Trump decries 'permissive' US abortion laws at rally

WASHINGTON, Jan 19 (Reuters) - President Donald Trump criticized U.S. abortion laws as among the most permissive in the world in a speech to anti-abortion activists at the annual March for Life on Friday, and pledged his administration would always defend "the right to life."

The Republican president's speech, relayed via video link from the White House Rose Garden to thousands gathered on Washington's National Mall, highlighted his shift in recent years from a supporter of women's access to abortion to a powerful opponent.

"As you all know, Roe v. Wade has resulted in some of the most permissive abortion laws anywhere in the world," he said, criticizing the 1973 Supreme Court decision that affirmed a woman's right to an abortion at most stages of a pregnancy.

Trump said the United States "is one of only seven countries to allow elective late-term abortions," mentioning China and North Korea. "It is wrong. It has to change."

The other countries that allow elective abortions after 20 weeks are Canada, the Netherlands, Singapore and Vietnam, according to the Charlotte Lozier Institute, an anti-abortion research group.

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Trump at March for Life rally
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Trump at March for Life rally
U.S. President Donald Trump reacts after addressing the annual March for Life rally, taking place on the National Mall, from the White House Rose Garden in Washington, U.S., January 19, 2018. REUTERS/Carlos Barria
U.S. President Donald Trump talks with a girl after addressing the annual March for Life rally, taking place on the National Mall, from the White House Rose Garden in Washington, U.S., January 19, 2018. REUTERS/Carlos Barria
U.S. President Donald Trump leaves after addressing the annual March for Life rally, taking place on the National Mall, from the White House Rose Garden in Washington, U.S., January 19, 2018. REUTERS/Carlos Barria
U.S. President Donald Trump greets a young girl among families gathered in the White House Rose Garden as he addresses the annual March for Life rally, taking place on the nearby National Mall in Washington, U.S., January 19, 2018. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque
U.S. President Donald Trump waves after addressing March for Life participants and pro-life leaders in the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Friday, Jan. 19, 2018. Trump will meet with Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer at the White House Friday as the Senate was set to take a showdown vote on a temporary funding bill with no clear path to get it to the president's desk before the midnight Friday deadline. Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images
U.S. President Donald Trump addresses the annual March for Life rally, taking place on the National Mall, from the White House Rose Garden in Washington, U.S., January 19, 2018. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque
U.S. President Donald Trump greets families gathered in the White House Rose Garden as he addresses the annual March for Life rally, taking place on the nearby National Mall in Washington, U.S., January 19, 2018. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque
Participants attend the annual March for Life anti-abortion rally in front of the Washington Monument in Washington, U.S. January 19, 2017. REUTERS/Eric Thayer
U.S. President Donald Trump, speaking by satellite from the nearby White House, addresses attendees of the March for Life rally in Washington, U.S. January 19, 2017. REUTERS/Eric Thayer
Anti-abortion activists from around the US gather in Washington, DC January 19, 2017 for the annual 'March for Life.' / AFP PHOTO / Eva HAMBACH (Photo credit should read EVA HAMBACH/AFP/Getty Images)
Anti-abortion activists from around the US gather near the National Mall in Washington, DC January 19, 2017 for the annual 'March for Life.' / AFP PHOTO / Eva HAMBACH (Photo credit should read EVA HAMBACH/AFP/Getty Images)
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Trump listed some anti-abortion measures his administration had taken, including an announcement earlier in the day by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The agency said it was revoking Obama administration legal guidance that had sought to discourage states from trying to defund organizations that provide abortion services, such as Planned Parenthood.

Roe v. Wade effectively legalized abortion nationwide. In the 45 years since the decision was issued on Jan. 22, 1973, the March for Life has been staged near the ruling's anniversary in protest.

"Because of you, tens of thousands of Americans have been born and reached their full, God-given potential," Trump, a Christian, told the marchers, who included many groups of students from Roman Catholic schools.

Trump has pledged to appoint more federal judges who oppose abortion with the hope that the ruling might eventually be overturned.

Trump is the third sitting president to address the march: Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush both made supportive remarks to the march at least twice each during their presidencies, speaking via telephone broadcast by loudspeakers.

Trump sent Vice President Mike Pence, a vocal abortion opponent, to speak at last year's march, a few days after the presidential inauguration. This year, Pence introduced Trump, saying the president would "restore the sanctity of life to the center of American law."

Many marchers, carrying signs with slogans such as "Pray to end abortion," said they were excited to hear from a president they see as an ally, but hesitated to point to any specific advancements in their agenda from Trump's first year in office.

"It's so refreshing to have a standing president who supports pro-life," Tim Curran, a 66-year-old grocer who had traveled to the march from Kentucky, said before the remarks and the march to the steps of the Supreme Court for a rally. "He seems to be moving us back in the direction of traditional families and morality."

The event came a day before the first anniversary of Trump's inauguration, a milestone to be marked by the second Women's March in cities across the United States, including Washington. Organizers hope to recreate last year's huge anti-Trump protests by hundreds of thousands of people who saw Trump as a foe of women's rights and reproductive freedom.

Trump previously supported women's access to abortion, saying in an interview in 1999, when he was still a celebrity real-estate tycoon in New York City, that while he "hated the concept of abortion," he was "very pro-choice."

As a candidate for the presidency in 2016, Trump said his position had "evolved," describing himself as "pro-life with exceptions," such as in cases of rape or incest.

Trump has said he hopes Roe v. Wade will eventually be overturned and that each state will instead be allowed to decide whether to ban it.

Americans tend to split roughly down the middle on abortion access, with 49 percent saying they supported it and 46 percent saying they opposed it in a 2017 Gallup poll. (Reporting by Ian Simpson in Washington and Jonathan Allen in New York; Writing by Jonathan Allen; Editing by Steve Orlofsky and Jonathan Oatis)

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US Supreme Court strikes down restrictive Texas abortion law
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US Supreme Court strikes down restrictive Texas abortion law
Demonstrators hold signs outside the U.S. Supreme Court as the court is due to issue its first major abortion ruling since 2007 against a backdrop of unremitting divisions among Americans on the issue and a decades-long decline in the rate at which women terminate pregnancies in Washington, U.S. June 27, 2016. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque
A demonstrator wearing a cowboy hat with a uterus symbol holds a sign outside the U.S. Supreme Court as the court is set to rule on a legal challenge by abortion providers to a Texas law requiring doctors performing the procedure to have "admitting privileges" at local hospitals and clinics to meet hospital-grade standards in Washington, U.S. June 27, 2016. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque
Demonstrators hold signs outside the U.S. Supreme Court as the court is due to issue its first major abortion ruling since 2007 against a backdrop of unremitting divisions among Americans on the issue and a decades-long decline in the rate at which women terminate pregnancies in Washington, U.S. June 27, 2016. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque
Demonstrators hold signs outside the U.S. Supreme Court as the court is due to decide today whether a Republican-backed 2013 Texas law placed an undue burden on women exercising their constitutional right to abortion in Washington, U.S. June 27, 2016. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque
A woman wearing a cowboy hat with a uterus symbol demonstrates outside the U.S. Supreme Court as the court is set to rule on a legal challenge by abortion providers to a Texas law requiring doctors performing the procedure to have "admitting privileges" at local hospitals and clinics to meet hospital-grade standards in Washington, U.S. June 27, 2016. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque
Pro-abortion rights protesters and anti-abortion protesters jostle with their signs as they demonstrate in the hopes of a ruling in their favor on decisions at the Supreme Court building in Washington, U.S. June 20, 2016. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
Pro-abortion rights protesters and anti-abortion protesters jostle with their signs as they demonstrate in the hopes of a ruling in their favor on decisions at the Supreme Court building in Washington, U.S. June 20, 2016. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
Pro-abortion rights protesters and anti-abortion protesters jostle with their signs as they demonstrate in the hopes of a ruling in their favor on decisions at the Supreme Court building in Washington, U.S. June 20, 2016. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
A protester holds up a sign in front of the U.S. Supreme Court on the morning the court takes up a major abortion case focusing on whether a Texas law that imposes strict regulations on abortion doctors and clinic buildings interferes with the constitutional right of a woman to end her pregnancy, in Washington March 2, 2016. Picture taken March 2, 2016. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque/File Photo
WASHINGTON, DC - JUNE 27: Pro-choice activists wait for rulings in front of the U.S. Supreme Court on June 27, 2016 in Washington, DC. A ruling is expected in Whole Woman's Health v. Hellerstedt, a Texas case the places restrictions on abortion clinics, as well as rulings in the former Virginia Governor's corruption case and a gun rights case. (Photo by Pete Marovich/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - JUNE 27: Pro-choice activists wait for rulings in front of the U.S. Supreme Court on June 27, 2016 in Washington, DC. A ruling is expected in Whole Woman's Health v. Hellerstedt, a Texas case the places restrictions on abortion clinics, as well as rulings in the former Virginia Governor's corruption case and a gun rights case. (Photo by Pete Marovich/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - JUNE 27: Pro-life activist, Ryan Orr, 17, of Manassas, Va, waits holds a silent vigil as he waits for rulings in front of the U.S. Supreme Court on June 27, 2016 in Washington, DC. A ruling is expected in Whole Woman's Health v. Hellerstedt, a Texas case the places restrictions on abortion clinics, as well as rulings in the former Virginia Governor's corruption case and a gun rights case. (Photo by Pete Marovich/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - JUNE 27: Pro-choice activist, Jaimie Ermak, 24, from Washington, D.C., waits for rulings in front of the U.S. Supreme Court on June 27, 2016 in Washington, DC. A ruling is expected in Whole Woman's Health v. Hellerstedt, a Texas case the places restrictions on abortion clinics, as well as rulings in the former Virginia Governor's corruption case and a gun rights case. (Photo by Pete Marovich/Getty Images)
Abortion rights activists hold placards outside of the US Supreme Court ahead of an expected ruling on abortion clinic restrictions on June 27, 2016 in Washington, DC. / AFP / Mandel Ngan (Photo credit should read MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images)
Abortion rights activists hold placards outside of the US Supreme Court ahead of an expected ruling on abortion clinic restrictions on June 27, 2016 in Washington, DC. / AFP / MANDEL NGAN (Photo credit should read MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images)
Abortion rights activists hold placards outside of the US Supreme Court ahead of an expected ruling on abortion clinic restrictions on June 27, 2016 in Washington, DC. / AFP / MANDEL NGAN (Photo credit should read MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - JUNE 23: Pro-choice and pro-life protesters clash in front of the U.S. Supreme Court on a day where two important decisions on immigration and affirmative action were handed down by the court, on June 23, 2016 in Washington, DC. A decision in the case over a Texas law requiring clinics providing abortion services to meet the same building standards as walk-in surgical centers had been expected but was deferred. (Photo by Allison Shelley/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - JUNE 23: Kristan Hawkins, president of Students for Life, center, and other pro-life protesters clash with pro-choice protesters in front of the U.S. Supreme Court on a day where two important decisions on immigration and affirmative action were handed down by the court, on June 23, 2016 in Washington, DC. A decision in the case over a Texas law requiring clinics providing abortion services to meet the same building standards as walk-in surgical centers had been expected but was deferred. (Photo by Allison Shelley/Getty Images)
UNITED STATES - JUNE 20: Pro-choice and pro-life demonstrators rally outside of the U.S. Supreme Court on Monday morning, June 20, 2016. The court is expected to hand down their decision on a Texas law which requires clinics to meet the same standards as ambulatory surgical centers and forces doctors to have admitting privileges at nearby hospitals. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
WASHINGTON, DC - JUNE 23: A pro-life protester holds a sign in front of the U.S. Supreme Court on a day where two important decisions on immigration and affirmative action were handed down by the court, on June 23, 2016 in Washington, DC. A decision in the case over a Texas law requiring clinics providing abortion services to meet the same building standards as walk-in surgical centers had been expected but was deferred. (Photo by Allison Shelley/Getty Images)
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