WASHINGTON (AFP) – US President Donald Trump addressed the country's biggest annual anti-abortion rally on Friday (Jan 24) as members of the Senate sat in judgment just blocks away at his impeachment trial.
“Unborn children have never had a stronger defender in the White House,” Trump told thousands of anti-abortion campaigners at the “March for Life” on the National Mall.
“When it comes to abortion,” the Republican president said, “Democrats have embraced the most radical and extreme positions.”
Trump, seeking to shore up the Christian evangelical support he will need for re-election in November, is the first president to address the annual anti-abortion event in person.
He made only a single reference to the impeachment trial going on just down the street that could see him removed from office for abuse of power and obstruction of Congress.
“They are coming after me because I am fighting for you and we are fighting for those who have no voice,” he told the cheering crowd.
“And we will win because we know how to win.”
The seven Democratic impeachment “managers” are to make their final arguments at Trump's impeachment trial on Friday.
White House lawyers will then have 24 hours, starting Saturday, to present their defense of the president, who was impeached by the House of Representatives on Dec 18.
While impeachment will forever stain his record, Trump is virtually assured of acquittal by the Republican-held Senate – and is already looking past the trial to the re-election fight that awaits.
Before entering politics Trump defended abortion rights, but he has increasingly aligned himself with the anti-abortion movement as he works to firm up his electoral base – none more so than the white evangelicals who backed him overwhelmingly in 2016.
“President Trump has governed as the most pro-life president in history,” said Marjorie Dannenfelser, head of the anti-abortion campaign group Susan B. Anthony List.
The “March for Life,” which Trump has addressed by video message the last two years, is organised annually on or near the anniversary of the Supreme Court's ruling in the Roe versus Wade case which legalised the procedure nationwide on Jan 22, 1973.
SUPREME COURT BATTLEFIELD
Under Trump's presidency, abortion rights activists fear that landmark ruling is now under threat.
“Since day one, this administration has carried out a full-out assault on our health and our rights,” said Alexis McGill Johnson, acting president of the Planned Parenthood Action Fund, which supports abortion rights.
Since taking office in 2017, Trump has strengthened the Supreme Court's 5-4 conservative majority, naming two justices who oppose abortion – Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh – and galvanising abortion opponents.
Conservative-leaning Chief Justice John Roberts is seen as the potential swing vote if the constitutionality of abortion eventually comes before the court.
Around two-thirds of Americans say abortion should be legal, polls suggest.
But while Roe versus Wade remains the law of the land, numerous states have taken measures to limit access to the procedure.
The first big Supreme Court test of that anti-abortion push will come in March, when the court examines a Louisiana law whose restrictions on abortion are similar to a Texas law struck down nearly four years ago.
As it does each year, the march began at the National Mall and was to end at the Supreme Court near the Capitol building, where senators are sitting as jurors in Trump's impeachment trial.
Republicans hold a 53 to 47 edge in the Senate and a two-thirds majority of the 100 senators would be needed to convict and remove the president from office.