady Karen Pence sent a video message while visiting the Vatican. “Life is winning in this country,” Vice President Pence said, calling Trump “most pro-life president” the country has ever had.
In a statement after Trump’s speech at the rally, Planned Parenthood executive Alexis McGill Johnson pushed back on his rhetoric, according to The New York Times.
“While Trump stands with the small number of Americans who want politicians to interfere with their personal health decisions, we’ll be standing with the nearly 80 percent of Americans who support abortion access,” she said. “We will never stop fighting for all of the people in this country who need access to sexual and reproductive health care, including abortion.”
On Friday, thousands of Catholic school students, nuns, priests and members of Catholic and Christian pro-life groups put up with the security lines, cold temperatures and shoulder-to-shoulder crowds to attend the rally, which they call the largest human rights demonstration in the world.
The theme of the march this year was “Pro Life Is Pro Woman.”
Most had planned to come before learning the president would speak, as that addition to the program was only made public days ago, but they were thrilled by his participation. Some previous Republican presidents have either appeared by video at the rally or sent other officials. Trump gave a videoed speech in 2018.
Susan Holmes traveled with her family from outside Raleigh, North Carolina, for their annual attendance at the event.
“I’ve never seen a president in person before,” daughter Anna Holmes says. “It was pretty exciting that he came.”
The Holmes family carried a sign with an arrow touting “This unplanned pregnancy is about to graduate high school! Her birth mother chose life.” (Anna was adopted after her birth mother became pregnant as a teenager.)
Most of the marchers had come with a group — by bus, plane, train and cars from all over the country. Some said they had no political leanings, while many carried Trump signs, flags and “Make America Great Again” hats.
Several women held pre-printed signs that declared “I regret my abortion.”
The crowd marched up Constitution Avenue to the Capitol in front of a marching band. A few groups sang. Many prayed on the sidewalk in front of the Capitol and the Supreme Court.
A group of students wearing pro-life and MAGA hats surrounded Sen. Ted Cruz as he exited the Capitol on a break from the president’s impeachment trial over his alleged abuse of power and obstruction in the Ukraine scandal.
Cruz, a former presidential candidate who lost the 2016 Republican primary to Trump, locked arms and smiled for group photos.
Behind him, one of the few counter-protesters of the day held up a sign that said “Save the Planet: Imprison Trump.”