WASHINGTON – Thousands of abortion opponents from around the country traveled to the nation's capital Friday for the annual March for Life, and many said they did so with mixed feelings of hope and trepidation – all because of President Trump.
Attendees from Buffalo praised Trump for his appointments of a conservative Supreme Court justice, Neil Gorsuch, as well as other likely abortion opponents throughout the federal court system.
At the same time, many acknowledged some level of discomfort with a pro-life, anti-immigration president whose tweets are not the sort of sentiments heard uttered from any pulpit.
Jonathan LaNasa, an 18-year-old Buffalo State College student who did the readings at a Diocese of Buffalo Mass at the Washington Plaza Hotel before the march, seemed to sum up the views of many attendees regarding the billionaire president.
"There are things you have to overlook to get the bigger picture," he said.
And the big picture, for abortion protesters, is this: the president says he is pro-life and has acted accordingly.
"Actually, I'm very hopeful," said Stasia Zoladz Vogel, president of the Buffalo Regional Right to Life Committee. "We're getting good judges...And you have to start from the ground up, with the courts."
While Trump has not yet appointed a federal judge to a vacancy in Buffalo, he named a dozen people to appellate court seats in his first year of office – more than any other first-year president. All are strict conservatives, and abortion opponents say those new federal judges will likely lend a friendly ear to any court case aimed at curbing abortion rights, as will Gorsuch.
Bishop Richard J. Malone of the Diocese of Buffalo said he's thrilled with the Gorsuch appointment, likening it to "a bright star in a dark sky."
Asked why he referenced "a dark sky," Malone noted a litany of problems facing the world and the nation, and then expressed some discomfort with Trump's anti-immigration stance.
"We believe in the right to life of every human from conception to the natural end of life" – and that includes the lives of refugees and immigrants, the bishop said.
Malone said he's particularly concerned with the fate of hundreds of thousands of young immigrants brought to America illegally by their parents, whose fate has become a political football in federal budget negotiations.
And when asked about Trump's recent vulgar comment about African nations and Haiti, Malone at first said: "I don't want to waste words on it."
But he quickly added: "If he did say that, I think it's outrageous."
Malone's mixed feelings are by no means unusual, but Trump appears to be faring better among white Christians than he does among the general population. A recent Gallup poll found that 51 percent of white Catholics approve of the job Trump is doing, although only 17 percent of Hispanic Catholics approve. Similarly, Trump registered a 60 percent approval rating from white Protestants while a mere 10 percent of African-American Protestants gave Trump good grades.
Lynn Dulak of Hamburg talked like one of the stronger Trump supporters among the march contingent from Buffalo.
"He's not polished as a politician, but I think he's doing a great job," Dulak, 61, said, citing the president's opposition to abortion. "I'm happy that he's not a politician. I'm happy that he's a businessman who can bring us some positive change."
Yet among the 500 or so people from Buffalo who traveled to the capital for today's march, many seemed reluctant to give Trump either a thumbs-up or a thumbs-down. The truth, they said, lies in the middle, as they try to accommodate themselves to a pro-life president whose behavior doesn't comport with many of their other values.
Asked for her views on Trump, Sarah Rice, 22, of Buffalo, said: "All I can do is bash Hillary right now."
Rice then went on to note that Clinton, the Democrat who lost the 2016 presidential election to Trump, would have allowed late-term abortions.
Rice said she's glad that Trump has been so strong on pro-life issues, but acknowledged she's not exactly thrilled with his demeanor.
"I always thought a president should be presidential," she said.
A handful of march attendees from Buffalo lauded Trump not just because of his opposition to abortion. Maren Lelonek, 20, of Buffalo noted the president's support for religious freedom and defended him against charges of xenophobia.
"He's not anti-immigrant; he's anti-illegal alien," Lelonek said. "Unfortunately he doesn't always say it in the best possible way."
Trump played an outsized role at the noontime rally that preceded the march, becoming the first president to address the marchers via video from the White House Rose Garden. Presidents Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush had addressed the march via telephone.
“Because of you, tens of thousands of Americans have been born and reached their full God-given potential,” Trump told the marchers. “The March of Life is a movement born out of love.”
Otherwise, the event proceeded as it has for more than four decades, with thousands of people gathering on the Mall for speeches from lawmakers and pro-life leaders and then marching to the steps of the Supreme Court.
Among the signs to be seen on Washington's streets on an unseasonably warm, sunny day: those of the Sidewalk Advocates for Life, which read: "Make Unborn Babies Great Again."
This year's march marks the 45th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the landmark 1973 court decision that found a constitutional right to abortion. Marchers said they would keep marching yearly until that decision is overturned, and they acknowledge that they still appear to be a long way from seeing that happening.
"You're never going to get anywhere with Congress," said Vogel, noting that Planned Parenthood continues to get federal funding despite Republican majorities on both sides of Capitol Hill.
And despite Trump's judicial appointments, genuine change would appear to be years away in the courts. Gorsuch replaced the late Justice Antonin Scalia, an abortion opponent, so the new justice didn't change the liberal-conservative balance on the court.
Pro-life activists said they would continue focusing their efforts on the public at large – which is what the March for Life does – to build a case for ending abortion as the law of the land, said Mary Schumer, 58, of Hamburg.
"I really do think that it's got to come down to all of us," Schumer said. "We've got to change people's mindsets."