Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Can Common Ground Prevail?

By Cristina Page

When it comes to the abortion conflict in the U.S. a fascinating new consensus is emerging: the need for common ground. Americans, it seems, are weary of the acrimonious and seemingly endless fight. People want pro-choice and pro-life advocates to work together to reduce the need for abortion.

According to Faith in Public Life Poll, the vast majority (83 percent) of voters, including white evangelicals (86 percent) and Catholics (81 percent), believe elected leaders should work together to find ways to reduce the need for abortion.

For years, pro-choice groups have pushed measures designed to prevent unwanted pregnancy. They have promoted social programs that support poor pregnant women who are forced to make decisions based on economic need. They have pushed prevention over punishment. And now, after decades of resistance, some in the pro-life movement are stepping forward in support of at least some of these pro-choice goals, even if that means jeopardizing their standing in the established pro-life community.

Interestingly, the time may be ripe for a spirit of cooperation. Barrack Obama, with his promise of a new era of post-partisan politics, may be just the leader to promote this cause. When asked about abortion in one debate, Obama predicted, "We can find some common ground." Indeed, the abortion conflict may emerge as an early test case of Obama's belief that cooperation can prevail.

The key development, the one that may make common ground possible, is the emergence on the pro-life side of willing partners in this venture. Recently, several daring pro-life leaders have publicly announced a shift in their focus. Instead of seeking bans and restrictions on abortion, which have proven to have little effect on abortion rates, a new breed of pro-life activist appears motivated more by results than timeworn arguments.

Take Douglas Kmiec who has an impeccable pro-life, Catholic, and republican credentials. Kmiec served as head of the Office of Legal Counsel for Presidents Reagan and George H.W. Bush and was the former dean of the law school at The Catholic University of America. He also started "Pro-Life, Pro-Obama." Kmiec, like the entire new breed, still opposes abortion on moral grounds. He still does not embrace an increase in availability of birth control as area worth common exploration. Still it is impossible to overlook his remarkable, and seemingly decisive, break from his pro-life comrades. Perhaps most striking is this admission from their website: "Legal status of abortion does not necessarily impact abortion rates." Instead, Kmiec's group has turned to prevention and, in particular, social programs that can affect decisions. "Studies show that economic support for women and families reduces abortion," announces one section of the website.

Catholics United is another new pro-life group calling for a common ground approach to the abortion conflict. The group's website lists as one of its top priorities "common ground abortion reduction initiatives," including moving, "beyond the angry rhetoric of the abortion ‘culture war’ and enact policies that achieve actual results by addressing the root causes of abortion: lack of jobs, health care, and other economic supports for women and families."

While what might be called a "common ground movement" has yet to formalize, there is at least one signal of its potency. These new common ground pro-life leaders have won the ire of the traditional anti-abortion hierarchy. Indeed the old-guard pro-life leader views this new approach as a form of treason. In fact, several openly seethe over the calls for cooperation. Doug Johnson, of National Right to Life, called Obama's common ground approach an "abortion reduction scam." Last month, Joseph Schiedler, president of the Pro-Life Action League, told the Washington Post, "It's a sellout, as far as we are concerned. You don't have to have a lot of social programs to cut down on abortions."

It is apparent that many people who are genuinely pro-life want real results, and equally as clear to them is that the current pro-life establishment and the Republican Party have failed to provide those. The facts show that the countries with the lowest abortion rates are those which promote prevention, and support for poor women who want and need help to continue their pregnancies -- traditional pro-choice policies.

We on the pro-choice side are eager to have a willing partner, people who like us, seek progress on what has been until now been an intractable and divisive issue. Let us hope that the "pro-life" establishment doesn't stand in the way of this nascent common ground movement.
Page is the author of "How the Pro-Choice Movement Saved America: Freedom, Politics and the War on Sex" and spokesperson for
Copyright (C) 2008 by the American Forum. 12/08