On Friday, President Donald Trump became the first president to address protesters at the March for Life — the biggest annual anti-abortion gathering in the United States — from the Rose Garden.
“Because of you, tens of thousands of Americans have been born and reached their full, God-given potential,” Trump told the marchers, who were gathered a few blocks away on the National Mall. "Under my administration, we will always defend the very first right in the Declaration of Independence, and that is the right to life.”
Trump’s speech was carried via satellite, a presidential first. Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush, the only two other presidents who spoke to the March for Life gathering, did so over the phone.
It was also Trump’s second attempt Friday to embrace the anti-abortion community, a crucial segment of his base: Just an hour before, his Department of Health and Human Services rescinded Obama-era guidance that once kept states from withholding Medicaid funds from abortion providers.
“States that run Medicaid jointly with the federal government traditionally have had a say in whether providers within their borders are eligible to participate in the Medicaid program and bill Medicaid for services,” Charmaine Yoest, assistant secretary of public affairs for HHS, said in a press call on Friday. “We believe state flexibility is a deeply important principle.”
Several states have sought to cut Planned Parenthood and other abortion providers out of state family planning programs. (It is already illegal for taxpayer dollars to go to abortion services; instead, these providers are providing other health care services to individuals who use Medicaid.) However, under Barack Obama, federal health officials maintained that the law gives Medicaid users the right to “free choice of provider.” If states tried to use abortion-related reasons to cut providers out of their health care initiatives, officials cautioned, those programs could lose federal funding.
Most states balked at the prospect. Only Texas moved forward, losing millions of federal dollars in funding for a program for low-income women.
In May, Texas asked the Trump administration to reinstate its funding, even though it will not add abortion providers back into its program. It remains unclear whether HHS’ Friday announcement means Texas’ request will be granted, but a letter sent to state Medicaid directors suggests that programs trying to defund abortion providers will no longer need to first demonstrate that these providers acted criminally or are unfit.
In a statement, Dawn Laguens, executive vice president for Planned Parenthood Action Fund, said HHS’ plan would endanger the nation’s health care.
“Without Planned Parenthood, many of our patients would lose access to health care altogether — either because there are no other providers in their community or because other clinics cannot serve all of our patients,” Laguens said. “They couldn’t get the votes to pass it in Congress, so now they are pushing states to try and block care at Planned Parenthood.”
The Trump administration wasn’t the only wing of government to turn its attention to the issue of abortion on Friday. A House vote on a bill requiring healthcare workers to care for infant “abortion survivors” also took place few hours before the March for Life kicked off.
Under the “Born-Alive Abortion Survivors Protection Act,” health care workers would be required to give “proper degree of care” to babies who are born following an attempted abortion, and face both criminal and civil penalties if they don’t.
“It’s not about Roe v. Wade,” said Tennessee Republican Rep. Marsha Blackburn, who sponsored the bill. “It is all about women and babies. It gives that mother who has that abortion and it’s botched and that baby survives, it gives her that civil right of action that she ought to have.”
But opponents of the bill argued that it’s unnecessary, since it’s already illegal to let a baby die. While Blackburn brought up Kermit Gosnell , who ran a Philadelphia abortion clinic and was convicted of murdering infants who survived abortion procedures, New York Democratic Rep. Jerry Nadler pointed out that Gosnell is already in jail.
“The law already requires the highest standard of care for all newborns,” Nadler said. “This bill does nothing new to protect infants in any respect.”
Her voice hoarse, Democratic Illinois Rep. Jan Schakowsky added that the bill was “a cynical attempt to appease those who have come to D.C. to advocate for the reversal of Roe v. Wade.”
Though the bill passed the House of Representatives, with 241 votes in favor and 183 against, it’s unlikely to gain the 60 votes it would need in the Senate to become law.
Cover: President Donald Trump speaks to March for Life participants and pro-life leaders in the Rose Garden at the White House on January 19, 2018 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)