Donald Trump on Friday named one of the nation’s top anti-abortion activists to his campaign coalition, in the clearest signal yet that the presidential candidate has fully embraced Republicans’ typically harsh stance against abortion.
Marjorie Dannenfelser, the president of Susan B Anthony List, a group that works to elect Republican, anti-abortion women, will chair the loose coalition of conservative, anti-abortion rights leaders who are working to elect the Republican nominee. Trump’s campaign also announced that he would commit to a law banning public funding of abortion.
The appointment is a sharp about-face for both Dannenfelser, formerly one of Trump’s most vocal critics, and the Republican presidential nominee. Although he has espoused harsh anti-abortion positions, Trump has nevertheless spent much of the campaign out of step with the anti-abortion establishment – praising Planned Parenthood and, conversely, calling for the punishment of women who have abortions illegally.
In response, anti-abortion groups have sometimes accused Trump of being ignorant of their positions.
On Friday, Dannenfelser signaled that her group considered Trump’s policies to be wholly in line with the anti-abortion movement’s priorities. Trump “doubled down [on his] commitments to the pro-life movement,” Dannenfelser said. “The contrast could not be clearer between the two tickets, and I am proud to serve as national chairwoman for Donald Trump’s pro-life coalition.”
The announcement is a further sign that Trump has succeeded in wooing social conservatives who once viewed the Manhattan real estate magnate with suspicion and chimes with his choice of Mike Pence, governor of Indiana, as his running mate. The former congressman is credited with laying the blueprint for the Republican party’s crusade against Planned Parenthood.
Trump has only recently claimed to oppose abortion. In 1999, in his last public statement on abortion before he flirted with a presidential run, Trump proclaimed himself to be “very pro-choice”. He first declared he was “pro-life” in 2011 at an annual conservative confab.
During the Republican primaries, Dannenfelser was one of the loudest voices to oppose Trump, calling on Iowa caucus-goers in a January letter to “support anyone but Donald Trump”. “We are disgusted by Mr Trump’s treatment of individuals, women, in particular,” the letter read. “Trump … has through the years made disparaging public comments to and about many women.”
Her comments came as Trump repeatedly equivocated on abortion rights and one of the anti-abortion movement’s most cherished goals, the federal defunding of Planned Parenthood.
A little more than a year ago, Trump said he could not commit to defunding Planned Parenthood without weighing whether the group was “good for women”. Trump later committed to stripping federal funds from Planned Parenthood – “because I am pro-life” – in a February primary debate. But he added that he admired Planned Parenthood’s work on reproductive health, saying: “Millions of millions of women – cervical cancer, breast cancer – are helped by Planned Parenthood.”
A month later, Trump said he would support “some form of punishment” for women who have abortions if the procedure were illegal, comments that anti-abortion groups criticized as out of step with their mission. In April, he further angered anti-abortion groups by saying he believed abortion should remain legal. “The laws are set,” he said. “And I think we have to leave it that way.”
His campaign in both cases quickly sought to undercut his comments, claiming the candidate believed in punishment only for abortion providers and saying Trump would appoint anti-abortion nominees to the supreme court.
In Friday’s announcement, Trump committed for the first time to signing the Hyde amendment into law. The amendment is an annual budget rider that prohibits federal Medicaid funding from paying for abortion services. Making the amendment law is the strictest position Trump has staked out on abortion funding, although it is not surprising. Trump, in a January opinion column, called public funding for abortion “an insult to people of conscience”.
Hillary Clinton, by contrast, in an apparent first for a major party candidate, has promised to repeal Hyde.
Reproductive rights groups immediately condemned Dannenfelser’s addition to Trump’s campaign.
“Let’s be clear: just like Donald Trump, Susan B Anthony List hasn’t done a thing to empower women and everything to advance an extreme agenda that aims to entirely end women’s access to abortion in America, often even for survivors of rape, incest, and women whose health is endangered,” said Ilyse Hogue, the president of NARAL Pro-Choice America, a reproductive rights group.
“Between his support from the dangerously similar anti-choice and alt-right movements, and his record of misogyny, we know Donald Trump will be a disaster for women in the White House.”