Can Common Ground Prevail?


When it comes to the abortion conflict in the US a fascinating new consensus is emerging: the need for common ground. Americans, it seems, are weary of the acrimony, the endless fight. People want pro-choice and pro-life advocates to work together to reduce the need for abortion. Pro-choice groups have for years 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, a mainstay of the traditional pro-life agenda.  Surprisingly, after decades of resistance, some in the pro-life movement are stepping forward in support of these pro-choice goals, even if that means jeopardizing their standing in the established pro-life community.

According to Faith in Public Life Poll, the vast majority (83%) of voters, including white evangelicals (86%) and Catholics (81%), believe elected leaders should work together to find ways to reduce the need for abortion. 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 the third debate, Obama predicted, "we can find some common ground." Indeed, the abortion conflict may emerge as an early test case of Obama’s idealism, his 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. In fairness, many pro-choice leaders have been cynical about the possibility of cooperating with opponents they often see as irrational and unbending. After all, their only response has been to try to outlaw abortion—a goal that has proven to have little impact on the prevalence of abortion. Ironically, it has been the pro-choice agenda that has lowered unwanted pregnancy and abortion rates worldwide. Primarily that has been through the dissemination of methods of birth control, something not a single pro-life group has supported.

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, they are now supporting at least some of the proven effective ways to make abortion less necessary. A new breed of pro-life activist, catalyzed by this election, appears to be motivated more by results that timeworn rhetoric.

Take Douglas Kmiec who has impeccable pro-life, Catholic, and republican credentials. Kmiec has 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 all of this new breed, still opposes abortion on moral grounds. He, like several other common ground advocates, has not identified an increase in the availability of birth control as area of common ground. But they have made a striking, and seemingly decisive break from their pro-life comrades. Perhaps most striking is the 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 also a new pro-life group that’s calling for a common ground approach to the abortion conflict. James Salt, director of Catholics United explained, "People of faith are tired of leaders who wear the pro-life label without enacting policies that actually prevent abortions. It’s time for candidates and elected officials, regardless of party affiliation, to move from rhetoric to results by addressing a comprehensive strategy to address abortion in America." 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."

Joel Hunter board member of the National Association of Evangelicals and pastor of one of the nation’s largest churches, explained, "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."

And while what might be called a common ground movement has yet to formalize, there is at least one signal of its potency. Common ground pro-life leaders have won the ire of the old guard, anti-abortion hierarchy. Indeed the traditional pro-life old guard, the one at the helm for decades, view this new approach as a type of treason, moral and political. 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."

For people on both sides of this long- and hard-fought issue, and certainly for the public, it appears that a turning point may have been reached. Common ground is emerging as a platform on which to build a common sense approach to reducing unwanted pregnancy and the need for abortion, a goal shared by pro-choice and pro-life. Clearly, the sides will not agree on everything – indeed the initial areas of agreement may be small. Yet, 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, up until now, 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.

Like this story? Your $10 tax-deductible contribution helps support our research, reporting, and analysis.

To schedule an interview with contact director of communications Rachel Perrone at rachel@rhrealitycheck.org.

  • scott-swenson

    Cristina, great article. It is wonderful to see the diversity of people who consider themselves “pro-life” emerging from the dour cloud of anti-choice, anti-contraception, anti-sex ed leadership that has defined the opposition, prevented progress and created a generation of gridlock not only on this issue, but in government as a whole. Their divisive ways will be seen by history for what they are.


    Be the change you seek,

    Scott Swenson, Editor

  • http://abortionabout.com invalid-0

    On one side, we have the problem of the “unintended, unwanted, or life-threatening pregnancies” and all that may go with it: a woman in crisis, lack of funding, contraception, women’s rights, fear, poverty, lack of education, financial difficulty, medical complications, rape, incest, immaturity, etc.

    On the other side, we have the problem of the “the taking of a human life” and all that may go with it: the ethical and moral complexity, our innate desire to preserve human life, religious beliefs, accusations of infanticide, homicide, genocide, racism, discrimination, selective breeding, issues of conscience, psychological and physiological issues, etc.

    Now, of these sides, neither is so simple or detached from the whole that it can be dealt with separately. Together, these sides form a single issue with two sides that must be addressed together and at the same time. One cannot simply choose to address one side and ignore the other.

    If we choose to address the issue of abortion, we must choose to address both sides equally. To fail to do so is an insult and injustice to humanity.

    We should not and cannot separate the sides of this issue. To just state that it is wrong to take a human life and then ignore the problems of the other side is inhuman. And vice-versa. To make the choice of terminating unintended, unwanted, or life-threatening pregnancies without regard for the problems that exist on the other side only serves to degrade our humanity.

    We need to develop and implement options that serve the needs of both sides, that help the mother and save the child. Options like:

    • Help with medical bills
    • Help continuing or pursuing a career or education
    • Help dealing with family, friends, and the father of the child
    • Help with housing
    • Help in obtaining psychological and material support for a single parent
    • Help dealing with timing issues
    • Help preparing for motherhood
    • Help to avoid poverty and welfare
    • Help in navigating through the pregnancy
    • Help in the form of initial financial assistance
    • Help dealing with medical complications
    • Help dealing with having another child after a recent birth
    • Help in the form of support for doing “what you believe is the right thing”
    • Help with adoption
    • Love instead of judgement

    Maybe, if we can expand and improve the viable options, the “need” for abortion will eventually become a thing of the past.

  • amanda-marcotte

    Which is the most important, and until "pro-lifers" face up to it—sincerely—they won’t really be trying to reduce the abortion rate so much as trying to improve their image.

     

    *Help planning your pregnancies so they come when they are welcome, planned for, and joyous.  

    *Help avoiding pregnancy at all other times in a realistic way that honors humanity by allowing that sexual connection, sexual desire, and sexual pleasure are good things, not bad things.

     

    In other words: contraception/education, contraception/education, contraception/education.

     

    The first step towards reducing the abortion rate is believing in your heart that Sex Is Good.  It’s good for the body, spirit, and mind.  It’s good for relationships and for individuals.  It’s not dirty.  It doesn’t make women whores.  It’s good.  And people deserve to have sex just for fun.  They don’t have to feel they’re risking pregnancy every time.

     

    Once people really believe they deserve safe, protected sexual pleasure, they’ll act like it.  They’ll use contraception.  They’ll be able to get it because others won’t block them.  They won’t have sex only when they "slip" and don’t have protection.  They won’t hate themselves for being sexual and neglect protection out of self-loathing.

     

    Until the "pro-life" movement quits preaching self-loathing for sexual desire, the abortion rate will stay appallingly high.  And the general public will continue to be frustrated.

  • anna-clark

    Thanks for this article, Cristina. It’s heartening to hear stories of how courageous collaboration can move us toward a more healthful and just future. I admire the people you’ve profiled who’ve had the nerve to make first steps.

     

    But while you profile people coming from the pro-life movement, ready to work for common ground, I wonder why you didn’t profile those in the pro-choice movement who are likewise ready to collaborate.

     

    By focusing only on pro-lifers ready for common ground, I think an unintentionally slanted picture appears–one where pro-choicers wait for "them" to work with "us" on common ground, rather than all of us working together. 

     

    It will take not just pro-lifers who have the courage to work with pro-choicers, but pro-choicers who have the courage to work with pro-lifers. No doubt pro-choice activists who consider working on common ground will likewise face resistance from others in their movement who mistrust any collaboration with "the enemy."

     

    Collaboration for common ground needs to be mutual if it is to sustainable and effective. We can better support it by manifesting that mutuality in the stories we tell and report.

  • anna-clark

    Thanks for this article, Cristina. It’s heartening to hear stories of how courageous collaboration can move us toward a more healthful and just future. I admire the people you’ve profiled who’ve had the nerve to make first steps.

     

    But while you profile people coming from the pro-life movement, ready to work for common ground, I wonder why you didn’t profile those in the pro-choice movement who are likewise ready to collaborate.

     

    By focusing only on pro-lifers ready for common ground, I think an unintentionally slanted picture appears–one where pro-choicers wait for "them" to work with "us" on common ground, rather than all of us working together. 

     

    It will take not just pro-lifers who have the courage to work with pro-choicers, but pro-choicers who have the courage to work with pro-lifers. No doubt pro-choice activists who consider working on common ground will likewise face resistance from others in their movement who mistrust any collaboration with "the enemy."

     

    Collaboration for common ground needs to be mutual if it is to sustainable and effective. We can better support it by manifesting that mutuality in the stories we tell and report.

  • anna-clark

    Thanks for this article, Cristina. It’s heartening to hear stories of how courageous collaboration can move us toward a more healthful and just future. I admire the people you’ve profiled who’ve had the nerve to make first steps.

     

    But while you profile people coming from the pro-life movement, ready to work for common ground, I wonder why you didn’t profile those in the pro-choice movement who are likewise ready to collaborate.

     

    By focusing only on pro-lifers ready for common ground, I think an unintentionally slanted picture appears–one where pro-choicers wait for “them” to work with “us” on common ground, rather than all of us working together. 

     

    It will take not just pro-lifers who have the courage to work with pro-choicers, but pro-choicers who have the courage to work with pro-lifers. No doubt pro-choice activists who consider working on common ground will likewise face resistance from others in their movement who mistrust any collaboration with “the enemy.”

     

    Collaboration for common ground needs to be mutual if it is to sustainable and effective. We can better support it by manifesting that mutuality in the stories we tell and report.

  • anna-clark

    Thanks for this article, Cristina. It’s heartening to hear stories of how courageous collaboration can move us toward a more healthful and just future. I admire the people you’ve profiled who’ve had the nerve to make first steps.

     

    But while you profile people coming from the pro-life movement, ready to work for common ground, I wonder why you didn’t profile those in the pro-choice movement who are likewise ready to collaborate.

     

    By focusing only on pro-lifers ready for common ground, I think an unintentionally slanted picture appears–one where pro-choicers wait for "them" to work with "us" on common ground, rather than all of us working together. 

     

    It will take not just pro-lifers who have the courage to work with pro-choicers, but pro-choicers who have the courage to work with pro-lifers. No doubt pro-choice activists who consider working on common ground will likewise face resistance from others in their movement who mistrust any collaboration with "the enemy."

     

    Collaboration for common ground needs to be mutual if it is to sustainable and effective. We can better support it by manifesting that mutuality in the stories we tell and report.