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Missourians who gathered for anti-abortion rally feel like Washington is moving their way

Missourians who gathered for anti-abortion rally feel like Washington is moving their way

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WASHINGTON • The anti-abortion movement is feeling as bullish as the stock market.

“Because of your efforts, I think we’re winning,” Rep. Blaine Luetkemeyer, R-St. Elizabeth, told about 100 Missourians who gathered in a Senate hearing room before the March for Life’s 45th anniversary rally Friday.

“Science,” he said, “is on our side.”

A few minutes later, Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., told the group: “Your dedicated effort to life and understanding and appreciating life is moving the country in the direction we want it to move, just not as fast we would like it to move.

“Things are better than they were. They are not as good as they need to be in terms of respecting and appreciating the sanctity of life.”

Their declarations came hours before Donald Trump became the first president to directly address the tens of thousands who gathered on the National Mall, doing so on screen via satellite from the White House’s Rose Garden. Trump’s speech came just after the House of Representatives, with Rep. Ann Wagner, R-Ballwin, presiding, passed legislation toughening federal law protecting children who survive attempted abortions.

That bill passed, 241-183, with all 235 Republicans who voted casting yes votes, and six Democrats joining them. It’s on to the Senate, where it faces tougher prospects in a body narrowly controlled by Republicans.

Missouri’s congressional delegation is one of the most anti-abortion groups in Congress, and that fact was reinforced Friday with large numbers of Missourians who rallied three days before the 45th anniversary of the Roe vs. Wade decision legalizing abortion.

Half of the 100 people who gathered to listen to members of the delegation were teenagers or younger, including two 9-year-olds. The Catholic Archdiocese of St. Louis says it brought 2,200 young people for the rally.

Abortion rights advocates will join this weekend in one-year anniversary rallies of the women’s resistance march that followed Trump’s inaugural last year. They will be held around the country with the main one in Las Vegas, where Cecile Richards, president of Planned Parenthood, will be a key speaker.

Her organization said Friday that “we’re facing a powerful and well-funded opposition who have proven they will do almost anything to restrict access to abortion and affordable birth control.”

Rep. Vicky Hartzler, R-Harrisonville, who joined Trump at the White House, lauded the Trump administration’s announcement this week that it had established an office of “Conscience and Religious Freedom” to protect health care workers who refuse to participate in medical procedures they say violate their principles.

Critics have said that’s a dangerous move that could deny health care based on ideological grounds.

Hartzler, along with other politicians who spoke to the Missouri pre-rally gathering, lauded Trump’s choice of Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court, the appointments of conservative judges in lower federal courts and the appointment of people from the anti-abortion movement to key administration posts, including top Trump adviser Kellyanne Conway.

Reps. Billy Long, R-Springfield, and Jason Smith, R-Salem, also addressed the Missourians. Long said he was encouraged by Republican leadership’s willingness to take up more legislation restricting abortion.

The House has passed several bills that are not likely to pass the Senate, however, including “pain-capable” legislation that essentially bans late-term abortions. Blunt said that the Senate was likely to debate that bill soon but that it lacked the requisite 60 votes to overcome procedural barriers to passage. In his speech, Trump called for the Senate to pass the bill.

Wagner, who became a grandmother for the first time Thursday, first joined the annual march in 1990. She said the difference today “is the youth, and also the science has changed so much.”

“I think that does allow us to not just change things legislatively, but to change hearts and minds, which is really how you do this kind of stuff,” Wagner said.

She, and others, noted the significance of Trump as the first president to address the March for Life rally.

“Because of you, thousands of Americans have been born and reached their God-given potential,” said Trump who, as a younger man, identified himself in favor of abortion rights.

“Under my administration we will always defend the very first right in the Declaration of Independence, and that is the right to life,” Trump said. He was flanked by young adults, some holding children.

Gerard Nieters, legislative director for Missouri Right to Life, took note of Trump’s actions when he told the Missourians: “Who would have thought that an egotistical billionaire would have done more for the pro-life movement than anyone in my lifetime?”

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Chuck Raasch is a reporter for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

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