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Trump Wades Into Abortion Politics     05/22 06:10

   WASHINGTON (AP) -- President Donald Trump has long been an unlikely 
sweetheart for conservative and evangelical voters. Now, in the lead-up to the 
midterm elections, the thrice-married former Democrat who used to describe 
himself as "very pro-choice" is offering catnip to conservative voters with a 
new administration push to strip funding from Planned Parenthood and other 
family planning clinics.

   The initiative, announced last week, has arrived just in time for Trump to 
highlight it Tuesday night when he speaks at the Susan B. Anthony List's annual 
"Campaign for Life Gala." It is aimed at resurrecting parts of a Reagan-era 
mandate banning federally funded family planning clinics from referring women 
for abortions, or sharing space with abortion providers.

   Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the anti-abortion Susan B. Anthony List, 
says the move "will help tremendously" in the midterm elections.

   It's also the latest evidence that as he frets over the Russia investigation 
and prepares for a planned summit with North Korea, Trump has also been focused 
on fulfilling campaign promises and tending to issues that galvanize his base: 
holding a series of events to rail against the dangers of illegal immigration, 
pulling out of the Iran-nuclear deal and wading anew into the fight over 
abortion rights.

   Trump is far from a natural fit for conservative voters. He recently 
admitted to reimbursing his lawyer for paying pay hush money to a porn star who 
claimed she had sex with Trump (a charge that he denies). And Trump has bragged 
about groping women without their permission. During the campaign, he sometimes 
had trouble articulating his views on abortion, at one point suggesting women 
should be punished for having abortions. His campaign later walked back the 
statement, saying that if abortion were ever outlawed, he believed that doctors 
who perform them should be punished.

   Nonetheless, white evangelical voters overwhelmingly supported Trump in 
2016, and that support has only grown. A PRRI survey released last month found 
white evangelical support for Trump at an all-time high, with 75 percent of 
those polled holding a favorable view of the president and just 22 percent 
holding an unfavorable view. Support for Trump within the general population in 
the poll stood at just 42 percent.

   Religious groups like the Catholic Medical Association approve of a series 
of actions Trump has taken, beginning with his appointment of judges who oppose 
abortion rights, including Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch, and Trump's 
reinstatement of the global "gag rule" that bars federal funding for 
nongovernmental organizations that provide abortion referrals.

   Trump has also surrounded himself with staffers with deep ties to 
conservative groups, including counselor Kellyanne Conway and Director of 
Strategic Communications Mercedes Schlapp.

   Ralph Reed, chairman of the private Faith & Freedom Coalition, also pointed 
to the president's dismantling of the Iran nuclear deal and his decision to 
move the U.S. Embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem as steps that have 
played especially well with evangelical voters. But he said the president's 
actions on abortion hold special sway, in part because of Trump's early 
struggle with the issue.

   "On a policy level, I see it as a series of promises made and promises kept. 
And in this case, a pro-life promise made and pro-life promise kept. And I 
would argue those are the most important promises to keep because he was 
someone who was believed, accurately or otherwise, as a recent arrival to 
conservatism and someone who had an ideologically mixed past," Reed said.

   Reed added that as president, "Trump has done everything that he can to keep 
faith with the faith-based voters that provided him with his margin of victory 
in 2016."

   When it comes to the midterms, Reed said, "I expect Donald Trump to be 
rewarded for these efforts by a similarly historic turnout among evangelical 
and other pro-life voters."

   Dannenfelser, whose group works to elect candidates who want to reduce and 
ultimately end abortion, is planning to raise and spend $25 million this cycle, 
up from the $18 million the group spent in the lead-up to the 2016 elections.

   She said the president's latest move would play especially well with voters 
in states like Missouri, where Republican Attorney General Josh Hawley is 
challenging Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill, one of the Senate's most 
vulnerable incumbents, as well as in Indiana and North Dakota, where Republican 
Rep. Kevin Cramer is challenging Democratic Sen. Heidi Heitkamp.

   "He has proved himself refreshingly predictable," Dannenfelser said of 
Trump's record on abortion issues.

   The other side, meanwhile, is preparing for a potential legal fight against 
Trump's latest action and aiming to build support for candidates who support 
abortion rights.

   "We have to fight back in the best way we know how," the group Emily's List 
wrote in a fundraising email, "electing pro-choice Democratic women who will 
always protect reproductive freedom."


(KA)

 
 
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