RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
Thousands of anti-abortion rights activists are preparing to march in D.C. today, and President Trump will be there, too. It'll be the first time a sitting president will address the annual March for Life in person, not just by video feed. NPR's Sarah McCammon will be there to cover it, and she is in our studio now.
SARAH MCCAMMON, BYLINE: Morning, Rachel.
MARTIN: So start off by just placing the March for Life - place it in the culture for us because this is a highly significant event that happens every year, right?
MCCAMMON: Right. It's been happening for decades, almost back to the early '70s when the Roe v. Wade decision legalized abortion nationwide. This march was organized in response to that, and it's been happening ever since. Thousands of anti-abortion rights activists come to D.C. every year. And some hold marches at other dates in their own capitals and cities, but this is the big one. And you know, in the past, other Republican presidents have sent statements or letters or phoned in. President Trump himself two years ago spoke live via video feed from the White House Rose Garden.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Today, I'm honored and really proud to be the first president to stand with you here at the White House to address the 45th March for Life. That's very, very special.
MCCAMMON: And what's different today is that President Trump will be at the march in person. You know, there was speculation in the past that some of those previous Republican presidents have wanted to court anti-abortion voters without a photo-op in front of the big crowd out of fear of turning off more moderate voters. But President Trump doesn't seem worried about that. He's going to be there today.
MARTIN: Right. Because, I mean, this is his base. And it's hard to ignore the fact that it's 2020, right, Sarah?
MCCAMMON: Right. It's an election year. There's an impeachment trial going on in the Senate. And President Trump has had an interesting trajectory, you may remember, with the abortion issue. A lot of social conservatives, initially, were sort of skeptical of him because of his past support for abortion rights.
MCCAMMON: It took a while for them to come around. But by and large, those for whom this is a key voting issue have come around and support him enthusiastically. I talked to Marjorie Dannenfelser of the anti-abortion rights group the Susan B. Anthony List.
MARJORIE DANNENFELSER: No one in that crowd needs persuading, but everyone in that crowd needs reminding what's at stake this coming election. It won't be a cajoling and a persuasion moment; it'll be a momentum moment.
MCCAMMON: And she's pleased with President Trump's appointment of lots of conservative federal judges, especially to the U.S. Supreme Court. And of course, as we've said, Trump is making this appearance during an election year. It's a good moment for him to rally his base.
MARTIN: And what does his appearance mean for the other side in this debate - abortion rights advocates?
MCCAMMON: Well, they're reminding their voters of some of these same positions - President Trump's position on abortion, contraception, judges - as a reason they say to vote against him this year. I talked to Planned Parenthood's acting president, Alexis McGill Johnson. She says she's not surprised that Trump is doing this.
ALEXIS MCGILL JOHNSON: I think this is just confirmation - right? - that the sitting president of the United States is determined to do whatever he possibly can to end people's access and ability to access abortion. We've seen this completely under his administration, and we've seen the full-out assault on our health and human rights.
MCCAMMON: And again, she points to things like federal judges and cutting family planning funds to groups like Planned Parenthood as a reason that her voters are going to oppose Trump.
MARTIN: So both sides see an advantage in a way to leverage this particular moment in his presence at this rally. I mean, I guess my next question is, what more are abortion opponents looking for? You talk about the fact that Trump has appointed so many judges, not just to the court but at the federal level who are in line with their values. What more do they want?
MCCAMMON: Well, in short, they want more of the same. They want to preserve what they see as gains over the last few years. And both sides are aware that the next president may very well have another Supreme Court pick to choose.
MARTIN: NPR's Sarah McCammon reporting on this for us. We appreciate it. Thank you, Sarah.
MCCAMMON: Thank you.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.