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Trump says he'll sign order aimed at protecting premature babies in appeal to religious voters

President TrumpDonald John TrumpHillary Clinton responds to Chrissy Teigen tweet: 'I love you back' Police called after Florida moms refuse to wear face masks at school board meeting about mask policy Supreme Court rejects Trump effort to shorten North Carolina mail-ballot deadline MORE on Wednesday announced he will sign an executive order he says would ensure all babies born alive, including those born prematurely or that survive abortions, receive medical care, in an appeal to conservative and religious voters.

"Today I am announcing that I will be signing the born alive executive order to assure that all precious babies born alive, no matter their circumstances, receive the medical care that they deserve. This is our sacrosanct moral duty," Trump said during a pre-recorded address to the National Catholic Prayer Breakfast.

The president said his administration would also increase federal funding for neonatal research.

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The text of the order was not available after the announcement, making it unclear what it actually does. 

But Trump has long supported a bill by the same name sponsored by Sen. Ben SasseBenjamin (Ben) Eric SasseTrump looks to shore up support in Nebraska GOP Senate confirms Trump Supreme Court pick to succeed Ginsburg President Trump: To know him is to 'No' him MORE (R-Neb.), which would institute fines or prison time for health care practitioners who fail to provide care for a baby that shows signs of life after an abortion. 

Doctors, abortion rights groups and Democrats argue such instances are rare and that the bill is unnecessary because a similar federal law already exists. 

“It seems this administration will once again seek a solution to a nonexistent problem. An executive order like Donald Trump described would only spread misinformation, shame people who get abortions, and try to score low-hanging political points,” said Jacqueline Ayers, vice president of government relations and public policy at Planned Parenthood Action Fund. 

Less than 1 percent of abortions in the U.S. in 2015 were performed after the point where a fetus can potentially survive outside of the womb — around 24 weeks of pregnancy. Many of those pregnancies are terminated because the fetus was not expected to survive or the mother’s life was at risk, experts say. 

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Infants rarely survive these abortions because drugs may be used to stop the fetal heartbeat before the procedure. Sometimes parents choose not to use the drugs to let their child die a natural death. 

Sasse’s bill would take that option away from parents, advocates argue. 

The president's address to the National Catholic Prayer Breakfast comes as he has seen his support among Catholics erode during his first term: A poll released this week showed him trialing Democratic nominee Joe BidenJoe BidenHillary Clinton responds to Chrissy Teigen tweet: 'I love you back' Supreme Court rejects Trump effort to shorten North Carolina mail-ballot deadline Overnight Defense: Trump campaign's use of military helicopter raises ethics concerns | Air Force jets intercept aircraft over Trump rally | Senators introduce bill to expand visa screenings MORE by 12 points among the demographic.

But Trump has grabbed onto issues such as religious liberty, the appointment of conservative judges and his opposition to state laws that expand access to abortion to appeal to evangelical voters.

"Our nation is strong because of Catholics and all people of faith," Trump said in his address. "We believe in the joy of family, the blessing of freedom and the dignity of work, and the eternal truth that every child, born and unborn, is made in the holy image of God. I will always protect the vital role of religion and prayer in American society, and I will always defend the sacred right to life."

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Trump has repeatedly hammered Democrats for supporting abortions later in pregnancy, seizing on proposals in New York and Virginia that would have allowed third-trimester abortions in certain cases where the fetus's or mother's health is at risk.

He has levied exaggerated and inaccurate attacks on Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam (D) in particular, claiming in a tweet last week that the governor "is in favor of executing babies after birth."

Northam, a pediatric neurologist, faced criticism from anti-abortion groups last year when he supported a state bill that would have loosened some restrictions on abortions in the third-trimester if the pregnancy would have serious consequences for the woman’s mental or physical health. 

He was asked about comments made by the bill’s sponsor that it would allow a woman who is “dilating” to get an abortion. 

"When we talk about third-trimester abortions, these are done with the consent, obviously, of the mother, with the consent of the physicians — more than one physician, by the way. It’s done in cases where there may be severe deformities. There may be a fetus that’s nonviable," Northam had said at the time. 

"So, in this particular example, if a mother is in labor, I can tell you exactly what would happen," he added. "The infant would be delivered. The infant would be kept comfortable. The infant would be resuscitated if that’s what the mother and the family desired, and then a discussion would ensue between the physicians and the mother."

—Updated at 4:51 p.m.