Unearthing Common Ground

There comes a moment in justice movements when society edges forward
just enough that once-heated controversies – suffrage, racial
integration, interracial marriage – become part of the cultural fabric.
Sexism and racism may continue to simmer, but the overall movement can
declare victory and move on.

On Election Day, the reproductive justice movement may have achieved
its moment. The election of a pro-choice President-elect puts Roe v. Wade
back on firm ground. Ballot measures that would have restricted
reproductive health rights in three states were all soundly defeated.
The Mexico City Policy, which blocks U.S. aid to international family
planning organization that counsel women on abortion, is expected to be quickly reversed. A post-election survey by Faith in Public Life showed that a clear majority of Americans want to keep abortion legal.

The fiercest opponents of women’s reproductive rights are not giving
up. But over the past few weeks, we have heard a commitment from
several Catholic and evangelical Protestant leaders to finding a new
common ground on abortion. David Gushee, writing for the Associated Baptist Press,
notes that, "Over 80 percent of white evangelicals and Catholics
believe elected officials should work together to find ways to reduce
abortions by helping prevent unwanted pregnancies, expanding adoption
and increasing economic support for women who want to carry their
pregnancies to term."

I welcome the support and collaboration of Professor Gushee, as well
as Rev. Jim Wallis of Sojourners, Catholic legal scholar Douglas Kmiec,
Richard Cizik of the National Association of Evangelicals and others,
who are calling to "reduce the number of abortions."
But I am puzzled that their goal is to reduce abortions rather than the
unintended pregnancies that force women and families to consider
abortion in the first place.

The call to reduce unintended pregnancies is the right one. What we
must focus on now are the means to do so – specifically, comprehensive
sexuality education (not abstinence-only) and universal access to
contraceptive services, including emergency contraception.

The advocates for a new common ground correctly note the correlation
between poverty and abortion rates. But they fail to mention how
poverty first contributes to unintended pregnancies. Adoption
alternatives and economic support for poor pregnant women are important
– but these strategies do not address the fact that poor women are at
least five times more likely than other women to become pregnant

Here’s what the Guttmacher Institute’s Susan Cohen
wrote the last time an abortion reduction strategy was floated by
Democrats for Life in 2006: "While it is theoretically possible that
increased social supports for pregnant women and even more
‘adoption-positive’ problem-pregnancy counseling could have some
impact, neither can hope to approach the real reductions in the
abortion rate that could be achieved by preventing unintended pregnancy in the first place." (Emphasis added.)

This is the real moral challenge we face. I’ve worked with thousands
of women facing unintended pregnancies. They aren’t looking for
"abortion on demand"; with only a handful of exceptions, these women
sat with me (often with their partners or parents beside them), and
they wept as they tried to decide what was best to do. Often they did
have financial concerns – not so much about how they would pay for
prenatal care or infant care, but about how they could afford to raise
a child (or in many cases, another child) to adulthood. Too
often, they did not have partners who they wanted to spend their lives
with or who could support them. As one of my colleagues has said, such
women have "too much responsibility already and too few resources, both
personal and economic."

So here is my suggestion for common ground. Let’s stop talking
about reducing the number of abortions as a goal in itself. Such talk
obscures what should be the principal objective – reducing unintended
pregnancies – and leads to counterproductive strategies that would
place restrictions on abortion access. It also misrepresents the platform that President-elect Obama ran on,
which affirmed a woman’s right to choose and opposed "any and all
efforts to weaken or undermine that right." The Democratic platform
called for "access to comprehensive affordable family planning services
and age-appropriate sex education which empower people to make informed
choices and live healthy lives," as well as economic support for
pregnant women.

Let’s start talking about reducing unintended pregnancies.
This is not only the better public health position, it is a faithful
and moral one as well. Five years ago, the Religious Institute
published an Open Letter to Religious Leaders on Abortion as a Moral Decision,
which includes this eloquent and irrefutable statement: "The sanctity
of human life is best upheld when we assure that it is not created

Surely this is the common ground where all of us – the new
Administration, the new Congress, even my Catholic and evangelical
colleagues – can proudly stand.

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  • invalid-0

    Debra, you said of women contemplaing abortion that “too often, they did not have partners who they wanted to spend their lives with or who could support them.” Bingo.

    Let’s start teaching our daughters to cross their legs around such men. Why are we sleeping with men we don’t want to spend our lives with or who can’t support us if we get pregnant? When we do this, we not only throw ourselves away, but also betray our sisters by spoiling these guys. In our supposed freedom, we play into their adolescent fantasies and spoil them for other women who are looking for, but can’t find real protective men.

    Also, poverty is most often caused by not finishing high school and getting pregnant outside of marriage. Don’t tell me that we need more access to contraception and sex ed. We don’t lack either of those, and yet the out-of-wedlock pregnancy rate rises and rises. We’ve produced a generation of sexual retards who think marriage is a “Father Knows Best” fantasy. Abortion is the result of this dumbing down of sex.

  • emma

    My jaw dropped as I read the subject heading of your comment, Michaela. ‘Immorality causes poverty’???!!! I don’t think I’ve read such an ignorant, over-simplified, condemnatory, classist statement in quite some time. Poverty has many more complex causes than immorality, and I’d strongly suggest cracking open a sociology book – it might help you develop a shred of compassion for other people. Blaming people for being poor and attributing poverty to things like ‘immorality’ is just a cheap way to excuse society from examining why we have such massive income inequity. Self congratulation and moral superiority complexes are so much easier and more comfortable than self reflection and actually caring about other people, but neither actually improves anyone’s lives or helps to create a better society.

  • invalid-0

    “Let’s stop talking about reducing the number of abortions as a goal in itself.”

    Thanks for admitting what the rest of us already know. You’re pro-abortion.

    And making people pay for abortions here or in other nations by overturning the Mexico City Policy is NOT the way to find common ground.

  • invalid-0

    Common ground won’t work here unless people are willing to appreciate where both sides are coming from on this issue. To people who are pro-life IT IS ABOUT REDUCING THE NUMBER OF ABORTIONS. That is becuase pro-lifers generally believe that abortion kills a human being that is as valuable as you or I and that the less that happens the better. To them abortion is far worse than unintended pregnancy, which can be considered a hardship like poverty as oppossed to being an evil like abortion.

    Contrast this with pro-choice people who may see abortion as having “moral complexities” but rarely ever admit it kills a human being who is as valuable as you or I. They of course believe that uninteded pregnancy is much worse than abortion.

    Pro-lifers should work to reduce both unintended pregnancy and abortion (reducing the former will lead to reducing the latter). Pro-choicers should welcome pro-lifers that want to reduce unintended pregnancies and not belittle their motive to reduce the actual number of abortions performed. If talk of reducing abortions in this country bothers you I have two words, grow up.

  • emma

    What better way is there to reduce abortion than to reduce unwanted pregnancy? I’m not understanding why you’re taking issue with this, DerekP and Anonymous1234. If there are fewer unwanted pregnancies, there are obviously going to be fewer abortions. Isn’t that what you want?

  • http://which-chick.livejournal.com invalid-0

    Why are we sleeping with men we don’t want to spend our lives with or who can’t support us if we get pregnant?

    I don’t know why *you’re* sleeping with them. If it upsets you that much, maybe you should stop. As for me, I’m sleeping with them because I rather like getting laid on a regular basis yet have no desire to have a man around the place full time. (They try to run things. It’s irritating.)

    Financially, I’m pretty solid compared to a lot of Americans. I carry absolutely no debt (not a mortgage, not a car payment, no student loans, nothing) and I have a year’s wages liquid in the bank for emergencies as well as a fully funded Roth IRA and another regular IRA through my work. I’m not sucking at the public tit, yo, nor do I have any desire to do so. I’m self-supporting as all hell and I am *not* poor. What I am, apparently, is “immoral” according to your belief system.

    Think what you like, but your “immorality” hasn’t made me poor. It also never made me unintentionally pregnant, either, thanks to the fine products from companies like Trojan and Ortho-Novum.

  • invalid-0

    I agree wholeheartedly we should reduce the rates of unintended pregnancy, but my larger goal is to reduce the abortion rate because abortion is worse than unintended pregnancy. I believe along with reducing unintended pregnancy we need a comprehensive approach to reducing abortion rates. This would include:

    1. Improving the economy and removing barriers that keep abortion minded women from earning a livable wage.
    2. Improving access to vital healthcare that women and unborn children need
    3. Reforming immigration policy so undocumented workers are less pressured to abort.
    4. Educate people about the reality of abortion and make the procedure “unthinkable” as an option.

    It’s option 4 that’s makes pro-choice people mad at me, but that is because we have different views on the morality abortion. My views are closer to those of William Saletan of Slate magazine if you’ve ever read him.

    To clarify what I am taking issue with is Debra’s assertion that, “It’s not about reducing abortion.” For prolifers that is what drives us becaus abortion is such a tragedy. If others can’t validate that basic concern and motive, then it becomes hard to “play on that persons team.”

  • emma

    The problem is that you’re assuming women who have abortions don’t understand ‘the reality of abortion’. They do. I don’t think you realise that the need to not have a child at that point in time overrides everything else. Basically, you’re advocating a losing strategy. I also think you’re making too much of the fact that our (pro-choicers’) priority is preventing unwanted pregnancy rather than considering abortion in itself a tragedy, given that unwanted pregnancy is that primary cause of abortion. Reducing unwanted pregnancy *will* lead to fewer abortions; that’s just logical. Remember that we also support most of the other things you’ve mentioned, and more – I think universal health care, a good social safety net, paid parental leave, affordable childcare and so on. I think everyone should benefit from a social safety net and UHC, actually, not just pregnant women and parents, but that’s a different discussion. It’s much better to work together to achieve those things, don’t you think?


    ETA: To be honest, I think you’re going to face more opposition from those who share your opposition to abortion, but who hyperventilate at the thought of universal health care, welfare, or anything else that might actually make life somewhat easier. You know the type – the ones who despise poor people and who are more interested in punishment and condemnation than actually helping people.

  • invalid-0

    Regardless of all your huff and puff Emma the reality is that sexual immorality can and does cause poverty as Michaela said. That’s not to say that all poverty is called by sexual immorality, but some of it is.

    So the question to ask is what are you going to do to help change the sexually immoral behavior (that is girls having sex with boys who refuse to support them if they get pregnant) that can cause so much poverty for young women? Here are two suggestions. How about discouraging teenage boys and girls from having sex. And, working towards reducing the hypersexualization of our culture. Are you willing to help?

  • invalid-0

    When Obama fails to live up to your expectations, call me. I’ll console you.

  • emma

    Actually, there are causes of poverty that are far more of a concern to me than sex. I also don’t view women or girls as guardians of morality; it’s sexist and rather ridiculous to place all responsibility for human sexuality on female persons. I agree that sexualisation of kids is an issue, but because it perpetuates exploitation and inequality, not because of abortion. You’re also missing the fact that a large number of women and girls don’t want children, and are happier and healthier being independent than relying on a man to support them. Generally, women (and men) have sex because they enjoy it, and I think that’s a good thing; treating sex as something dirty and immoral is toxic to all of us.


    Seriously, I would recommend that you and Michaela do some reading on the causes of poverty, because right now, because at this point, all you’re writing is ignorant, inaccurate drivel.

  • invalid-0

    How about teaching boys not to have sex if they don’t want to support a child? Or are they completely not at fault for having sex?

  • invalid-0

    So the question to ask is what are you going to do to help change the sexually immoral behavior

    For starters I taught my daughters and granddaughters to identify and avoid ‘men’ like Randall Terry, Newt Gingrich, Antonin Scalia and ANY man who is opposed to women using contraceptives.
    However, that is not the question. The question is when is people who make blanket statements like “immorality causes poverty” (and with such vicious relish) going to look in a mirror.

  • sayna

    I find it insulting that DerekP seems to think that women are too stupid to know what an abortion is. A huge problem that I have with the pro-life movement is that they consider women weak-minded and inacapable of making their own moral decisions. It takes an incredible amount of arrogance to assume that anyone who has a different opinion than you must be uninformed.

    And Derek, how do you justify saying that abortion is worse than unintended pregnancy? You’ve never experienced either one and, frankly, your “exposing the reality” comment seems to imply that your only sources of information on abortion comes from the pro-life movement and not women themselves. I’mNotSorry.net has many stories of women who do not regret having had an abortion. Would you tell any of these women to their faces that they’re lying or that their feelings are invalid? Would you tell them that they should have been forced to give birth?

  • invalid-0

    If one finishes high school, doesn’t have children outside of wedlock and gets a job (any job), there chances of living in poverty are virtually nil.

    For more on this: http://www.ncpa.org/pub/ba/ba428/