Donald Trump and other Republican presidential hopefuls called for restricting abortion at an event for evangelicals in Iowa on Saturday, courting the key conservative voting bloc in the state set to hold the party’s first nominating contest in early 2024.
At the first major campaign event for the evangelical community, speakers also talked up their opposition to transgender rights and their plans to promote Christian values and school choice.
“Every child born and unborn is a sacred gift from God,” said Trump, promising to fight against late-term abortions, although he did not touch on whether he would pursue federal restrictions on the procedure, a step some conservatives want.
Also addressing the event were former Vice President Mike Pence, Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson, U.S. Senator Tim Scott, venture capitalist Vivek Ramaswamy, and Michigan businessman Perry Johnson. All have said they intend to seek the presidency or are considering a run.
Roughly 1,000 people attended the annual presidential forum organized by the Iowa Faith & Freedom Coalition, a conservative nonprofit. Trump was the only speaker who did not attend in person, delivering remarks via a video link.
Trump appears to be consolidating his grip on the Republican Party, with national polls showing him expanding his lead over Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, a potential primary rival who did not attend Saturday’s event but will visit the state next month.
Iowa is slated to hold the first-in-the-nation Republican caucus in early 2024. Strong evangelical support early on in the nominating process could help give a challenger a chance to strike a blow against Trump.
Trump won 76% of the white evangelical vote in 2020, down from 80% in 2016, according to Edison Research exit polls. About one-third of U.S. adults identify as born-again or evangelical Christians, according to a Reuters/Ipsos poll in November 2020.
Pence, a devout evangelical who may soon launch a presidential bid, was one of several speakers who vowed to curb the availability of transition surgeries and other gender-affirming medical care for transgender youth. Trump said he would issue an executive order “instructing every federal agency to cease the promotion of sex and gender transition at any age.”
Pence and other speakers described the promotion of such procedures as part of a radical leftist agenda that went against Christian values, offering a preview of the culture-war themes that are likely to dominate the Republican primary battle.
“The battle against radical gender ideology is a battle for religious freedom,” Pence said.