Some Abortion Opponents Shift Focus From Ban to Reduction

November 19, 2008

Frustrated by the failure to overturn Roe v. Wade, a growing
number of antiabortion pastors, conservative academics and activists
are setting aside efforts to outlaw abortion and instead are focusing
on building social programs and developing other assistance for
pregnant women to reduce the number of abortions.

Some of the activists are actually working with abortion rights
advocates to push for legislation in Congress that would provide
pregnant women with health care, child care and money for education —
services that could encourage them to continue their pregnancies.

Their efforts, they said, reflect the political reality that legal
challenges to abortion rights will not be successful, especially after Barack Obama‘s
victory this month in the presidential election and the defeat of
several ballot measures that would have restricted access to abortions.
Although the activists insist that they are not retreating from their
belief that abortion is immoral and should be outlawed, they argue that
a more practical alternative is to try to reduce abortions through
other means.

“If one strategy has failed and failed over decades, and you have
empirical information that tells how you can honor life and encourage
women to make that choice by meeting real needs that are existing and
tangible, why not do that?” said Douglas W. Kmiec, a law professor at Pepperdine University who served in the Reagan and George H.W. Bush administrations. Kmiec, a Catholic who opposes abortion, was criticized by some abortion foes because he endorsed Obama.

Obama supports abortion rights and is unlikely to appoint justices who
would overturn the controversial Supreme Court decision that allowed
the practice. But during the campaign, he spoke of wanting to reduce
abortions and of finding “common ground” in the debate.

The new effort is causing a fissure in the antiabortion movement,
with traditional groups viewing the activists as traitors to their
cause. Leaders worry that the approach could gain traction with a more
liberal Congress and president, although they do not expect it to
weaken hard-core opposition.

“It’s a sellout, as far as we are concerned,” said Joe Scheidler,
founder of the Pro-Life Action League. “We don’t think it’s really
genuine. You don’t have to have a lot of social programs to cut down on

The diverse group that has come together to try a different tack
includes prominent pastors such as Joel Hunter; Samuel Rodriguez,
president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference;
Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good; Sojourners, a progressive
evangelical organization; and RealAbortionSolutions.org, a coalition of
Catholics and evangelical leaders.

Others include Catholics United, a progressive Catholic lay group; Richard Cizik, vice president for governmental affairs of the National Association of Evangelicals; the Rev. Thomas Reese of Georgetown University‘s Woodstock Theological Center,
a prominent Jesuit thinker; and Nicholas Cafardi, former dean of the
Duquesne University School of Law and a Catholic canon lawyer.

Their actions have not come without consequences. Cafardi resigned
from the board of Franciscan University of Steubenville in Ohio after
writing a column supporting Obama and declaring the abortion battle
lost. Kmiec has received hate e-mail, and a priest denied him Communion
in April. And Denver Archbishop Charles J. Chaput has criticized Kmiec
and several of the groups involved, saying they have “undermined the
progress pro-lifers have made and provided an excuse for some Catholics
to abandon the abortion issue.”

The activists say the time has come for more cooperation on difficult social and moral issues such as abortion.

“We are not compromising our values, but at the same time we are
finding a way we can all accomplish our agenda, or at least a piece of
our agenda, together,” said Hunter, pastor of Northland in Longwood,
Fla., one of the nation’s largest churches, and a board member of the
National Association of Evangelicals. “There’s got to be a way we can
take some of these hot-button issues and cooperate, rather than simply
keep fighting and becoming gridlocked in this hostility of the culture

The activists are beginning with ad campaigns to raise their profile,
advocating legislation and planning rallies. They say they hope to
harness the two-thirds of Americans who want a “middle ground” on
abortion, according to a 2006 survey by the Pew Research Center for
People and the Press and the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life.

Some are working with Third Way, an abortion rights think tank, to build political support among Democratic lawmakers.

Even if Roe v. Wade was overturned, many in the coalition
say, the battle would return to the states. And that is no guarantee
that abortion would be outlawed.

Overturning the Supreme Court decision “is not going to dramatically
reduce the number of abortions in America,” said Third Way spokeswoman
Rachel Laser. “So here is a whole other way that promises to be very
productive in terms of their goals, which is reducing the number of
abortions, and that also serves the purpose of healing the divide and
reasoning together.”

A study sponsored by Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good cited
recent research that found that the abortion rate among women living
below the poverty line is more than four times that of women above 300
percent of the poverty level. The authors of the study found that
social and economic supports, such as benefits for pregnant women and
mothers and economic assistance to low-income families, have
contributed significantly to reducing abortions in the United States
over the past two decades.

“Clearly, poverty impacts the abortion rate,” said Alexia Kelley, the group’s executive director.

But established abortion opponents dispute that approach. Cardinal Francis George of Chicago, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops,
said last week during a meeting of the conference that social-service
spending is no substitute for legal protections for the unborn. He also
questioned research showing that improvements in areas such as
employment and health care can reduce the likelihood that a woman will
want to end her pregnancy. “It’s still to be proven what the connection
is between poverty and abortion,” he said.

Undeterred by critics, the activists are pushing for the passage of
legislation that would increase funding for social services for
pregnant women, such as low-cost health care and day care; provide
grants at colleges for pregnant women and new mothers’ education; and
set up maternity group homes. Two House bills with backing from various
groups are the Pregnant Women’s Support Act, sponsored by Rep. Lincoln Davis (D-Tenn.), and the Reducing the Need for Abortion and Supporting Parents Act, sponsored by Reps. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) and Tim Ryan (D-Ohio), who oppose abortion.

Those bills are largely opposed by antiabortion groups. “You don’t work
to limit the murder of innocent victims,” said Judie Brown, president
of the American Life League. “You work to stop it.”

To preserve the coalition, activists have avoided taking positions
on the more sensitive aspects of the issue, such as laws that restrict
abortions, contraception, sex education and abstinence-only programs.

“There are certain things that we probably all can support, and then
there are other things that we’re going to disagree about, and you find
common ground on what you can, and then you have a political battle on
your other issues,” said Jim Wallis, president of Sojourners.

Source: Washington Post

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