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Mike Pence May Quell Anti-Abortion Movement's Fears About Trump

Anti-abortion activists, long nervous about Trump, would welcome Mike Pence to the ticket.
Image: Indiana Gov. Mike Pence
Indiana Gov. Mike Pence delivers his State of the State address to a joint session of the legislature at the Statehouse in Indianapolis. Pence declined to say whether he would sign a shelved bill to expand protections for lesbian, gay and bisexual people. Pence spoke to reporters after filing for re-election for a second term Wednesday. (AP Photo/Darron Cummings)Darron Cummings / AP, file

Donald Trump has repeatedly made opponents of abortion uneasy, both with his pro-choice past and his more recent, off-message comments to MSNBC's Chris Matthews, subsequently walked back, that women who have abortions should face “punishment.”

But Trump's choice of Indiana Gov. Mike Pence to join his ticket could be a way to quell those social conservative worries — at least on abortion.

“If he does select Pence, I probably will vote for him,” Kristan Hawkins, president of Students for Life, said before the pick was officially announced. Hawkins stressed she was speaking in her personal capacity — her group has been critical of Trump on abortion in the past. “This gives me something to vote for… When it comes to my mission in life and the mission of our organization, Pence is our guy.”

That's something Students for Life and Planned Parenthood, long in Pence's crosshairs, can agree on. “A Trump-Pence ticket should send a shiver down the spine of women in this country," Dawn Laguens, executive vice president of Planned Parenthood Action Fund, said in a statement. "Donald Trump just sent a message to the women of America: your health and your lives are not important.”

As Indiana governor, Pence has signed several anti-abortion measures into law. As a congressman, he led the charge against Planned Parenthood. He has repeatedly expressed a desire to see Roe v. Wade "sent to the ash heap of history."

Related: How Democrats Will Attack Trump's VP Pick Mike Pence

Still, some conservatives are furious with Pence for having partially backed down on a religious freedom bill after a backlash from the business community.

“Christian evangelicals, in particular, were disheartened that Pence threw them under the bus,” wrote conservative activist and writer Erick Erickson, adding, “He is perceived as a conservative, but won’t actually fight for conservatism.”

But for groups committed to banning abortion, the prospect of Pence was music to their ears. “Mr. Trump’s selection of Gov. Mike Pence is an affirmation of the pro-life commitments he’s made and will rally the pro-life grassroots,” said Susan B. Anthony List President Marjorie Dannenfelser in a statement responding to reports that Trump had picked Pence.

Dannenfelser called Pence “a pro-life trailblazer.” Indeed, he has been on the cutting edge of anti-abortion legislation.

Republicans didn’t always consider Planned Parenthood enemy number one. President George W. Bush did not crusade against the federal funding the organization receives for family planning and sexual health services, and even increased the pool from which Planned Parenthood is funded.

Related: Who is Mike Pence?

As a congressman, Indiana governor and now as Trump's vice presidential pick, he helped change that, pushing his colleagues to ostracize Planned Parenthood because it also provides abortions.

"What was apparent to me then was there was some unwritten agreement that we had arrived at, an unstated truce between pro-abortion and pro-life legislators," Pence said in a 2011 interview with Politico. "When we introduced this, it was a completely different element in the equation."

Much of Planned Parenthood’s federal funding comes from Title X, a program enacted by Richard Nixon, who declared the “goal of providing adequate family planning services … to all those who want them but cannot afford them.”

In early 2011, on the strength of the tea party wave, the amendment to defund Planned Parenthood was known as "the Pence amendment." It set off a series of votes in the House to defund the group, which were stymied by President Obama's threat of a veto.

As governor of Indiana, Pence has had more success getting anti-abortion legislation passed, although federal courts have also gotten in the way.

Related: Mike Pence Quick Facts

In April, abortion rights supporters responded to a new law signed by Pence by launching "Periods for Pence," a grassroots effort to update the governor on the menstrual status of the state's women. One provision of the law required fetal and embryonic remains, whether from abortion or miscarriage, to be "interred or cremated by a facility having possession of the remains."

The organizers wrote on Facebook, "Fertilized eggs can be expelled during a woman's period without a woman even knowing that she might have had the potential blastocyst in her. Therefore, any period could potentially be a miscarriage without knowledge. I would certainly hate for any of my fellow Hoosier women to be at risk of penalty if they do not 'properly dispose' of this or report it. Just to cover our bases, perhaps we should make sure to contact Governor Pence's office to report our periods."

The law also forbade abortion for reason of fetal anomaly, race, or sex. It has been temporarily put on hold by a federal court. Federal district court judge Tanya Walton Pratt wrote in her opinion that the law was likely unconstitutional: "It is a woman's right to choose an abortion that is protected, which, of course, leaves no room for the State to examine the basis or bases upon which a woman makes her choice."