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Trump becomes first sitting president to attend March for Life rally

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Trump on Friday became the first sitting president to address the annual anti-abortion event in person.   -  
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Patrick Semansky AP
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WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump on Friday became the first sitting president to attend the annual anti-abortion March for Life rally in Washington, presenting himself as an unwavering advocate for limiting abortion access.

"Unborn children have never had a stronger defender in the White House," Trump said to an energized crowd. "And as the Bible tells us, each person is wonderfully made."

In his brief remarks, Trump criticized Democrats and falsely accused them of supporting abortion "up until the moment of birth."

"They are coming after me because I am fighting for you and we are fighting for those that have no voice, and we will win because we know how to win," the president said. "Together we are the voice for the voiceless."

Every year since 1974, thousands of anti-abortion activists from around the country have marched from the White House Ellipse to the Capitol in protest of the landmark Supreme Court decision Roe v. Wade, which legalized abortion. But no sitting Republican president has ever made the trip from the White House to the National Mall for the event, instead generally opting to address the group via video or phone message — sometimes from just a few hundred feet away.

"It is my profound honor to be the first president in history to attend the March for Life," Trump said. "We are here for a very simple reason: to defend the right of every child, born and unborn, to fulfill their God-given potential."

White House counselor Kellyanne Conway and Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar also attended the event, along with several elected officials.

Trump, who described himself in 1999 to NBC as "pro-choice," has been supportive of the rally in the past. He has addressed the group via video message and has sent Vice President Mike Pence to attend the march in person, making him the first sitting vice president to do so.

His decision to attend the event on Friday comes as he faces an impeachment trial in the Senate and as he works to shore up his political base ahead of his 2020 re-election campaign. Anti-abortion conservatives and evangelical Christians were key to Trump's winning coalition in 2016, with his team viewing them as a core element of his 2020 base.

Trump announced that he would attend March for Life just days after the Susan B. Anthony List, an anti-abortion political action group, said it planned to spend $52 million in the 2020 election cycle to help his re-election and aid the campaigns of anti-abortion Senate Republicans.

Organizers for March for Life praised Trump on Friday as the "most pro-life" president in history, a title Trump warmly embraced as he ticked through actions he has taken as president to limit access to abortion.

"During my first week in office I reinstated and expanded the Mexico City policy and we issued a landmark pro-life rule to govern the use of Title Xtaxpayer funding. I notified Congress that I would veto any legislation that weakens pro-life policies or that encourages the destruction of human life," Trump said, also touting his two appointments to the Supreme Court.

Hours before Trump spoke at the rally, his administration threatened California with a potential loss of federal health care funds over the state's requirement that insurance plans cover abortions.

Trump's actions have been criticized by abortion rights advocates and experts who say that such restrictions have negatively impacted women's access to health care.

Some opponents of the president accused him of attending the Friday rally to district from his impeachment trial. Ilyse Hogue, the president of NARAL Pro-Choice America, wrote on Twitter that his decision to address the march in person was "a desperate attempt to divert attention from his criminal presidency and fire up his radical base."

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