WASHINGTON – Republican vice presidential nominee Mike Pence told a gathering of social and religious conservatives Saturday he would be their champion in the White House, particularly in fighting abortion and Planned Parenthood.
“Let me assure you the Trump/Pence administration will stand for the sanctity of life and defend the unborn from the first day that we take office,” Indiana’s governor said in a speech at the Family Research Council’s Values Voter Summit. “I want to live to see the day that we put the sanctity of life back at the center of American law and we send Roe v. Wade to the ash heap of history.”
Pence touted his record of trying to end government funding for Planned Parenthood and the “trailblazing” anti-abortion bill he signed into law this year that has since been suspended by a federal judge.
Pence promised that if he and Trump are elected, their administration would end late-term abortions, continue to bar certain federal funds from paying for abortions, defund Planned Parenthood and appoint federal justices “in the tradition of” Antonin Scalia.
Pence said he’s spoken with Trump many times about Trump’s “strong commitment to the sanctity of life,” including while making his way Saturday morning to the Washington hotel where he addressed the group.
But when Trump spoke at the three-day annual conference Friday, he did not mention abortion.
“Donald Trump doesn’t talk a lot about specific policies,” Tony Perkins, president of Family Research Council Action said Saturday when asked about the omission. “He talks broadly, because he’s not a policy guy.”
Trump did emphasize he wants to repeal a 1954 law that prohibits tax-exempt organizations, such as churches, from endorsing or opposing political candidates.
“The ability to live your life according to your faith, that’s what’s at stake in this election and Donald Trump has made very clear where he stands on it,” Perkins said.
But one of the assets Pence brings to the ticket is his solid conservative credentials, which could help draw voters wary of Trump’s record on such issues as abortion.
After Trump made comments earlier this year about whether women should be punished for having an abortion, he drew rebukes from both sides of the debate.
Ken Blackwell, senior fellow at the Family Research Council who is now involved with Trump’s transition team, said in March that Trump’s comments underscored his "lack of any in-depth of involvement with the pro-life movement.''
Pence won the Voter Values Summit’s straw presidential poll after addressing the gathering in 2010, when he was considering his own presidential bid.
“Mike was the leader before many in Congress had an idea that Planned Parenthood was basically the abortion mafia,” Penny Nance, president of Concerned Women for America, said in her introduction of Pence on Saturday. “He knew before anybody else knew.”
Jay Hogue, a realtor from Florida who had noticed that Trump didn’t mention abortion in his speech, said Pence’s remarks were “right on track.” Hogue said he’s convinced a Pence/Trump administration will do everything it can to bring a culture of life to government and the courts.
“It’s nice to see where the No. 2 guy stood on it,” he said afterwards.
In addition to emphasizing abortion, Pence also talked more than he usually does in his standard stump speech about faith.
He said Trump was that morning praying with the family of Phyllis Schlafly, the conservative icon who recently died.
Pence also recounted how, after their first few days of campaigning together in July, Trump asked Pence if they could pray together.
“I think at the very core and very heart of this man is faith, it’s faith in God and faith in the American people,” Pence said.
Stephen Witham, a college professor from Virginia said after Pence’s speech it was clear the goal was to inspire people to become more active in helping Trump win. Witham didn’t vote for Trump in the primary but said he’s become more reconciled to supporting him because he agrees with Trump more than he does with Clinton.
“He’s evolving in the right direction,” Alan Robertson of Duck Dynasty told the gathering shortly before Pence spoke. “I’m not saying he’s the next Ronald Reagan. But I’m saying he has a lot of the quality of a person who evolved from one place to another place.”