Last November, the American people voted in change. For President
Obama, common ground in tough debates not only is possible, it is
urgently necessary to move America forward. On one of the hardest,
most intractable of issues — abortion — Obama has signaled his
intention to move us beyond the divisiveness of old and into the realm
of shared values that can offer real solutions. Unfortunately, some of
the soldiers in the abortion wars — including some of my friends in
the pro-choice movement — have not yet adapted to the changing times.
We in the pro-choice movement must embrace and not fear common ground
on abortion. We do not sacrifice our support for abortion rights. We
add to it common ground.
Let’s understand what common ground on abortion means. As Third Way
has always said, common ground on abortion is reducing abortions
without criminalization and without coercion. A common ground abortion
agenda seeks to address the root causes of abortion and thereby reduce
the need for abortion. It has two policy tracks: prevention of
unintended pregnancy, because almost half of all unintended
pregnancies end in abortion, and support for pregnant women and new
families, because one of the top two reasons women say they have
abortions is that they cannot afford a child.
To be clear, prevention includes contraception, comprehensive sex
education, and helping parents communicate with their teens about sex
and healthy relationships. Support includes increasing health care
coverage for pregnant women and children, providing pregnant and
parenting women with additional resources to stay in school, and
helping new families pay for food and child care. It also removes
obstacles to adoption. This is the exact approach that pro-life Tim
Ryan and pro-choice Rosa DeLauro decided to take with us when it was
time to craft their common ground abortion legislation — "The
Reducing the Need for Abortion and Supporting Parents Act."
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This approach does not entail abandoning principles for either side.
From the pro-choice perspective, it leaves in place the right to an
abortion. From the pro-life perspective, it does not expand or codify
Former head of Catholics for a Free Choice, Frances Kissling, when
endorsing the Ryan-DeLauro bill upon its introduction in 2006,
explained how this approach also has the effect of strengthening both
"This two-pronged approach avoids an ideological stalemate and bridges
the gap between sensible, well-motivated members of Congress who hold
differing views on abortion. For those opposed to abortion rights, the
recognition that contraception is vital in reducing the need for
abortion is critical. For those who support the right to abortion, a
stronger commitment to helping women continue pregnancies without
sinking deeper in to poverty is a core value of the pro-choice
I would go further and say that the pro-choice community also benefits
from the aspect of common ground that acknowledges and respects the
moral complexity of abortion. Women in my generation and younger have
grown up without the baggage of the fight over the fundamental right
to abortion that our mothers faced. We may have vestiges of the
warrior mentality, but our outlook is more nuanced than absolutist. In
order to fully connect with the values of this generation, the
pro-choice movement, in addition to demonstrating its commitment to
protecting access to legal and safe abortions, needs to acknowledge
the moral complexity of this issue.
Another strength of this approach is that it broadens our family
planning coalition to include centrist Evangelical Christians. For
example, Reverend Joel Hunter, former head of the Christian Coalition,
now publicly supports birth control and comprehensive sex education.
You can find a list of other new friends like him here. This is a
marked change of course for these pro-lifers. It’s another sign of the
changing times and something to celebrate.
We should also be rejoicing that pro-life members of Congress, like
Congressman Bart Stupak, co-chair of the congressional pro-life
caucus, are now on record supporting family planning as part of common
ground on abortion. We all know that the pro-life member of Congress
who supports family planning has been a dying breed this whole decade.
Thanks to the Ryan-DeLauro bill, pro-lifers who support birth control
are coming back into vogue.
Many of my generational peers and those willing to embrace change,
including the new President of the United States, are moving solidly
in this direction, opening eyes and ears to this potentially
transformative third way on abortion. Isn’t it time to join in this