Donald Trump on Friday became the first sitting president in U.S. history to attend the so-called March for Life, the annual anti-abortion rally held in Washington, D.C., that draws thousands of participants. President Trump — who once described himself as “pro-choice in every respect” — accused Democrats of infanticide and falsely stated that Virginia Governor Ralph Northam supports an abortion bill that would “execute a baby after birth.” The March for Life began in 1974 in response to the landmark 1973 Supreme Court ruling in Roe v. Wade, which guaranteed the constitutional right to abortion. Past U.S. presidents who opposed abortion considered the march too extreme and divisive to attend, and instead sent surrogates or recorded video messages. The same day that Trump addressed anti-abortion activists in Washington, his administration threatened to cut off federal funding for some health programs in California unless the state ends its requirement that private health insurers cover abortions. California Governor Gavin Newsom said the state would not change its policy. Trump’s Education Secretary Betsy DeVos also recently compared anti-abortion activism to the fight to end slavery. We speak with Fatima Goss Graves, president and CEO of the National Women’s Law Center.
AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman. We are broadcasting from Park City, Utah. On Friday, Democrats made — let me talk about what happened this past week, as we turn to the fight for reproductive rights, as the Trump administration launched an all-out assault on abortion. On Friday, Democrats made the case for his removal from office in the Senate. Just blocks away, President Trump became the first sitting president in U.S. history to attend and address the annual so-called March for Life on the National Mall.
PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: It is my profound honor to be the first president in history to attend the March for Life. We’re here for a very simple reason: to defend the right of every child, born and unborn, to fulfill their God-given potential.
AMY GOODMAN: President Trump, who once described himself as “pro-choice in every respect,” accused Democrats of infanticide and falsely stated that Virginia Governor Ralph Northam supports an abortion bill that would, quote, “execute a baby after birth.”
The annual anti-abortion march began in 1974 in response to the landmark 1973 Supreme Court case ruling Roe v. Wade, which guaranteed the constitutional right to abortion. Past U.S. presidents who opposed abortion considered the march too extreme and divisive to attend, and instead sent a surrogate or joined via video message.
The same day Trump addressed anti-abortion activists in Washington, his administration threatened to cut off some federal funding to California unless the state ends its requirement that private health insurers cover abortion. California Governor Gavin Newsom said the state would not change its policy.
This followed Education Secretary Betsy DeVos comparing the anti-abortion movement to the fight to end slavery. She reportedly told a crowd at the Museum of the Bible in Washington, quote, “[Lincoln] too contended with the pro-choice arguments of his day. They suggested that a state’s choice to be slave or to be free had no moral question in it. Lincoln was right about the slavery choice then, and he would be right about the life choice today.” She went on to tell the audience that she wants to make abortion, quote, “unconstitutional” and “unthinkable.” In response, Massachusetts Congressmember Ayanna Pressley tweeted, quote, “Dear Betsy, As a Black woman & the Chair of the abortion access task force, I invite you to come by the Hill and say this to my face. Would welcome the opportunity to educate you,” Pressley said.
Well, for more, still with us in Washington, D.C., Fatima Goss Graves, president and CEO of the National Women’s Law Center.
Can you talk about President Trump setting precedent here, the first sitting president to address the so-called March for Life in Washington, and its significance?
FATIMA GOSS GRAVES: Well, there’s a reason that no other sitting president had actually attended that march. It is so outside the mainstream, and it is filled with hateful rhetoric, hateful rhetoric around women, about reproductive justice. That’s why they haven’t actually shown up in person. And it also is a focal point. So it’s a time to sort of amp up the rhetoric, which we saw all last week, and deliver harmful policy. So this is all happening in the context, of course, of impeachment, but it’s really, really sending a dangerous precedent going forward.
AMY GOODMAN: I want to turn to Tim Russert interviewing Donald Trump in 1999, when he was considering a presidential run on the Reform Party ticket.
TIM RUSSERT: Partial-birth abortion, the eliminating of abortion in the third trimester, big issue in Washington. Would President Trump ban partial-birth abortion?
DONALD TRUMP: Well, look, I’m — I’m very pro-choice. I hate the concept of abortion. I hate it. I hate everything it stands for. I cringe when I listen to people debating the subject. But you still — I just believe in choice. And again, it may be a little bit of a New York background, because there is some different attitude in different parts of the country. And, you know, I was raised in New York and grew up and work and everything else in New York City. But I am strongly for choice, and yet I hate the concept of abortion.
TIM RUSSERT: But you would not ban it?
DONALD TRUMP: No.
TIM RUSSERT: Or ban partial-birth abortion?
DONALD TRUMP: No. I would — I would — I am — I am pro-choice in every respect and as far as it goes. But I just hate it.
AMY GOODMAN: So, that was President Trump in 1999. Fatima Goss Graves, talk about the significance. I mean, he’s saying, “I am pro-choice in every way,” and now he’s the first sitting president ever to address the March for Life march in Washington.
FATIMA GOSS GRAVES: Right. What a difference two decades makes in terms of his ability to play to his base. That’s what this is about. The irony is, seven in 10 people do not want to see Roe v. Wade overturned. So he is now out of step with the majority of people and has moved away from where most people are, both in 1999, but certainly where they are right now.
AMY GOODMAN: If you could then go to what happened on Wednesday, where the Education Secretary Betsy DeVos says she wants to make abortion “unconstitutional” and “unthinkable” and compared abortion to slavery?
FATIMA GOSS GRAVES: It’s outrageous. I mean, it is both — it’s outrageous to really compare anything to slavery, but it is outrageous to especially compare abortion to slavery. In order to do so, you have to fully ignore a key feature of slavery, which was reproductive coercion, both the rape that black women endured, the forced pregnancy, the forced childbirth, and then they could not even determine whether and how or where their children were raised. So the insult of actually comparing abortion to slavery is just absurd for the secretary. If the secretary was actually concerned about addressing the badges of slavery, she has the full authority to do so with her role as secretary of education. She could be dismantling the school-to-prison pipeline. She could be focusing on inequities by race and by gender in school. You know, it is this March for Life that allowed them to heap up this rhetoric this week, and this rhetoric itself is dangerous.
AMY GOODMAN: And then, the significance of what is taking place now in California? I mean, it looks like, a few weeks ago, as the impeachment trial was about to happen, you have President Trump assassinating the Iranian leader, Qassem Soleimani. Now, as the impeachment trial is in full progress, unexpectedly for many, he announces he’s going to speak at the march, and then he goes after California. Can you talk about the significance of saying they’ll cut federal funding for some programs if California continues to require private insurers to cover abortion?
FATIMA GOSS GRAVES: I should begin by saying that there is no basis in law for him to do this thing. And the private insurers have said they don’t have a problem covering abortion. The only people who have a problem with it are President Trump and his need to sort of ramp up the rhetoric this week, and people who are not insurance — bosses, basically — that want to take away the right to have abortion care covered by insurance plans.
But the results of this are going to be terrible for the state of California, if it actually were to go through. He’s basically threatening to hold hostage billions of dollars, dollars that go to providing healthcare, dollars that are actually going to provide things like reducing maternal mortality, dealing with pregnancy in the full range of services that people need. So these are harmful threats. They are both anti-women and anti-life, and they are only coming out right now because of a need to rally up a base.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, Fatima Goss Graves, what ultimately gives you hope at this point? We’re in Utah. The Legislature today is considering major cases around the so-called heartbeat bill. It’s often seen as the testing ground for the rest of the country. And yet you see tremendous grassroots activism, which we’re going to talk about right now in a moment.
FATIMA GOSS GRAVES: Listen, we are in this really interesting point in history where seven in 10 people do not want to see Roe v. Wade overturned, and at the same time we have politicians who are trying to rally up their base and really roll back our rights in ways that are dangerous. So now is not the time for people to sit on the sidelines on this issue. People understand that our lives and our futures are really at stake. And as states race to do things like ban abortion, to really do things that put people in dangerous situations, it’s time for everyone to come on the sidelines as we saw all that happen last year. What we know is that they’re doing things that go directly against our Constitution. They are not found valid under the law, and we have, fortunately, had courts saying that again and again. But what we really need right now is also the people power to remind people that seven in 10 people do not want these steps to be taken.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, I want to thank you, Fatima Goss Graves, president and CEO of the National Women’s Law Center, who just flew from Park City, Utah, back to Washington, D.C.
FATIMA GOSS GRAVES: I did.