Pro-life activists are excited about the GOP presidential field, but still have reservations about front-runner Donald Trump, who used to be adamantly pro-choice and who they fear has had a weak conversion.
Rallying outside the Capitol on Thursday, calling for an end to funding for Planned Parenthood, activists said they believe they are on the offensive and hope to have a nominee to help lead their fights.
Sen. Rand Paul, who addressed the rally, was among the activists’ favorites, as were Sens. Ted Cruz of Texas and Marco Rubio of Florida, neurosurgeon Ben Carson and businesswoman Carly Fiorina.
The jury, though, is out on Mr. Trump, who has been open about his evolution from pro-choice to pro-life, has pledged to support a 20-week abortion ban, and said he would defund Planned Parenthood if they continue to provide abortions.
“All I am going to say is, ugh, nightmare, nightmare,” said Sharon Conklin, 70, from Florida. “No. I don’t think he is pro-life. I don’t care what he says now. Six months ago he was way [for] partial birth abortion, you name it, it was OK with him.”
Ms. Conklin said she gets high-blood pressure talking about Mr. Trump and said she is so sick of seeing him on her television that she is thinking about putting her foot through it.
Lance Ogren, 41, of Tennessee, was willing to cut Mr. Trump some slack, saying the “Apprentice” star is not as strong on pro-life issues as Mr. Cruz, but “ultimately he would be good for the nation as well.”
“First of all, he is all about being a fighter for the greatness of our country and if there is any mark against the greatness of our country it is that we continue to slaughter babies for whatever reason,” Mr. Ogren said.
Mr. Trump is leading national polls, and outpaced his closet rival, Mr. Carson, by a 32 percent to 19 percent margin in a national CNN/ORC survey released this week.
He is also polling ahead of his rivals in Iowa and South Carolina, hosts of early nomination contests, where religious and social conservatives play a pivotal role in tapping a winner.
“I think the fact that he is still ahead among most Evangelicals in Iowa is an indication that he is meeting a minimal standard about being able to speak directly about abortion to at least make him acceptable to a large percentage of pro-life voters,” said Frank Cannon, head of American Principles in Action, a conservative group.
“Of course there are people, who have made this a cause, like Mike Huckabee, Rick Santorum, and others, throughout their careers, that may get people to say, ‘Look they deserve our support much more,’” Mr. Cannon said. “But I don’t think he has done what [former New York City Mayor] Rudy Guilliani did a few years ago, which was manage to be unacceptable to pro-life base.”
Fueled by secretly taped videos that appear to show Planned Parenthood officials negotiating the sale of organs of aborted fetuses, to be used for research, pro-life activists said the political environment is ripe to deliver a major blow.
“There comes a time in the history of nations when we must take a stand, we must decide whether we will take a stand for life. I don’t know about the rest of Congress, but I plan on taking a stand and saying ‘Not one penny more for Planned Parenthood,’” Mr. Paul said.
For his part, Mr. Trump has joined the fight against Planned Parenthood and said that he has evolved on the issue abortion over the years.
During a 1999 appearance on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” Mr. Trump said he was “very pro-choice,” though he added, “I hate the concept of abortion.” He changed his stance about a decade later.
“I’ve very much evolved,” Mr. Trump said at the first GOP debate last month. “And what happened is friends of mine years ago were going to have a child, and it was going to be aborted. And it wasn’t aborted. And that child today is a total superstar, a great, great child. And I saw that. And I saw other instances.”
“And I am very, very proud to say that I am pro-life,” he said.
Still, his stance on Planned Parenthood left room for activists to be worried.
“He made a comment about funding Planned Parenthood as long as they didn’t do abortion, and that was troubling to me,” said Iva Grahek, of Maryland.
“If you are looking at the top ten or twelve [candidates] based on the pro-life movement and what is going on there, he drops considerably to the bottom of the list,” Ms. Grahek, 56, said.