Where Did the Abortion Reduction Agenda Come From?

You could say this is a story
about the old adage: the more things change, the more they stay the

The rise of the concept of
"abortion reduction" as a worthy policy goal, currently being promoted
by some in the Democratic Party, has generally tracked the rise of the
Party’s fortunes over the past few years and the accompanying
decline in the likelihood that the Supreme Court will overturn Roe
v. Wade
. The Democrats’ ascent, and Roe‘s resilience,
has been a tough reality for antiabortion leaders to face, but they
are not out of strategic and tactical options. Politics is the art of
the possible.   

Abortion reduction, currently
being sold as the "common ground" between the pro-choice and anti-abortion
camps, has its roots in anti-abortion strategy developed over several
months in 1996 by a coalition of 45 anti-abortion and religious right
leaders. The
America We Seek: A Statement of Pro-Life Principle and Concern
was also signed by several Democratic-leaning
activists, most significantly, former Governor Robert Casey Sr. of Pennsylvania
(father of the current Senator Robert Casey Jr.).  The manifesto
was published in the May 1996 issue of the flagship journal of Catholic
neoconservatism, First Things (edited by the late John Richard
Neuhaus); in The National Review; and on the web site of Priests for Life, headed by the
militant Fr. Frank Pavone.  The source of the opportunity to reduce
abortions, they found, resided in the holdings of 1992 Supreme Court
decision in Casey v. Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pennsylvania,
named for the former governor.   

Among the forty-five were also
some of the leading proponents of abortion reduction ideas now ascendant
in Democratic Party circles: Jim Wallis of Sojourners; Professor David
Gushee, then of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, and Ron Sider
of Evangelicals for Social Action.   

"Now, as pro-life leaders
and scholars," they declared, "we want to propose a program of action…" 
And the core of that program was abortion reduction by erecting barriers
to access to abortion "in all 50 states" and creating incentives
for women to carry unplanned pregnancies to term.   

While the signers agreed that
the regulations upheld in the Casey decision "do not afford
any direct legal protection to the unborn child," they emphasized
that "experience has shown that such regulations–genuine informed
consent, waiting periods, parental notification--reduce abortions
in a locality, especially when coupled with positive efforts to promote
alternatives to abortion and service to women in crisis." [Emphasis

Abortion Reduction and Criminalization

This was, however, cast in
the context of the wider goal of criminalization. Having declared abortion
to be among other things, child killing, an act of "lethal violence,"
and a usurpation of the rule of law, the signatories added: "Any criminal sanctions considered in such legislation [then being
considered by Congress] should fall upon abortionists, not upon women
in crisis." They further urged Congress to "recognize the unborn
child as a human person entitled to the protection of the Constitution."   

They believed that "a broad-based
legal and political strategy is essential," and therefore, found "no
contradiction between a rigorous adherence to our ultimate goal and
the pursuit of reforms that advance us toward that goal."    

"Legal reforms that fall
short of our goal," they concluded, "but which help move us toward
it, save lives and aid in the process of moral and cultural renewal."  

Other prominent signatories,
led by host George Weigel of the Ethics and Public Policy Center (the
official biographer of Pope John Paul II) included Catholic legal scholar
Robert P. George of Princeton; Harvard Law professor Mary Ann Glendon,
(whom George W. Bush would appoint as Ambassador to the Vatican), James
Dobson of Focus on the Family, Ralph Reed of the then-powerful Christian
Coalition, law professor Michael W. McConnell of the University of Chicago;
Beverly LaHaye of Concerned Women for America; William Kristol then
of the Project for the Republican Future, now a contributor to Fox
, and Jean Bethke Elshtain, a political philosopher at the University
of Chicago, and currently a co-chair of the Pew Forum on Religion and
Public Life.  

While this top drawer coalition
of antiabortion leaders of the day did not mention sexuality education
and contraception as legitimate means of preventing unwanted pregnancies
(and thus "abortion reduction"), at least three of them went on
to play prominent roles in the development of the "common ground"
agenda on abortion reduction recently announced by the Democratic Party-aligned DC think tanks, Faith in Public Life and Third Way, in their
document Come
Let Us Reason Together:  A Governing Agenda to End the Culture
This document highlighted sexuality education (with an emphasis on abstinence),
access to contraception, and economic supports for adoption, as areas
of "common ground" on abortion.  

CLURT did not mention erecting
further barriers of the sort legitimized in the Casey decision. Nor did it address the need to provide for better access
to abortion care, which unavailable in 87% of the counties in the United
States, according to the Guttmacher Institute.  

Among the seven principal authors
of CLURT, Ron Sider of Evangelicals for Social Action also signed the
1996 antiabortion manifesto; while David Gushee, now of Mercer University
states in his curriculum

that he "participated in the drafting" of the document.  
Jim Wallis of Sojourners signed both.   

"Public policy has its limits,"
Gushee declared at the January 15th press conference
announcing CLURT. "We call for abortion reduction. I support this
because I believe that one of the things that must not be done to human
beings is to abort them; and yet those facing crisis pregnancies need
help to create the conditions in which they can sustain and protect
the lives for which they are now responsible."   

Abortion Reduction Reductionism 

What is remarkable is how one
of the signature antiabortion tactics of the 1990s has now migrated
into the Democratic Party under the guise of offering "common ground." 
Abortion reduction was once a matter of preventing people from exercising
their right to receive and to provide abortion care. Now a few politically
savvy Protestant evangelicals and an apparently growing number of Democrats
pols are willing to redefine historic ideas of the role of sexuality
education and family planning in terms of abortion reduction.  

Used in this way, along with
economic supports for pregnancy and adoption, pro-choice politicians
including President Obama use the term and its close variants to show
pro-lifers that they can better reduce the number of abortions than anti-choice

It is clever politics. But
there is more to it. There are profound differences just underneath
the surface of a seemingly minor tug of war over semantics. These differences
are blurred by the invocation of common ground language. The difference
was cast in sharp relief last year during negotiations over the wording of the Democratic
Party Platform position on abortion.  Prolife
evangelicals led by Jim Wallis (and CLURT co-author Joel Hunter) disagreed
with pro-choice leaders over language that sought to reduce the need
for abortion as distinct from the number of abortions.  In the
end, the platform unambiguously supported Roe and recognized the need
for abortion. In exchange, the platform also called for greater support
for women who seek to carry their pregnancies to term and for the adoption
option. But the platform avoided the term "abortion reduction."  

But have Gushee, Wallis and
Sider changed their views? In 1996 they believed that there is never
a "need" for abortion; rejected the idea that it is ever a moral
choice; and unequivocally stated that criminalization was a goal of
antiabortion legislation — even while they also pursued abortion reduction
tactics under the rubric of Casey. Today, they face different
political circumstances and the Democrats have made some accommodations
in the platform that will likely be implemented in legislation.  

The CLURT statement joins a
few pro-choice think tankers with a few prominent moderate evangelicals
in agreeing on broad principles related to sexuality education and family
planning. But that’s it. Why then, is it important?  

It is important because of
the prominence of these groups in seeking to define what a faith-based,
common ground "governing agenda" might look like.  But it is
significant also because of what it does and what it does not do. 

First, in its summary language,
CLURT seeks to have it both ways, papering over vital differences with
the slight of hand of language. 

"Reducing abortions
(reducing abortion through reducing unintended pregnancies, supporting
pregnant women, and increasing support for adoption)" [Bolding in
the original]  

Second, the pro-choice agenda
has always been about expanding access to abortion such that everyone
who needs one can get one; and emphasizing that there should be comprehensive
sex ed and access to contraception so that women and girls can control
their own reproductive future and will not have to make the
choice between termination and carrying a pregnancy to term. But unlike
the Democratic Platform, there is nothing in the CLURT statement that
acknowledges the right to or need for abortion — let alone that universal
access is a dream that is far from realized. 

Third, there is nothing in
the CLURT document that suggests that Gushee, Wallis and Sider and their
ant-iabortion allies will not pursue Casey-based policies that
erect obstacles to abortion in the name of reduction, in those states
where it is politically possible to do so.  

That these leaders were able
to agree in principle on sexuality education and family planning is
no small thing. But it is not the same thing as finding common ground
on abortion nor does it reflect a commitment to reducing barriers to
abortion or in any way increasing access.  

The concept of "abortion
reduction" as a public policy has come a long way since 1996, and
at the same time, no distance at all. 

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  • invalid-0

    Can’t you at least read over what you’ve written before you post it? This article is so poorly written I found myself re-reading nearly every sentence to try to figure out what the author meant. Especially at this length, you’d make a stronger point if you cleaned up your prose a little.

  • invalid-0

    What a radical agenda you espouse. Fr. Frank Pavone and other pro-life leaders who actually care about babies are extreme militants in your book. They’re actually very sane. Just a little clarification to you about ‘birth control.’ It is scientific fact that nearly 25% of the time birth control pills cause abortions. That’s right- they act as abortificients. So don’t pontificate that pro-life leaders should be promoting an increase of abortions and promiscuity. In New Orleans, a couple of days ago, a woman threw her newborn baby over the side of a bridge and killed her. The mother now faces capital punishment. President Obama when he was Senator in Illinois on three ocassions supported infanticide of babies born after botched abortions. What’s the difference between the mother’s crime and the abortionist’s crime (or Obama’s tacit support of murder as well)? Answer- the murder trade for abortionists is nice and legal- oh and behind closed doors. And groups like Planned Parenthood will continue to pad the coffers of sick politicians like Obama to keep their murder trade prosperous. Liberals like you have gone off the deep end and care little for your fellow human beings. Please, stop, think, and exit your world of make believe- where murder is a “choice” and those who passionately speak up for life are “dangerous.” And one other thing- Be thankful ya momma was pro-life.

  • invalid-0
  • invalid-0

    EXCELLENT article and analysis.

    “But unlike the Democratic Platform, there is nothing in the CLURT statement that acknowledges the right to or need for abortion — let alone that universal access is a dream that is far from realized.”

    Bingo, that’s the crux of the matter. Glossing over this aspect of choice purposely obscures the importance of universal access. Already we’re seeing the new administration backing away from the democratic platform by embracing the language of the religious right-wing. Let’s hope that isn’t a strategic decision to throw women under the bus in order to court a more “important” group!

    What is always missing from these discussions is the plain fact that women’s lives have value and no further justification is needed. The concept of abortion without apology needs to reemerge in campaigns that advocate for choice and universal access. For some reason, that salient point has gotten lost in recent decades and apparently the world needs a reminder!

  • invalid-0

    Abortion without apology is a losing strategy. That is why Obama did so well with voters who identify with “pro-life” because he used language of “reduction” and agreed that abortion is a serious, complicated moral issue. A candidate who embraces your approach would not reasonate with the majority of voters who support choice, but are morally against abortion.

  • invalid-0

    You sound like another rabid, speaks and thinks from programmed crap mixed with RABID emotion, thinks or cares nothing about the born, live woman, anti-choicer. Abortion is what happens when the fetus is IN the woman’s body AND not WANTED, birth is what happens when the fetus is fully gestated and ready for the world. Most abortions happen (90%) when the fetuS is less than 6 weeks IN GESTATION. So, what is your point?? If you don’t like abortion, then don’t have one. Otherwise, it isn’t your business.

  • invalid-0

    The only way to legitimately reduce abortions is to reduce the number of unwanted pregnancies – and the best strategy for doing that is making effective contraception widely available at little to no cost AND providing easy access to emergency contraception. Major ad campaigns on the social acceptability of using birth control should be conducted. The US is like a third world country when it comes to openly discussing and promoting responsible sexual behavior. Maybe it’s because the civilized world shipped all their Puritans here!

  • invalid-0

    You know what’s a losing strategy? Continued begging for access to abortion services in this climate of diminishing access and the religious hysteria to deny even birth control. It’s proven to be a losing strategy. And Obama is definitely NOT the last word on anything related to women! He’s a capitulator (I’m being generous there) to the testosterone-addled republican ruling class.

    And frankly, I don’t care what anti-choicers want or think. It’s my body and if or when an abortion is needed I don’t need to apologize for anything. Women know more and better than men what is serious and complicated about our lives and our bodies, so you can lay off being patronizing.

    If you don’t want to have an abortion, Derek, then don’t. I’m guessing it will never affect you and your body anyway. It’s that disconnect between being pro-choice but somehow schizophrenically “morally against abortion” that has zero cred. It reflects a lack of logic and critical reasoning skills. Anything less than abortion without apology is unacceptable to the majority of non-misogynistic supporters of women.

  • invalid-0

    I guess that the pro-lifers want to see women die in back allies, like used to be. That is why Roev.Wade was passed. Now at least the already born person can be saved. When is this going to end ? The law was passed, accept it and move on!! Or preach to your own kids. Grownups are not listening.

  • invalid-0

    We’re killing 1.5 million babies a year, 4,000 babies a day through abortion and I have proudly contributed to those statistics- but we need to kill more of them to fulfill our freedom of choice. After all we live in a free country; certainly we should be free to kill whomever we wish (preborn, infants, or adults), whenever we damn well want to- it’s the right thing to do for whatever the reason- and NO, I repeat NO fanatical right wingers like former prez Bush should get in our way!

    And I don’t care about the medical problems for the mother who has her baby aborted. It’s her choice and my job is to fulfill her choice. I know- abortions cause high blood
    pressure, higher tendency to suicide, exponentially
    increased risks of breast cancer (sometimes as much as
    800% increased risk for younger women), no sex drive, hemorrhaging, some deaths, depression, etc.- But life is a risk and we should have choices dammit!

  • therealistmom

    Sorry to rely on such a tired meme, but this is just laughable. No doctor providing abortion services refers to themselves as an "abortionist", and no credible, sane source backs of any of the regurigitated blather from this posting.

  • invalid-0

    Didn’t you just post the exact same comment, word for word, for another article? It was laughable there, and it’s laughable here, too.

  • invalid-0

    “sometimes as much as 800% increased risk for younger women), ”

    That was precious. Seriously. Did you know that the likelihood that anyone will take this post seriously dropped as much as 800% after reading that sentence?

  • invalid-0

    What is our objection to infant abortions?

  • invalid-0

    ew, what is an infant doing up a womans vagina.

  • therealistmom

    All three times I gave birth there was no way in hell someone was shoving it back up there!

  • invalid-0

    Hey, why’s everybody teaming up against me? I’m on the same side as you. I prefer to be called an abortionist (even though radical right wingers call us that as well- I don’t care), because that’s what I do (as the dictionary defines it- “One who causes an abortion”) – and I’m proud of it; I have nothing to hide. I’m not an abortion provider (that can be a nurse or some other assistant), and abortion doctor just sounds funny, because I’m not really the woman’s ‘doctor.’ Okay, now with the studies- I take it personally when you say my comments are laughable. It’s my business to know abortion and I think it’s very important to be transparent with every angle of it, Although, I’m obviously totally in favor of keeping abortion legal ALWAYS. I’ll explain my desire for transparency in a second. First, the 800% increase in breast cancer that you declare is a joke, is actually true- it’s applicable to 18 year old girls and younger- if they have an abortion when the fetus, baby, tissue, whatever you want to call it- is at 8 weeks into the pregnancy or more- there’s an 800% increased risk of the girl developing breast cancer- not right away but later on. The statistically significant study cited here: Daling J, Malone K, et al. “Risk of Breast Cancer among young women: relationship to induced abortion. J Natl. Cancer Inst. 1994; 86: 1584-1592. Other crediblestudies have shown huge risk for women of any age to suffer from breast cancer as a result of abortion.

    Why do I bring all this up? Because if we’re not transparent now, we’ll be sued later (even if abortion remains legal). Contraceptive companies put some of these similar side effects on the inserts included with the container. The cigarette industry puts on its’ labels that cigarettes can cause cancer- yet, all major studies show that smoking does not appear to ever cause breast cancer. But cigarette companies put that it can ‘cause cancer’- not indicating any specific type of cancer. They’re smarter than us when it comes to covering themselves legally. We need to start doing the same thing, or we’ll get sued out the wazoo in 15, 20 years when this new wave of girls and women start getting breast cancer. If we provide more information (albeit hidden), we’re less legally liable. I fear the monetary consequences to our industry if we don’t start even minutely (on things like small labeling they’ll never read anyhow) disclosing the actual risks these people face will be devastating.

    With all that said, I’m proud of my trade, because there are not too many people who have the guts or nerves of steel that I have. Because of people like me, you have the ability to say all women should and will continue to “have the right to choose

  • therealistmom

    .. because everything you’re spouting is utter bullshit. An abortion provider IS a doctor, and nobody shrugs off their M.D. People who go into women’s reproductive medicine do it because they care about the WOMAN and want her to have all of the options available to her, not simply "perform abortions" to be an "abortionist". The legitimate studies re: breast cancer and abortion show there to be no greater link between abortion and breast cancer than would be normal for ANY woman who does not have a full pregnancy, and her having a child later eliminates that particular (minute) risk factor.  Turning 18 doesn’t magically infer some kind of magic breast cancer prevention gene. Any REAL reproductive health provider talks to women about the risks involved with an abortion, which for a first-trimester procedure are much, much less than if she continued the pregnancy to term.

    In other words, simply put- you’re a fake, and full of bullshit and fail.

  • invalid-0

    Unrealistic Mom, I never said I shrugged off my M. D. Maybe you don’t consider me on “your side”, but I am on the side of preserving a woman’s freedom of choice- I’m on that side every day I utilize my well-trained abilities to secure a choice for every woman that walks through my doors. I would say by your remarks that you don’t truly care about the future of reproductive rights and the increasing litigation that will ensue unless we become more transparent in some regards. Now, you’re also very insulting to me personally and professionally- and I don’t appreciate your refusal to even consider or research the significant study I mentioned. Please cite the names of your legitimate studies and show me that they’re statistically sound over a 20 year period (otherwise they’re bogus with regards to eficacy of results for breast cancer and they’re a farce for our movement). I don’t have much more time to entertain your small mind. And, you’re not an M. D. my dear, so please show some respect and think a little bit before spouting off uneducated diatribe at me.

  • invalid-0

    Medical advances like birth control pills are allowing people to make decisions where previously only ‘God’ did.

    It is indeed regretful that instead of understanding the difference between a mother who is pregnant and a Petri dish containing fertilized human eggs you want us to live by the words and concepts of men who once believed and were totally at the mercy of their surroundings but now long dead.

    Your arguments are always the same when confronted by something new. Your arguments are no different than those used against the small pox vaccine when it first arrived. It offended the religious. Thanks to religion, small pox will never be eliminated and cervical cancer will be a deserving punishment.

    Nature, sex, eroticism and feelings of the heart are always degraded and silenced by churches in their revenge against the reality or existence of other people not like you. This is why you cannot see the difference between sex and promiscuity. Your silencing of your heart is the reason you probably did not recognize that Terry Shivo was dead before they removed life support. You cannot understand the difference between a woman who is pregnant and a vial of frozen embryos.

    You’re rage (and not well disguised rage it is) against abortion regardless of the circumstances is misusing religion to exact a revenge against the reality that your God may not be exactly what you pretend him to be. Your beliefs about the nature of others, against science, against technology and real life circumstances be damned are but the debris of a heart long ago annihilated by your church.

  • invalid-0

    Roe v. Wade wasn’t passed. It’s a Supreme Court decision based in part about privacy. There is now no law. There is pending in Congress the Freedom of Choice Act (FOCA).

  • invalid-0

    As a medical doctor, what is your assessment of the prenatal life question?

  • invalid-0

    I am a physician and an attorney and proudly pro-life. Because women are important contributors to our society, are entitled to make their own decisions and are already born, their lives trump those of any growth inside their bodies. Women are living, so that makes me pro-life.

    Your trolling radical-right political screed is a laughable, tired waste of time (I stopped reading it after it was apparent your argument relied on fake “stats” and lies. No one’s buying what you’re trying to sell.). Your masters really need new talking points, something that won’t make you such an outdated, obviously angry male desperate to control women’s sexuality.

    Face it, women are entitled to their own lives without your having any say in it. You must deal with that and move on with your life. Please get some counseling.

  • http://thewelltimedperiod.blogspot.com invalid-0

    Anon @ 2:34pm,

    The commenter at 11:21pm/11:39pm/12:43am is not, you now, actually an Ob/Gyn. Just a person trying its hardest to perform for our amusement. Granted, the attempt isn’t very successful, but the effort is there.

  • invalid-0

    Your are not a medical doctor?

  • invalid-0

    All humans belong to the species homo sapiens. All pre-born members of homo sapiens are innocent of any crimes. The seminal question surrounding abortion is quite simple: Is it a morally justifiable to purposely kill an innocent member of the species homo sapiens?

    The logic is inescapable; no reliance on religion is needed. Abortion could be objectively defined as the purposeful killing of an innocent member of homo sapiens. Can anyone sincerely argue the contrary? I don’t think so. Instead of relying on knowable truth (i.e. baby equals homo sapiens) abortion advocates are forced to cloud the issue with phony arguments involving words with flexible definitions(i.e. baby does not equal “person”). Only by choosing words carefully can an abortion proponent shirk the guilt properly associated with the fact that the act is morally indefensible.

  • invalid-0

    My momma is pro-choice.

    And so am I.


  • invalid-0

    Why are you pro choice?

  • ernestp

    Abortion is a mortal sin. Nobody else has the right to end human’s life but Jesus itself. Abortion is equivalent to any other crime ruining people’s life. Payday loan store robbery is becoming an epidemic. Payday loan store robbery has occurred from coast to coast, and the number of them has been on the rise over the last two years. In 2007, an employee of a payday cash advance loan store was shot and killed while she worked alone. Another payday loan store was robbed in Indiana on April 17th. The number of violent robberies at payday loan stores keeps going up. Lenders, customers, and employees should all do all in their power to repair credit of the security in loan shops if it curbed the occurrences of payday loan store robbery.

  • invalid-0

    Should society not be bothered by abortion’s 100% fatality rate if society criminalizes store robberies with a low fatality rate?