Strategy in Attendance: A Closer Look at Trump's March for Life Appearance

The 47th annual March for Life took place in Washington D.C. on January 24, 2020, but this year marked a significant addition, the attendance of President Trump.

The March for Life began in 1974, a year after Roe v. Wade was decided in the Supreme Court, as a movement to urge lawmakers to “find a legislative solution to the Supreme Court’s decision.” 

Nellie Gray, founder of the annual event, was a Roman Catholic, and the event has always had a powerful base of religious supporters. This year, almost 200 students from Colorado Christian University led the march, and various other religious groups and religious-based schools had strong turnouts.

President of March for Life, Jeanne Mancini,stated that, “Increasing evangelical participation at the March for Life is, and has been, an organizational goal and broader win for the movement.” Pro-life supporters are not strictly religious conservatives and/or Republicans, but abortion has historically been an issue divided across political and secular lines. 

It was estimated that the most-attended year at the March for Life was in 2009—and it’s no coincidence that the event fell just days after President Obama’s first inauguration. Although President Trump was the first sitting president to attend the march in person, other Republican presidents have telephoned in with their support, including Ronald Reagan in 1987 and George W. Bush in 2003. In 2017, and again in 2019, Vice President Pence became the first vice president to attend and speak at the march, and President Trump addressed the crowd via satellite in 2018 and 2019.

Since his election in 2016, Trump has led a pro-life presidency despite earlier claims identifying himself as pro-choice. He has decreased federal funding to groups that perform abortion (both abroad and domestically), a move that has negatively affected Planned Parenthood. He successfully nominated—although not without significant opposition, especially regarding Brett Kavanaugh—two conservative Supreme Court Justices that have the potential to roll back the ruling in Roe v. Wade.

The president elected in 2020 may have the opportunity to nominate at least one Supreme Court Judge, and Trump’s potential nominee could play an important role in abortion access in the United States. Additionally, in March the Supreme Court is set to hear a case regarding hospital privileges for doctors who perform abortions, and this hearing has the capacity to significantly limit abortion access. 

Trump’s decision to attend the March for Life this year is significant because of its timeliness. Although President Trump has now been acquitted by the Senate, at the time of the march the House of Representatives had voted in favor of two articles of impeachment. With the 2020 presidential election looming closer, Trump is gathering support in one of his key demographic bases. 

In 2016, white evangelicals made up approx. 17 percent of voters. However, white evangelicals accounted for 26 percent of voters in the 2016 presidential election, and approx. 77 percent of them voted for Trump. As of 2018, white evangelicals had decreased to 15.3 percent of the population, and 75 percent claimed to vote for Republican candidates in the midterm elections. In the 2020 presidential election, Trump needs a strong turnout from this shrinking demographic.

 Jeanne Mancini made it clear that her support of Trump’s reelection is contingent upon his future decisions regarding abortion access. In her remarks preceding his address, she emphasized this, saying, “Thank you for all the work you will do for life.” In order to maintain support from pro-life voters, Trump has to show his dedication to pro-life movements, whether that means nominating pro-life Justices or supporting anti-abortion legislation.

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