Opponents of abortion rights are more likely to be Republican than Democratic. And Donald Trump was the anti-abortion rights presidential candidate in the 2016 election.
But that doesn’t mean the 2017 March For Life on Friday was exactly a Trump rally. The red Make America Great Again hats that speckled the crowd at Trump’s inauguration last week were few and far between, and marchers ranged from enthusiastic Trump supporters to people who fear what his presidency might mean — despite his opposition to abortion. Multiple attendees said the rally was not about politics. Rather, they said, it’s about one thing only.
Abortion is the top voting issue for Sue Thayer, 57, who runs what she described as a “pro-life pregnancy center” in Storm Lake, Iowa. She’s an independent, and for her, she said, the issue transcends party. She spoke of meeting members of the Democrats for Life at a local hotel.
“And I was like, ‘Oh, we know there’s two of you,'” she said, hastening to add, “That’s a joke.”
For her, party is far less of a priority than abortion. She said she told a recent Democratic Party caller to her house that she’d happily donate to any candidates opposed to abortion rights the party might have.
“There aren’t very many [Democrats],” she said. “So typically my first issue in voting is, are they pro-life? But typically that lines up with the Republican Party. I vote based on abortion.”
Another rally-goer quickly shut down NPR’s questions when we asked her about her political party.
“I would rather not even talk about that,” said Mary Lou McGrath, a 50-year-old massage therapist from Pawling, N.Y. “I really am here because not, ‘Why not?’ More like, ‘Why? Why wouldn’t I stand for life over death?’ So that’s really why I’m here today.”
She added, “It totally transcends politics. I really hate politics.”
The crowd was not entirely apolitical. Make America Great Again hats and Trump scarves and winter hats were in the mix, but finding them required some searching.
Vice President Mike Pence and Trump adviser Kellyanne Conway represented the White House, addressing the rally crowd. But the attendees weren’t all sold on Trump’s abortion-opposition credentials.
His past wavering on the issue made some nervous.
“I’m praying for him that it’s not just a matter of expediency,” said Father Don Bedore, a Catholic priest from Kansas. “And the future will tell. I mean, it’s hard to look into another person’s heart and see what’s there.”
Craig Eller, a 52-year-old government worker from Chesapeake, Va., who said he considers himself a conservative, said of Trump’s abortion positions, “Yes, of course it concerned me during the election, and I’m just going to wait and see. I support anyone who supports life. I don’t know what’s in Donald Trump’s mind, but I know that I believe that a child in the womb is a member of the human family, and I’m going to do what I can to make other people, help them recognize that as well.”
Not that everyone in the crowd shared that kind of doubtfulness. For many abortion-rights opponents, a Trump presidency, combined with a Republican-controlled Congress and a Supreme Court that already has one opening, is an exciting prospect.
“I think it’s our best chance really since Roe v. Wade to turn things around and have more of a culture for life,” Thayer said.
Trump is expected to announce his Supreme Court nominee Thursday to replace the late conservative Justice Antonin Scalia. NPR’s Nina Totenberg has reported that the pick is down to three, all conservatives.
For her part, Thayer knows very well that it’s possible to change one’s mind on abortion. She worked in a Planned Parenthood clinic before becoming an abortion-rights opponent, so when asked if Trump’s positions on abortion rattled her — he once called himself “very pro-choice” — she empathized.
“I was pro-choice, and now I’m pro-life,” Thayer said. “And so no, that doesn’t scare me at all.”
Hannah Millershaski, 18, wearing one of Trump’s signature red hats, said she was excited about the possibility that Trump might appoint Supreme Court justices who would oppose abortion rights.
“I see a great future for America with him in office,” she said.
While abortion-rights opponents are more likely to be Republican than Democratic (and advocates are more likely to be Democratic than Republican), views on the issue don’t fall neatly along party lines. According to an October poll from the Pew Research Center, 62 percent of Republicans believe abortion should be illegal in all or most cases, leaving one-in-three who believe it should be legal in all or most cases. Likewise, 18 percent of Democrats believe abortion should be illegal in all or most cases — a small but by no means insignificant share.
That means that some of the abortion opponents at the march didn’t exactly fall in line behind all of Trump’s policy choices. Father Bedore is one of them, and he worries about immigration in particular.
“I’ll be honest, where I live, and in my ministry, I encounter a lot of Hispanic families, a lot of people that come up from Mexico, wonderful people, faith-filled people, and they work hard. They have a place,” he said, adding that some of the immigrants he knows are in the country illegally. “I know people who have been in the process for 15 years, 18 years, and nothing has happened. And it’s not fair to them, and that’s one area that I really want to see some work done.”
Likewise, those Democrats Thayer met at the hotel were represented at the march. Kristen Day, the executive director of Democrats for Life of America, attended with others from her group. Like many Democrats, she was not exactly excited about Trump’s win.
“I wasn’t optimistic about what he could do for the country,” she said.
But she still appreciates his abortion-rights opposition, and this Democrat is still hopeful on a few other issues. For example, she is still hoping that some parts of the Affordable Care Act, like allowing young adults to stay on their parents’ insurance, will be maintained under a Trump presidency. In addition, she is hopeful on one women’s issue in particular.
“Oddly enough, I actually have a greater hope of passing paid maternity leave under the Trump administration,” she said, “simply because his daughter made that a big priority. And I think we have a real opportunity there.”