Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump ignored abortion rights at the anti-choice Values Voter Summit over the weekend, even as his running mate, Indiana Gov. Mike Pence (R), doubled down on ending legal abortion in the United States.
Addressing the extremist Family Research Council’s (FRC) annual summit on last week in Washington, D.C., Trump attempted to convince the room full of conservative Christians that he would have their backs should he be elected in November. Despite promising to “fight for the American family and American family values,” any mention of abortion was absent from the GOP nominee’s speech.
The summit “was created in 2006 to provide a forum to help inform and mobilize citizens across America to preserve the bedrock values of traditional marriage, religious liberty, sanctity of life and limited government that make our nation strong,” according to the event’s website. Trump’s failure to discuss abortion marked a noticeable omission given the opportunity the summit presented to try to move voters motivated by these issues to the polls amid the GOP candidate’s shifting positions on abortion rights.
Pence, however, offered a fervent pitch to the so-called values voters the next day, suggesting that the Trump-Pence ticket would work to limit and eventually end legal access to abortion care.
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“I want to live to see the day that we put the sanctity of life back at the center of American law, and we send Roe v. Wade to the ash heap of history, where it belongs,” said Pence.
Pence appeared poised to squash fears among conservative voters about Trump’s murky anti-abortion record.
“Let me assure you, the Trump-Pence administration will stand for the sanctity of life and defend the unborn from the first day we take office,” the Indiana governor, a supporter of some of the country’s most restrictive anti-abortion measures, told the crowd.
Pence touted fake clinics, also known as crisis pregnancy centers—organizations that routinely lie to pregnant people to persuade them not to seek abortion care—that he helped to fund in his home state. He name-checked Real Alternatives, the fake clinic umbrella organization that received $3.5 million in state funds under his leadership.
Pence pledged that Trump will sign into law the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act, the popular anti-choice copycat legislation banning abortion care at 20 weeks; uphold the Hyde Amendment, the restriction on federal funding for abortion care that disproportionately impacts people with low incomes and people of color; and appoint U.S. Supreme Court justices “who will strictly construe the Constitution of the United States in the tradition of the late and great justice Antonin Scalia.”
Pence perpetuated the myth that Planned Parenthood uses federal Title X family planning money to fund abortion care.
“The days of public funding for Planned Parenthood are over when the Trump-Pence administration arrives in Washington, D.C.,” Pence said.
Trump will carry out the wide-ranging anti-abortion agenda because he “understands the moral imperative” behind the cause, the Pence said. “We’ve spoken of it many times, in fact, did again this morning on my way here to see you.”
FRC President Tony Perkins also acted as a de facto anti-choice apologist for Trump. Perkins dismissed Trump’s failure to address abortion during his summit speech, telling Rewire during a Saturday press conference that the Republican candidate rarely addresses actual policies.
“If you noticed, Donald Trump doesn’t talk a lot about specific policies. He talks broadly because he’s not a policy guy,” Perkins said, later adding that Trump had “made clear in other settings [his stance] on his life issues” and that was “one of the reasons that you heard from Mike Pence today.”
“In fact [Pence] mentioned in his speech that he had spoken with Donald Trump this morning about the life issue, and he made it very clear: Planned Parenthood, defund it,” Perkins said.
Merrie Turner, an anti-abortion activist arrested during extremist group Operation Rescue’s 1991 “Summer of Mercy” in Wichita, Kansas, and convicted on some of those charges for her role in the clinic protests, told Rewire that Trump addressed abortion even if it wasn’t explicit in his summit speech.
“Well, first of all, he did address it if people were listening,” Turner said in a Saturday interview, pointing to Trump’s brief discussion of the Supreme Court during his speech. “What he said was that he … would place Supreme Court justices on the Court who replicated that of Antonin Scalia who recently passed away, and is missing from the Court and is very pro-life, and would have voted so on any cases.”
Turner suggested that Trump’s view on abortion was “evolving” and that by not mentioning it, he would ensure he didn’t alienate any voters.
“[H]e’s being educated on the issue and what abortion really is. You know, even as we speak he is learning more and understanding more,” Turner said. “So at the same time, he realizes it’s important not to alienate American citizens from choosing to perhaps bring he and Mr. Pence into the White House to stand for other issues as well. And so I think that he is wise in not making too much of that issue at this point.”
Though Trump didn’t see fit to discuss abortion at the Values Voter Summit, it was still a hot topic among conservative speakers and panelists at the event.
Sen. Tim Scott (R-SC) kicked off Friday morning by telling the crowd that prior to becoming a member of Congress, he brought an employee to a fake clinic after they had told him they were pregnant.
“[W]e had a long conversation, and so I took her to a crisis pregnancy center. She was nervous, confused, in pain—but those folks at the crisis pregnancy center walked her through the process to help her make the choice of life,” Scott said. “So as an elected official, when I have the responsibility and the opportunity, the privilege to protect life, I do so having been in the private sector, realizing the importance that we should place on life and the choice of life.”
The weekend’s scheduled events included a speech from David Daleiden, the anti-choice activist behind the discredited Center for Medical Progress videos attempting to smear Planned Parenthood through allegations that the provider profited from fetal tissue donations.
Daleiden rebuffed multiple email and in-person requests for an interview with Rewire.