(Bloomberg) -- President Donald Trump criticized the Supreme Court’s 1973 Roe v. Wade decision and vowed that his administration would defend what he called the first right enumerated by the Declaration of Independence -- the right to life -- in remarks to an abortion march in Washington.
“Roe v. Wade has resulted in some of the most permissive abortion laws anywhere in the world,” Trump said in a live address to thousands of people gathered on the National Mall for the anti-abortion March for Life. “It is wrong; it has to change,” he said of laws that allow late-term abortions in some states.
“We will always defend the very first right in the Declaration of Independence, and that is the right to life,” he said. The document declares in its preamble that “unalienable” human rights include life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
The remarks, delivered in the White House Rose Garden, were shown on screens set up on the Mall. Trump is the first sitting president to address the 45-year-old march by live video. Previous Republican presidents have spoken to march participants by phone. Vice President Mike Pence spoke at last year’s event, which took place a week after Trump took the oath of office.
Pence, who has deep ties with social conservatives, said Thursday at a reception for march attendees that Trump “made a difference for life” during his first year in office and is “the most pro-life president in American history.”
The administration has rolled out a series of measures this week aimed at bolstering its standing with abortion opponents. The Department of Health and Human Services announced Thursday that its Office of Civil Rights will launch a new division on conscience and religious freedom. HHS also said Friday that the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid will send state Medicaid directors letters instructing them to disregard a 2016 Obama administration rule that barred states from denying federal family-planning funds to Planned Parenthood and other organizations that provide abortions.
While social conservatives have embraced the Trump administration, the president has not always been aligned with them on abortion.
In a 1999 interview with NBC, Trump described himself as “very pro-choice,” adding: “I hate the concept of abortion. I hate it. I hate everything it stands for. I cringe when I listen to people debating the subject. But you still — I just believe in choice.”
After some unclear statements during the early months of his 2016 campaign, Trump said in a written statement: “My position has not changed — like Ronald Reagan, I am pro-life with exceptions.”
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