Abortion Politics V: the sane liberals

Similar to the sane conservatives discussed last week, some pro-choice liberals have begun to back away from the most extreme positions on abortion. They have shifted their focus from fighting tooth-and-nail to eliminate even the whiff of a restriction on access to the procedure to trying and reduce the number of crisis pregnancies in the first place. While Catholics need not share their tolerance for the legality of abortion, it is impossible to deny that these efforts show genuine promise for making abortion a less common tragedy in the lives of women and in the culture of the nation. There has always been more ambivalence about abortion among the general population than the usual framing of the issue permits. Before Roe, polls consistently showed that a majority of the electorate favored permitting abortions in the case of rape, incest and fetal abnormality, while maintaining legal restrictions on elective abortions. To a moral theologian, this makes no sense: why should a child, even a child whose existence is the result of rape or incest, have to pay for someone else’s crime? But, there is a kind of logic in the position, namely, that a woman should be responsible for the consequences of her actions, but not for consequences over which she has no control. In the wake of Roe, with its focus on the autonomy of the woman to make whatever choice for whatever reason she wanted, this ambivalence got lost. Not only were positions bound to harden, but the shift from a legislative battle to a judicial one encouraged rigidity. Legislative processes are about negotiation and compromise. Legal battles are about digging in, presenting the best case, deflecting counter-arguments not accommodating them. The prospect that Roe might be overturned should make even the most ardent pro-choice advocate think about how to persuade fellow citizens, not about legal strategies. Pro-choice Catholics have led the way in charting a new course. In 2006, Congressman Tim Ryan from Ohio led the effort to introduce and pass the Reducing the Need for Abortion and Helping Families Act. The bill was an off-shoot of the "95-10" proposal put forward by the group Democrats for Life, which had set the goal of reducing the number of abortions by 95 percent in ten years. Ryan gained support from such pro-choice stalwarts as Connecticut Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro who once headed the pro-choice organization Emily’s List. DeLauro, a Catholic, was one of several legislators that met with Washington’s Cardinal Theodore McCarrick to discuss the tensions between Democratic legislators and Catholic bishops after the 2004 election. After beating back intense lobbying from pro-choice organizations that found the abortion reduction message troubling, the bill passed the House with only seven Democrats opposing it. Pro-lifers must be wary. Bill Clinton once promised to make abortion "rare" and did little to enflesh the promise. But, pro-lifers must also recognize Ryan and DeLauro’s efforts as progress. After decades of shouting at each other, finding common ground between pro-life and pro-choice advocates is difficult. Ambivalence is not a campaign theme that usually sells. But, recognizing ambivalence among the electorate, and finding a way forward that will actually reduce the number of abortions, is the only way forward. Michael Sean Winters
Comments are automatically closed two weeks after an article's initial publication. See our comments policy for more.
10 years ago
Pro-lifers do indeed need to be wary...although not of the abortion reduction crowd as much as self-proclaimed pro-life, family-values politicians. I think we all tend to forget that abortion rates in the United States fell during the Clinton administration, but rose during the tenures of Presidents Reagan and George W. Bush.
10 years ago
I'm a Catholic and a pro-life Democrat and I couldn't agree more. There is another group called 'Feminists for Life of America' that offer women-centered solutions to the abortion crisis, as many of these women feel backed into a corner and as if they have no choice with pro-choice advocates building Planned Parenthoods in low-income neighborhoods. Though we should be wary, we should not be so enthused to back the pro-choice candidates. The money faucet to fund abortions overseas was on during the Clinton Administration, George W. Bush turned it off. Clinton nominated pro-aborts to the Supreme Court; Bush nominated two pro-life Justices and it's now 4 pro-lifers to 5 pro-choicers with the oldest two pro-choicers being 87 and 73, which means, the nominations of the next president can lead us to Roe v. Wade being overturned. I don't like George W. Bush; I'm a Democrat, but as a Catholic and as a pro-life American that is worth my vote.


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