My Common Ground Fantasy


Editor’s Note: We mistakenly posted an earlier, unfinalized, draft of
this post. The final version is now posted. Some of the early comments
refer to sections of the draft that ultimately did not make it into the
final draft. We apologize to Steve for this mistake.

My “common ground” fantasy involves a pro-life leader standing
up and declaring, “We will be open to looking at family planning
efforts, including contraception, to reduce the number of abortions.”
This would be followed by a pro-choicer saying, “We accept that
society would be better if there were fewer abortions.” Let’s unpack why these sentences don’t normally get spoken, and why it’s important that they are.

If
you dropped in from another planet and were asked who would be the
strongest advocates for birth control, you might well say, “the people
who care most about eliminating abortion.”  Yet the opposite is the
case. Why?

The pro-life movement, like any movement, is a
coalition.  The Catholic Church is hugely important player in the
pro-life coalition and, for reasons largely unrelated to abortion, they
oppose birth control. Conservative evangelicals often oppose family
planning for different reasons, a fear that it will lead to promiscuity
and a de-sacralization of sex.

I’m not minimizing their
reasons – the Church’s teachings on sex are thought-provoking, and as
the parent of teenagers, I find much merit in the Christian argument
about the dangers of casual sex. But they are not fundamentally about
abortion.  So pro-lifers need to decide which of their beliefs is more
important: their concern for the unborn or their concerns about the
nature of premarital sex.

Some pro-lifers try to avoid this
trade off by asserting that family planning wouldn’t be effective in
reducing the number of abortions — because contraception would
encourage sex, which leads to more unintended pregnancies and therefore
abortions. But this is a practical, not a philosophical view. So a
truly single-minded pro-lifer, who places reducing the number of
abortions above other coalition or philosophical considerations – would
say, well this may work or it may not work, but there are so many
babies’ lives at stakes, it’s certainly worth trying.

In other
words, what we need are pro-life leaders who are MORE single-issue
oriented, more focused on abortion, and able to disentangle their views
on abortion from their beliefs about sex or contraception. 

As
for pro-choicers, they’ve been all over the map on whether they want
fewer abortions.  Pro-choice groups cheered when Bill Clinton came up
with the “safe, legal and rare” formulation to defend Roe v. Wade. 

But
more recently they’ve resisted the idea of “abortion reduction.” Melody
Barnes, the domestic policy director, was quoted as saying those
seeking common ground should avoid using that language and focus
instead on reducing the “need” for abortion.  In an earlier interview,
Barnes said, “"Our
goal is to reduce the need for abortions. . . . If people have better
access to contraception, that’s a way of addressing the issue at its
root, rather than do a tally of abortions."

Pro-life
writers justifiably have called them out on the inconsistency. Why do
you want abortion to be “rare” if there’s never anything wrong with
them?  How do you propose to make them rare without reducing their
numbers?

There’s also the small matter that these pro-choicers
are out of step with what Obama and Biden have promised.  During the
campaign, Obama said that dealing with unintended pregnancies is “the best answer for reducing abortions.” After his election, at Notre Dame, he said, “let’s
work together to reduce the number of women seeking abortions.”  Joe
Biden was even bolder: “What we’re going to be spending our time doing
is making sure that we reduce considerably the amount of abortions.”
 

Why
are some pro-choicers resisting the abortion reduction language?  In
part, they feel  it is “stigmatizes” women, implying that abortion is
immoral. A few responses.

First, having the right to choose
does not mean you get to be insulated from the debate about whether
your choice is moral in every case. Let’s posit that there are some
women out there making immoral decisions on abortion – say, getting a
late term abortion because they don’t like the gender.  A pro-choicer
can look at that case and still argue simultaneously that a) her choice
is immoral b) she should have the right to make it and c) society
should try to convince her not to.  

Second, wanting to reduce
the aggregate number of abortions says nothing about the morality of
any individual’s decision.  It says that as a whole, society would be
better off if there were fewer of them – in part because of the reasons
that pro-choice activists have been highlighting: it’s crazy that a
woman’s choice of whether to have an abortion should be dictated
heavily by finances; it’s disturbing that so many teens have babies;
it’s strange that so many families who want to adopt must go overseas
at a time when almost a million women terminate their pregnancies. 
Those are all good pro-choice-friendly reasons why it’s morally
preferable as a society that there be fewer abortions. 

Third,
there’s a fear that if you accept abortion reduction language, it will
lead to efforts to restrict abortions through laws.  But Obama has
already dealt with that by declaring that outside the purview of the
common ground discussions.   

It’s hard for pro-choicers to take
pro-life “common grounders” seriously if they won’t budget on birth
control; it’s equally hard for pro-lifers to take pro-choice common
grounders seriously if they won’t accept the basic premise of the
exercise.  So who will be the brave souls to break that conceptual
logjam?

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To schedule an interview with Steven Waldman please contact Communications Director Rachel Perrone at rachel@rhrealitycheck.org.

  • invalid-0

    Why is rhrealitycheck hosting a concern troll’s blog?

    That’s all this post is — one long concern trolling. The idiocy is so thick, I’m not sure how to unpack it.

    There’s the whole Christian “morality” bit, but none of that is ever going to make sense or become valid because Christian rhetoric and practice on such matters has nothing to do with morals, but with enforcing sexual and reproductive control on women.

    The “as a man” don’t-it-me bit made me laugh. When I get to decide whether my whim of the moment means your prostate cancer gets treated or not, you can have an opinion about medical care of my uterus.

    The “reducing the need” for abortions rhetoric that’s gone around is senseless noise; the core problems aren’t even remotely addressed. The Obama administration has carefully avoided language that admits how endemic male violence against women is in this country, and without cleaning that mess up, speaking of trying to “reduce” one of the primary medical treatments for the effects of such violence is sophistry at best.

  • jodi-jacobson

    Steve,

    I’d love to hear your answers to these questions, as they never get answered.

    You write:

    The Catholic Church is hugely important player in the pro-life
    coalition and, for reasons largely unrelated to abortion, they oppose
    birth control. 

    Could it possibly be that the institutional Catholic Church’s position on morality as a whole is based on a mysognistic view of women?  The USCCB, for example, likes to talk about poverty, but has taken actions that directly increase the poverty of women and girls by denying them access to basic primary reproductive health services, by denying the rights of sex workers, by enforcing notions of marriage and virginity that undermine women’s status in society.  Last year, at the insistence of the USCCB, HIV positive women were denied access to birth control under US global AIDS policy.  I could go on, but to try to separate these out from other aspects of the institutional church’s position with respect to choice is disingenuous at best and intellectually dishonest.

    Catholic pro-lifers oppose birth control as Catholics,
    not as pro-lifers.

     Huh?

    Conservative evangelicals often oppose family
    planning for different reasons, a fear that it will lead to promiscuity
    and a de-sacralization of sex. Again, a serious concern, but not
    directly related to abortion.

    You have repeated these assertions without examination in your other columns on BeliefNet….that the "fear that [contraception] will lead to promiscuity" is "a serious concern."  Really?  Why?  No single study shows that access to family planning services does anything to increase "promiscuity."  And what is "promiscuity" anyway?

    Why continue to use this misleading and unexamined langauge.

    It says that as a whole, society would be better off if there were
    fewer of them – in part because of the reasons that pro-choice
    activists have been highlighting: it’s crazy that a woman’s choice of
    whether to have a child should be dictated heavily by finances; it’s
    disturbing that so many teens have babies; it’s strange that so many
    families seeking to adopt are forced to go overseas at a time when more
    than a million women terminate their pregnancies. 

    Really?  How is it that society is better off by interfering in women’s choices at the individual level?  All the reasons you cite are precisely the reasons to focus on unintended pregnancy, not the number of abortions.  Please see this piece for the facts on why.

    Would love to get some answers, finally, to these questions.

    Jodi Jacobson

  • http://acrimonyastraea.livejournal.com invalid-0

    Pro-life writers have called them out on the inconsistency. Why do you want abortion to be “rare” if there’s never anything wrong with them? How do you propose to make them rare without reducing their numbers?

    Seriously?

    This entire article does not sound like someone who is actually interested in understanding the pro-choice argument. Instead, the only purpose here is to repeat assertions without any kind of logical or factual basis, as Ms Jacobson pointed out. I’m really disappointed in RHRealityCheck’s new focus on the common ground strategy, especially if posts like this and concerns about the “sacredness of sex” are what we’re going to be seeing more of.

  • invalid-0

    But more recently they’ve resisted the idea of “abortion reduction.” Melody Barnes, the domestic policy director, was quoted as saying they wanted to avoid using that language and focus instead on reducing the “need” for abortion. In an earlier interview, Barnes said, “”Our goal is to reduce the need for abortions. . . . If people have better access to contraception, that’s a way of addressing the issue at its root, rather than do a tally of abortions.”

    Pro-life writers have called them out on the inconsistency. Why do you want abortion to be “rare” if there’s never anything wrong with them? How do you propose to make them rare without reducing their numbers?

    Steven, are you really daft enough to ask this question in all honesty? I tend to doubt it, because you would not be in the position you are in if you didn’t have at least some smarts about you.

    We want abortion to be rare for the same reason we want any sort of invasive surgery to be rare. Do you think the American Heart Association would like to see the number of open-heart surgeries increase? Is there anyone out there who would get a kick out of more appendectomies being performed?

    Jesus freaking Christ, Steven! Only a man could ask why we wouldn’t want to make abortions rare, independently of anti-choice arguments. You don’t know what it’s like to have a surgical instrument inserted into your vagina. Yeah, women really get a kick out of that. Next time you have a catheter inserted, or a rectal digital exam, ask yourself if it wouldn’t be nice to make that sort of procedure rare.

    And as for “rare” versus “reduction?” It comes down to high-school economics: supply versus demand. Anti-choicers want to cut the abortion supply, pro-choicers want to cut the demand. We don’t focus simply on reducing abortions for their own sake, because that leaves open the possibility that people who need abortions won’t be able to get them. Which for us, defeats the entire f***ing purpose. We’re not going to let that happen, any more than we’re going to allow abortion to be made illegal.

    When the AHA is concerned about large numbers of heart-bypass surgeries, they don’t set out on a “heart-surgery reduction” agenda. Hell, they could achieve that just by closing cardiac ORs—but they don’t, because then people who would have had surgeries would simply die of heart attacks instead. No, instead, they focus on programs to encourage healthy eating and exercise, so that people don’t get to the point of needing heart surgery in the first place. Which, yes, would eventually result in fewer surgical procedures being performed. But that is only an indicator of success, which is not the same thing as the end goal.

  • http://www.krogermix.com invalid-0

    Steven,
    I think what you wish would happen from pro-choice and pro-life leaders is already under way. Many courageous people on both sides are coming forward to find common ground, and their message is resonating with millions in the middle. I am hopeful that the dialogue taking place in Washington, on this blog, in organizations, and in households across the country will move us forward to achieve common goals.

  • invalid-0

    The newer draft of the post doesn’t improve anything as far as I can see. All the problems and questions in the comments still stand, and the author is nothing but a concern troll.

    Proof that the author cares nothing whatsoever about reducing abortions: He still doesn’t address endemic male violence against women in this country.

    What’s the number one cause of death in pregnant women? Male violence. When is the danger greatest from a violent domestic partner? When you try to leave. Any legitimate discussion of the topic must start there.

    • invalid-0

      Helen,

      Please don’t believe everything you read reprinted on the NOW newssite. Although not entirely clear in the NOW reprint, that study was for Maryland only. Among many critiques of that study was the observation that the practices of medical examiners in Maryland lead to the under-reporting of other causes of death in some cases, which inflates the homicide numbers.

      A 2005 article in the American Journal of Public Health ranks homicide as the second-leading cause of injury-related deaths among pregnant women in the U.S., behind car accidents. A number of medical-related causes ranked higher than either of these. Murder accounted for about 15 percent of all reported pregnancy-related deaths in that study.

      It’s impossible to deny the epidemic nature of male violence on women in our country. It’s clearly an important factor in women’s decisions to give birth or have abortions. But maybe Steve deserves a little breathing room here.

      See Chang, et al. Homicide: A Leading Cause of Injury Deaths Among Pregnant and Postpartum Women in the United States, 1991–1999. March 2005, Vol 95, No. 3 American Journal of Public Health 471-477

  • steven-waldman

    Helen, though horrendous for those women who are victimized, I’m not aware of any study showing that male violence is the main cause of abortions. Can you give me a link to a study? I’m happy to post

    Anonymous, next time I have a digital rectal exam I’ll be sure to let you know whether that changes my views about abortion policy. I take your point and should have included this – the obvious desire to avoid surgery – as a reason why some people would want abortions to be more rare.

    However, I do not believe that when Obama and Biden were winning over centrist voters – Hispanics, Catholics – by saying he wanted to reduce the number of abortions, that they were tapping into a desire to reduce unnecessary medical procedures.

    84% of Americans want late term abortions banned which means that even a big chunk of pro-choice Americans want it made illegal.

    That’s not about avoiding an unnecessary prodecure; that’s most of Americans making a judgment that in the late stages of abortion, the woman’s right should be balanced against the rights of the baby/fetus. Roe v. Wade itself implicitly endorsed that position by allowing for restrictions in the third trimester.

    More important, let’s posit for a moment that the only reason anyone wants to have fewer abortions is to reduce the frequency of an invasive medical procedure. Why wouldn’t you be willing to say “I want to reduce the number of those procedures” – especially if making such a statement could lead to a political compromise that would actually reduce the number of those procedures?

  • invalid-0

    I take your point and should have included this – the obvious desire to avoid surgery – as a reason why some people would want abortions to be more rare. However, I do not believe that when Obama and Biden were winning over centrist voters – Hispanics, Catholics – by saying he wanted to reduce the number of abortions, that they were tapping into a desire to reduce unnecessary medical procedures.

    I never suggested that they were. My point was that even those on the pro-choice side who dismiss the “moral complexity” angle vis-a-vis abortion will still be inclined to take measures to reduce the need for them.

    Think of it like heart surgery, Steven. You may scoff at the idea that going in for heart surgery should be a morally difficult issue for you, and most people certainly don’t view it that way—if you need it, you get it done. But that doesn’t mean that the American Heart Association shouldn’t want to encourage people to exercise and eat healthily so that they don’t end up needing the surgery in the first place. They can work to reduce the need for heart surgery without the implication that such surgery is morally problematic. It’s enough to say, “Hey, it’s surgery, it’s avoidable, why don’t we try to avoid it?”

    84% of Americans want late term abortions banned which means that even a big chunk of pro-choice Americans want it made illegal.

    It’s a good thing we live in a republic, and not a democracy, and that individual rights are not something we subject to the will of the majority. (Usually.)

    More important, let’s posit for a moment that the only reason anyone wants to have fewer abortions is to reduce the frequency of an invasive medical procedure. Why wouldn’t you be willing to say “I want to reduce the number of those procedures” – especially if making such a statement could lead to a political compromise that would actually reduce the number of those procedures?

    Because it implies that impeding access to abortion is a valid means of achieving that reduction. It is not compromise to endorse public policy that would result in people who need abortions not being able to get them. Abortion needs to be tackled on the demand side, not the supply side. By insisting on “reducing unwanted pregnancies,” we make that approach explicit, and put the focus where it needs to be.

    Reduced abortion numbers are the tail. Reduced unwanted pregnancies are the dog. The tail does not wag the dog.

  • invalid-0

    “I’m not aware of any study showing that male violence is the main cause of abortions.”

    She didn’t say it was. The leading cause of death for pregnant women, however, is homicide.

    Pregnancy is also a risk factor for domestic violence to begin and domestic violence is a risk factor for unwanted pregnancy AND for abortion.

    “Partner violence is the strongest predictive factor of whether young women with unwanted pregnancies will choose to terminate, a study by La Trobe University has found.”

    http://www.sciencealert.com.au/news/20070304-14779-2.html

  • http://acrimonyastraea.livejournal.com invalid-0

    “Why wouldn’t you be willing to say “I want to reduce the number of those procedures” – especially if making such a statement could lead to a political compromise that would actually reduce the number of those procedures?”

    Because it disappears the woman involved. Whereas with other medical procedures, our desire to reduce them is clearly and obviously rooted in concern for the health of the person and their wellbeing, focusing on reducing the number of abortions as a procedure implies that women are an obstacle, not the subject of our concern. Reproductive rights advocates are concerned for actual women and their health, and our language and beliefs are centered around her.

  • http://www.urologie-davody.fr/ invalid-0

    Digital rectal examination is very specific for prostate cancer diagnosis, if performed by an experienced urologist.
    Most of nodules in the prostate are prostate cancer. But it is not very sensitive as many cancer happens with normal prostate at rectal examination.

  • invalid-0

    One can logically oppose abortion and, at the same time, accept or even promote contraception. One cannot be truly pro-life and, at the same time, accept or even promote contraception. Contraception is, by its very nature, anti-life; it’s entire purpose (as contraception — I am not referring to the use of some methods which have both contraceptive and disease prevention uses) is to prevent the procreation of new life. Thus, anyone who is truly pro-life can never be pro-contraception. It is a contradiction in terms.

  • jodi-jacobson

    Sexual violence and coercion are leading causes worldwide of a) unintended pregnancy, b) HIV and other sexually transmitted infections in women, and c) other adverse outcomes of unprotected sex, not to mention the emotional and psychological trauma of forced sex and coercion.

    Intimate partner violence is the most common form of sexual violence and coercion worldwide–e.g. sexual violence caused by husbands and primary partners. Studies done by the World Health Organization in numerous countries using comparable methodologies have found that between one-fourth and one half of women had experienced sexual violence and/or coercion in their lifetimes.

    Add to this plain old physical violence against women and girls and violence against women is an epidemic in and of itself.

    Because of the links between violence and unintended pregnancy resulting from violence and coercion–let’s make clear here we are talking about for example marital rape–there is no doubt that violence against women by intimate partners contributes to women desperately seeking abortions to terminate pregnancies they did not want resulting from sexual violence/rape over which they have no control.

    These are serious, profound human rights violations, causes of death, illness and lifelong disability for women, and a major, major public health problem that contributes in turn to other major public health problems at no small cost to women and girls and societies.

    Lack of knowledge of these issues at any level is why it is so dangerous for people like Steve Waldman to have a platform on these issues. If you are going to pontificate on something and pretend to be an expert, it might help to actually understand the data, issues, and science behind the topic.

    Jodi Jacobson

  • steven-waldman

    GL,

    Seems to me there’s an enormous moral difference between preventing a potential life from being created and terminating an already-created life. Taking this position, in a way, undercuts the case against abortion — minimizing the gravity of abortion by putting it on the same moral plane as birth control

  • invalid-0

    Steve,

    I never said that their wasn’t a difference. The issue here is that many pro-lifers, myself included, believe that birth control is a sin as well. While it does not involve the grave moral evil of killing an existing life, it does seek to prevent a new life from coming into existence and is, therefore, anti-life. More fundamentally for orthodox Christians is that all Christian denominations agreed on this point until less than 100 years ago. Those of us who hold to this view are simply adhering to what C.S. Lewis observed to be an almost unbroken Christian teaching. (A teaching which had only recently been broken when he wrote those words.) I’m not trying to convince pro-choicers that birth control is a sin. We are looking for common ground, not seeking new areas for dispute.

    Many pro-lifers would welcome working with pro-choicers on was to reduce the number of abortions, but just as there are issues on which we cannot pro-choicers to compromise in that effort, pro-choicers must recognize that there are issues upon which many pro-lifers can compromise. Those issues will need to be set aside and the parties will need to identify on steps upon which they can agree if any common ground is to be found. If pro-choicers are sincere about finding common ground, they will have to respect positions upon which we cannot agree and limit our efforts to areas in which we can.

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

      However the demographic situation continues to remain disturbing despite all measures accepted by the government in this area: in 2007 on 1,602 million newborns it was necessary to 2,080 million died. Number of resident population of the USA for January, 1st, 2008 has made 142 million persons and continues to decrease. Under United Nations forecasts, the population of the USA will be reduced by 2050 to 108 million persons. Now the share of the USA does not exceed 2,4% of the world population. By 2050 it will fall already to 1,1%.

      Thus the USA occupies one of the first positions in the world by quantity of abortions – 1,4 million in 2007. We will notice, that this figure is hardly exact: private medical institutions care of the statistican a little. Apparently, real figures considerably exceed official (according to various researchers – in 2-4 times). Excessive use for regulation of birth rate of artificial abortion sharply distinguishes our country from the majority of the developed neighbours.

  • steven-waldman

    GL,
    Hypothetically, if you could be convinced that more access to birth control reduced the number of abortions, would you support it — in the spirit of accepting one sin in favor of reducing a more grevious one?

    Steve

  • invalid-0

    No. First, you can’t convince me of that. Quite the contrary, I believe the evidence is that the false promise of effective contraception has led to an increase in “unwanted” pregnancies and abortions, not a reduction. Even if I could be so convinced, however, I do not support sinning that good may result. Indeed, I believe that this kind of thinking has led to the high abortion rates.

    I certainly don’t support any effort to make contraception illegal and those who want to support it through their private charitable giving may certainly do so (just as my wife and I have supported efforts to give women choices other than abortion through our private charity), but I oppose public funding to support it. (In fact, contraception is already receiving a great deal of public funding, so we are really just talking about whether more money should be spent on the effort.) I believe, in the end, it would prove to be counterproductive.

    That does not mean we can’t find common ground, however. Large tax credits for adoption, for example, should be something that both sides can agree on. We should explore ways to better support expectant mothers who might be willing to give birth to their babies and place them for adoption but for the lack of resources if they chose that option. Perhaps we should explore means of making it easier for a single mother to keep her children without, at the same time, encouraging having a baby for a check. Perhaps the Clinton era welfare reform needs to be revisited to see if the problems it created can be remedied without reopening the problems it was designed to solve.

    If, against my wishes, we are to remain a nation which gives women the right to choose abortion, then we need to at least find ways to really give them choices other than abortion so that, in fact, they have true freedom of choice. To say that women have the right to choose, but to only adequately support one choice is not pro-choice, it is pro-abortion. That is where common ground should exist — supporting options other than abortion — and where efforts to find compromise should be directed.

    Again, why not identify the common ground and then work there rather than using this effort to highlight further differences? If both side truly want to work to reduce abortion, we need to stop debating issues over which we have irreconcilable differences and start working on solutions to which both sides can fully agree in principle, if not in detail. The areas for compromise should be over the details for implementing agreed to principles, not the principles themselves or else the effort will fail before it is given a chance to succeed.

    • http://nation-health.blogspot.com/ invalid-0

      Many gynecologists agree in opinion, that oral contraception, that is reception of tablets, – the best way of protection against undesirable pregnancy.

  • http://www.rationalresistance.blogspot.com invalid-0

    @GL
    What are you talking about? You said:

    One cannot be truly pro-life and, at the same time, accept or even promote contraception. Contraception is, by its very nature, anti-life; it’s entire purpose (as contraception — I am not referring to the use of some methods which have both contraceptive and disease prevention uses) is to prevent the procreation of new life.

    If you believe this, how far do you go in counting human activity that reduces the number of new human lives as sinful?

    The rhythm method? What about simple abstinence? What if I’m not having sex with a fertile female right now–how dare I?

  • invalid-0

    Nice fantasy friend
    But dont do it everyday
    lol
    regards
    Rusli Zainal Sang Visioner