Wed, 19 Feb 2020

US President Donald Trump was to address the country's biggest annual anti-abortion rally on Friday - just blocks from Congress where senators are sitting in judgment at his impeachment trial.

Trump, with his eyes on the Christian evangelical support he'll need for re-election in November, will be the first president to deliver a speech to the "March for Life" campaigners in person.

In what will surely be a remarkable split-screen moment, Trump will address a crowd of thousands on the sprawling National Mall as Democratic prosecutors take to the floor of the Senate.

The seven Democratic impeachment "managers" are to make their final arguments on Friday for why Trump should be removed from office for abuse of power and obstruction of Congress.

White House lawyers will then have 24 hours, starting Saturday, to present their defense of the president, who was impeached by the House of Representatives on December 18.

While impeachment will forever stain his record, Trump is virtually assured of acquittal by the Republican-held Senate - and is already looking past the trial to the re-election fight that awaits.

Before entering politics Trump defended abortion rights, but he has increasingly aligned himself with the anti-abortion movement as he works to firm up his electoral base - none more so than the white evangelicals who backed him overwhelmingly in 2016.

"President Trump has governed as the most pro-life president in history," said Marjorie Dannenfelser, head of the anti-abortion campaign group Susan B. Anthony List.

"We are proud to stand with President Trump and are going all in to ensure his re-election," said the activist, whose group plans to visit four million voters before election day "to defeat abortion extremists."

The "March for Life," which Trump has addressed by video message the last two years, is organized annually on or near the anniversary of the Supreme Court's ruling in the Roe v Wade case which legalized the procedure nationwide on January 22, 1973.

Supreme Court battlefield

Under Trump's presidency, abortion rights activists fear that landmark ruling is now under threat.

"Since day one, this administration has carried out a full-out assault on our health and our rights," said Alexis McGill Johnson, acting president of the Planned Parenthood Action Fund, which supports abortion rights.

In his message to last year's march, Trump said he had made clear to Congress that he would veto any legislation that "weakens the protection of human life."

Since taking office in 2017, Trump has strengthened the Supreme Court's 5-4 conservative majority, naming two justices who oppose abortion - Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh - and galvanizing abortion opponents.

Conservative-leaning Chief Justice John Roberts is seen as the potential swing vote if the constitutionality of abortion eventually comes before the court.

Around two-thirds of Americans say abortion should be legal, polls suggest.

But while Roe v Wade remains the law of the land, numerous states have taken measures to limit access to the procedure.

The first big Supreme Court test of that anti-abortion push will come in March, when the court examines a Louisiana law whose restrictions on abortion are similar to a Texas law struck down nearly four years ago.

As it does each year, the march will start at the National Mall and end at the Supreme Court near the Capitol building, where senators are sitting as jurors in Trump's impeachment trial.

Republicans hold a 53 to 47 edge in the Senate and a two-thirds majority of the 100 senators would be needed to convict and remove the president from office.

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