TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Abortion opponents expressed optimism Monday that President Donald Trump's early months in office would advance their cause as hundreds converged on the Kansas Statehouse to mark the 1973 Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion nationwide.
Trump, inaugurated Friday, has promised to fill a vacancy on the Supreme Court with what he has called a "pro-life" justice and has said he would sign anti-abortion measures approved by the Republican-controlled Congress. Even as GOP governors and legislatures enacted a raft of new anti-abortion laws over the past decade, the movement faced a big obstacle from Democrat Barack Obama's eight years as president.
"I have high expectations," said Karin Capron, a 69-year-old retired chemist from the Kansas City suburb of Mission who has been active in the anti-abortion movement for more than four decades. "The more hear about him (Trump), the more I think he can be very helpful to the pro-life movement."
Longtime anti-abortion activists mixed with private school students and joined prominent state officials at the annual Rally for Life, one day after the 44th anniversary of the Roe vs. Wade ruling.
The rally, which is regularly the largest annual political event at the Capitol in Topeka, was accompanied by worship services and workshops — a prelude to the movement's paramount event, the annual March for Life on Friday in Washington. The rally included prayers for Trump and seeking an end to abortion.
Trump on Monday reinstated a ban on providing federal money to international groups that perform abortions or provide information on the option. The policy has been instituted by Republican administrations and rescinded by Democratic ones since 1984.
The anti-abortion rally has drawn several thousand people to the Statehouse in the past; the crowd Monday had as many as 1,000 people. But a women's march and rally Saturday drew more than 3,000 people — many of them concerned about abortion rights.
Marilyn Ault, of Topeka, now 78, became an abortion rights supporter in the early 1960s after watching a friend recover from an illegal abortion. Ault, who ran the local Battered Women's Task Force, said she recalls fellow abortion-rights activists thinking after the Roe decision, "That was it, and we wouldn't have to worry about it," she said.
Capron, a lifelong Catholic, said she became active in the anti-abortion movement in 1973, following the decision, after seeing a slide show at a church that featured pictures of aborted fetuses. She'd just had a baby, and recalls, "I said, God, I've got to do something."
She has protested and handed out literature outside abortion clinics and staffed anti-abortion booths at fairs. She has marched to raise money for crisis pregnancy centers and worked as a pregnancy counselor.
Capron hopes Congress approves a measure to halt funding for Planned Parenthood, the nation's leading provider of abortions. Another congressional proposal would ban most abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy.
At the state level, tough new restrictions on abortion are being pushed in numerous Republican-controlled legislatures. For example, Ohio and Kentucky, within the past six weeks, have joined about 15 other states in banning abortions after 20 weeks.
Newly released data shows that the number of abortions in the U.S. fell to about 926,000 in 2014, the lowest level since 1974 — the year after the Roe v. Wade ruling. Reasons for the drop include the surge of abortion restrictions and the increased availability of effective contraceptives.
At the Kansas rally, Republican Gov. Sam Brownback, touted the 17 anti-abortion measures he'd signed into law in six years in office.
"That doesn't just happen," he said. "It's years of toil. It's years of prayer."
But Elise Higgins, a lobbyist for Planned Parenthood Great Plains, said the group was encouraged by the turnout at Saturday's rally and others across the nation.
"We know that reproductive rights are on the line now, and they're not going anywhere without a huge fight," she said.
Also contributing was Associated Press writer David Crary in New York.
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