Donald Trump has become the first US president to attend the March for Life, America’s largest annual anti-abortion rally.
The president addressed thousands of protesters at the annual demonstration near the Capitol where his impeachment trial is ongoing.
He said: “We’re here for a very simple reason: to defend the right of every child born and unborn to fulfill their God-given potential.”
The March for Life first began in 1974 – a year after the Supreme Court legalized abortion in Roe v Wade.
Until now no president had ever attended the rally, which takes place just steps from the White House, though previous Republican presidents, including George W. Bush and Ronald Reagan, have addressed the group remotely.
Mike Pence became the first sitting vice-president to attend the rally in 2017.
President Trump’s appearance at the 47th March for Life delighted protesters.
Voters who support limiting abortion make up a key constituency for President Trump, who is seeking their support at the polls again in the 2020 election.
On January 24, marchers in Washington shouted “four more years” and “we love you”.
On the streets surrounding the National Mall vendors selling Trump flags and Make America Great Again hats were aplenty. Many of the attendees sported pro-Trump merchandise, though for some, there was a distinction between liking the president and liking his anti-abortion stance.
President Trump’s appearance on January 24 has already made a difference for some voters.
In 2016, 81% of Evangelical voters – a group for whom abortion is the biggest political issue – backed Donald Trump for president. He has continued to court them as his re-election campaign ramps up.
March for Life president Jeanne Mancini said President Trump and his administration “have been consistent champions for life”.
However, pro-choice groups said his appearance was a distraction tactic.
Ilyse Hogue, the president of NARAL Pro-Choice America, said it was “a desperate attempt to divert attention from his criminal presidency and fire up his radical base”.
America’s two main political parties are more polarized than ever on the issue of abortion.
Democrats campaigning for November’s White House election are unapologetically pro-choice – something many March for Life attendees said made the candidates inaccessible to anti-abortion supporters, even if they disliked President Trump.
In 2016, the Democratic Party for the first time included in its platform a call to repeal the Hyde Amendment, a decades-old law that prohibits using taxpayer money for abortions.
In 2019, leading White House contender Joe Biden was sharply criticized by his Democratic rivals for initially backing the Hyde Amendment. Amid uproar from the party’s liberal base, he reversed course in June.
Donald Trump, meanwhile, has bolstered support for anti-abortion views within the GOP.