Can Common Ground Prevail?

Cristina Page

When it comes to the abortion conflict in the U.S. a fascinating new consensus is emerging: the need for common ground. And while the common ground movement has yet to formalize there are signs of its potency, to be sure.

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.

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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.

News Human Rights

Feds Prep for Second Mass Deportation of Asylum Seekers in Three Months

Tina Vasquez

Those asylum seekers include Mahbubur Rahman, the leader of #FreedomGiving, the nationwide hunger strike that spanned nine detention centers last year and ended when an Alabama judge ordered one of the hunger strikers to be force fed.

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS), for the second time in three months, will conduct a mass deportation of at least four dozen South Asian asylum seekers.

Those asylum seekers include Mahbubur Rahman, the leader of #FreedomGiving, the nationwide hunger strike that spanned nine detention centers last year and ended when an Alabama judge ordered one of the hunger strikers to be force-fed.

Rahman’s case is moving quickly. The asylum seeker had an emergency stay pending with the immigration appeals court, but on Monday morning, Fahd Ahmed, executive director of Desis Rising Up and Moving (DRUM), a New York-based organization of youth and low-wage South Asian immigrant workers, told Rewire that an Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officer called Rahman’s attorney saying Rahman would be deported within 48 hours. As of 4 p.m. Monday, Rahman’s attorney told Ahmed that Rahman was on a plane to be deported.

As of Monday afternoon, Rahman’s emergency stay was granted while his appeal was still pending, which meant he wouldn’t be deported until the appeal decision. Ahmed told Rewire earlier Monday that an appeal decision could come at any moment, and concerns about the process, and Rahman’s case, remain.

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An online petition was created in hopes of saving Rahman from deportation.

ICE has yet to confirm that a mass deportation of South Asian asylum seekers is set to take place this week. Katherine Weathers, a visitor volunteer with the Etowah Visitation Project, an organization that enables community members to visit with men in detention at the Etowah County Detention Center in Gadsden, Alabama, told Rewire that last week eight South Asian men were moved from Etowah to Louisiana, the same transfer route made in April when 85 mostly Muslim South Asian asylum seekers were deported.

One of the men in detention told Weathers that an ICE officer said to him a “mass deportation was being arranged.” The South Asian asylum seeker who contacted Weathers lived in the United States for more than 20 years before being detained. He said he would call her Monday morning if he wasn’t transferred out of Etowah for deportation. He never called.

In the weeks following the mass deportation in April, it was alleged by the deported South Asian migrants that ICE forcefully placed them in “body bags” and that officers shocked them with Tasers. DRUM has been in touch with some of the Bangladeshis who were deported. Ahmed said many returned to Bangladesh, but there were others who remain in hiding.

“There are a few of them [who were deported] who despite being in Bangladesh for three months, have not returned to their homes because their homes keep getting visited by police or intelligence,” Ahmed said.

The Bangladeshi men escaped to the United States because of their affiliations and activities with the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), the opposition party in Bangladesh, as Rewire reported in April. Being affiliated with this party, advocates said, has made them targets of the Bangladesh Awami League, the country’s governing party.

DHS last year adopted the position that BNP, the second largest political party in Bangladesh, is an “undesignated ‘Tier III’ terrorist organization” and that members of the BNP are ineligible for asylum or withholding of removal due to alleged engagement in terrorist activities. It is unclear how many of the estimated four dozen men who will be deported this week are from Bangladesh.

Ahmed said that mass deportations of a particular group are not unusual. When there are many migrants from the same country who are going to be deported, DHS arranges large charter flights. However, South Asian asylum seekers appear to be targeted in a different way. After two years in detention, the four dozen men set to be deported have been denied due process for their asylum requests, according to Ahmed.

“South Asians are coming here and being locked in detention for indefinite periods and the ability for anybody, but especially smaller communities, to win their asylum cases while inside detention is nearly impossible,” Ahmed told Rewire. “South Asians also continue to get the highest bond amounts, from $20,000 to $50,000. All of this prevents them from being able to properly present their asylum cases. The fact that those who have been deported back to Bangladesh are still afraid to go back to their homes proves that they were in the United States because they feared for their safety. They don’t get a chance to properly file their cases while in detention.”

Winning an asylum claim while in detention is rare. Access to legal counsel is limited inside detention centers, which are often in remote, rural areas.

As the Tahirih Justice Center reported, attorneys face “enormous hurdles in representing their clients, such as difficulty communicating regularly, prohibitions on meeting with and accompanying clients to appointments with immigration officials, restrictions on the use of office equipment in client meetings, and other difficulties would not exist if refugees were free to attend meetings in attorneys’ offices.”

“I worry about the situation they’re returning to and how they fear for their lives,” Ahmed said. “They’ve been identified by the government they were trying to escape and because of their participation in the hunger strike, they are believed to have dishonored their country. These men fear for their lives.”

Roundups Law and Policy

Gavel Drop: Republicans Can’t Help But Play Politics With the Judiciary

Jessica Mason Pieklo & Imani Gandy

Republicans have a good grip on the courts and are fighting hard to keep it that way.

Welcome to Gavel Drop, our roundup of legal news, headlines, and head-shaking moments in the courts.

Linda Greenhouse has another don’t-miss column in the New York Times on how the GOP outsourced the judicial nomination process to the National Rifle Association.

Meanwhile, Dahlia Lithwick has this smart piece on how we know the U.S. Supreme Court is the biggest election issue this year: The Republicans refuse to talk about it.

The American Academy of Pediatrics is urging doctors to fill in the blanks left by “abstinence-centric” sex education and talk to their young patients about issues including sexual consent and gender identity.

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Good news from Alaska, where the state’s supreme court struck down its parental notification law.

Bad news from Virginia, though, where the supreme court struck down Democratic Gov. Terry McAuliffe’s executive order restoring voting rights to more than 200,000 felons.

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) will leave behind one of the most politicized state supreme courts in modern history.

Turns out all those health gadgets and apps leave their users vulnerable to inadvertently disclosing private health data.

Julie Rovner breaks down the strategies anti-choice advocates are considering after their Supreme Court loss in Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt.   

Finally, Becca Andrews at Mother Jones writes that Texas intends to keep passing abortion restrictions based on junk science, despite its loss in Whole Woman’s Health.