The Possibilities of Abortion Reduction

If the abortion debate had a tagline, it might go something like this: "Dividing America Since 1973." That was the year of Roe v. Wade, a landmark Supreme Court case, which legalized so-called “abortion-on-demand” in the United States. From that decision until today, abortion has been a battleground for those fighting the culture wars.

Perhaps no social or political issue produces more anger, more animosity and more anguish. Just utter the word “abortion” in mixed company and see if it doesn’t ignite fiery arguments without warning. Today, about 42 percent of Americans call themselves “pro-choice” and 51 percent call themselves “pro-life.” It is an ideological stalemate.

But despite most Americans’ personal passion on the issue, many seem tired of the debate itself. The sound bytes are worn out and the rhetoric is often devoid of basic civility. “I think there is a lot of frustration that we don’t try harder to find common ground on abortion, and I think that there is some common ground even among many irreconcilable differences,” says Ron Sider, pro-life author of The Scandal of Evangelical Politics. “In general, there is a longing for people who listen to others who disagree with them and debate respectfully despite major differences.” Sider and others like him believe that establishing this common ground will allow for progress while our current abortion laws exist.

Surprisingly, there are many commonalities on abortion among Americans. According to a 2009 Gallup poll, even though most Americans soundly reject the idea of overturning Roe v. Wade, a whopping 71 percent of Americans support some form of limits on abortion. And according to the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, 66 percent of Americans support finding “a middle ground on abortion laws.”

Out of this hunger, pro-life Christians and pro-choice political progressives have struck a partnership. Their goal is to reduce the need for and occurrences of abortions in America, and their strategy includes providing additional aid for expectant mothers, increased access to contraception for low-income women and greater incentives for adoption. The “abortion reduction agenda,” as it’s called, is a new angle on America’s most vicious debate, and one that resonates with individuals on both sides of the issue.

“Americans are tired of the rancor and name-calling. It has not only become non-productive, but it has almost become boring,” says Joel Hunter, an abortion reduction proponent and pro-life pastor of the Northland megachurch in suburban Orlando. “People are not weary of the cause, but they are tired of the debate itself. Since overturning Roe v. Wade is not realistic in the foreseeable future, if you’re pro-life, you have to find different ways to combat abortion. I’ve always been a person that thinks that employing many methods toward the same goal is more effective than employing one method. Any progress we can make is still progress.”
Indeed, there is progress just in the breadth of support for the reduction agenda. On the one hand, conservatives like Randy Brinson of Redeem the Vote and Richard Mouw of Fuller Theological Seminary support the agenda. On the other hand, progressives like Jim Wallis of Sojourners and Rabbi David Saperstein of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism support it.

Still, not everyone is equally enthusiastic. Some all-or-nothing advocates from both the right and left have responded with disdain. The founder of the Pro-Life Action League called abortion reduction a “sell out” and Douglas Johnson of the National Right to Life Committee called it the “burial ground” for the pro-life movement. Progressive writer Frank Clarkston claimed that the movement is rooted in “anti-abortion tactics” while Sarah Posner wrote in The American Prospect that it’s “incrementalism masquerading as progressivism.”

Abortion reduction proponents take exception with guilt-by-association comparisons as well as the idea that this common ground requires compromise. “A commitment to abortion reduction represents a tactical decision about the best political manifestation for the church’s unapologetic witness regarding the sanctity of all life,” says Tyler Wigg-Stevenson, who works to bring life issues to bear on foreign policy as director of the Two Futures Project. “To get things done in our deeply divided republic, people who disagree have to work together. Unfortunately, some Christians with a vested political interest in wedge issues seem to care more about the volume of their own polemic than they do about saving actual people—and that prevents a lot of the good that brothers and sisters could accomplish if freed from fear of demonization.”

“The criticisms of abortion reduction strategies are an extension of the archaic modus operandi of the Christian right,” adds Samuel Rodriguez, an abortion reduction supporter and president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference. “It is a political ideology rather than a religious ethos ideology. The religious right became a de facto extension of the Republican party. As a result, anyone who is moved to work with those outside of that party is seen as acquiescing. I get attacked from the extreme right and they say I am selling out, and yet I am more committed to our values than ever. We can find common ground without compromising any of our core values.”

Despite the naysayers, most Americans support an abortion reduction agenda. According to a 2008 poll by Public Religion Research, 83 percent of all voters agreed that “elected leaders on both sides of the abortion debate should work together to find ways to reduce the number of abortions by enacting policies that help prevent unintended pregnancies, expand adoption and increase economic support for women who wish to carry their pregnancies to term.” The poll found similar percentages among “pro-life” voters, white evangelicals and Catholics.

“You don’t have just one side talking about it anymore,” Hunter says. “You have reasonable pro-life people and pro-choice people—including those in power—talking about it.” Hunter is a credible voice on what powerful people are talking about. He sits on President Obama’s Advisory Council on Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships.

While delivering Notre Dame’s commencement address this year, Obama’s speech seemed to indicate Hunter is right. “Maybe we won’t agree on abortion, but we can still agree that this is a heart-wrenching decision for any woman to make, with both moral and spiritual dimensions,” the president said. “So let’s work together to reduce the number of women seeking abortions by reducing unintended pregnancies, and making adoption more available, and providing care and support for women who do carry their child to term.”

The president’s opponents, however, don’t buy what Obama is selling. They claim this is mere lip service from a president who has done nothing but push a pro-choice agenda since he took office in January. Bolstering their skepticism is the president’s staggering record.

First, Obama repealed the Mexico City policy, which opened up American funding for international organizations that discuss, advocate and provide abortions. This proved to be the most unpopular decision of Obama’s first 100 days. Next, the president revoked the “provider refusal” rule, which supposedly protected any healthcare professional from being forced to provide services like abortion that violated their consciences. Then, Obama nominated Kathleen Sebelius to serve as head of the Department of Health and Human Services. Sebelius is pro-choice and a Catholic, who has been condemned by her bishop for her positions. Finally, Obama reversed the Bush policy on embryonic stem cell research, which will permit the destruction of untold numbers of embryos in the name of science. This record doesn’t scream “bridge-builder” and leaves many people skeptical about Obama’s sincerity.

Yet in the face of all this, Christians can still have hope for and work toward life-affirming, abortion reduction policies under this administration. Obama is speaking about this in ways that are unprecedented for a pro-choice president. He has begun to refer to the unborn as “children” rather than “fetuses.” And he has surrounded himself with pro-life advisors. “The bottom line is that there is a lot of pressure inside his administration to get something done on this,” Hunter says. “He has fulfilled to our disappointment some of his campaign promises. But one thing about President Obama is that once he makes a promise, he does everything he can to fulfill that promise. And he has made a promise to work toward abortion reduction.”

If Obama fulfills this promise, it could revolutionize the conversation. There are powerful implications to abortion reduction. For those who support abortion rights, it gives them a moral umbrella under which to stand. For those of us who are pro-life, it says our position is more than just the sum of our talking points. We must now begin working with people who are on the ground—real people in real communities—to do all we can to protect the unborn. Simply saying we’re “pro-life” and voting accordingly is not enough—it’s the easy way out. The hard work is translating belief into action, putting feet to our faith, transcending rhetoric and seeking solutions.

Finding common ground while still working to completely abolish abortion is something all pro-lifers should agree on. While our current laws exist, why not work to save lives? As Hunter says, “People who in the past have only been concerned with women’s rights to choose are now willing to talk about reduction. I think that is a godsend.”

Top Comments

auddery

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auddery commented…

I am absolutely pro-life, and believe that life is precious and a gift from God. I wonder how many times we think about the mother facing the decision of abortion's life? We're so quick to call her a murderer and condemn her for being scared or incapable of raising a life when we aren't ourselves willing to take her by the hand and walk her through the pregnancy, and even still actually raising her new child. What about health issues?
I don't think killing a baby is the one-stop answer, not at all, but I do think this issue should be approached with compassion and an open-ness to the mother's circumstances. God cares about her too.

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Charles G commented…

People who in the past have only been concerned with womens rights to choose are now willing to talk about reduction. I think that is a godsend. Rev. Hunter

the problem with the above statement and with the tactics the "reductionists" want to use is that they keep allowing abortion advocates to define the vocabulary and the terms of the discussion and to define what actions are acceptible and which are not.

"common ground" or "reduction" are only valid if both sides give some ground, but all we committed pro-lifers hear is the ground our side will give away(the idea of promoting contraception; bribing women to allow their children to live by providing tax-payer funded medical care, etc.) and not one iota of evidence that shows the abortion rights crowd will give on their end at all.

Will the "pro-choice" side start using humanity affirming language to describe those in the womb as babies or children? No.
Will "pro-choicers" say that allowing an "unwanted child" to live is better than killing them? No

Will "pro-choicers" support widespread use of ultra-sounds to show the humanity of those in the womb? No(in fact they have supported laws restricting use of ultrasound to those that go through an expensive and time consuming medical training and certification program because "it is undetermined if the radiation from machine would have negative effects for the fetus or the women long term and more study is needed). Even though no evidence at all has shown any danger from residual radiation from ultrasound machines.

Do pro-choicers support billboards that display ultrasound pictures with pro-life slogans? No

Do pro-choicers support the humanizing of unborn children on television, like having pregnant women on TV shows refer to those in the womb as babies or children? No

Do medical organizations like ACOG(American College of OBGYNs) accept that when a pregnant woman comes into the office there are 2 patients, not just one and that it is the duty of the Dr. to care for the 2nd patient(in the womb) even though the mother has a prejudice against him/her because he/she was "unplanned"? No

The pro-choicers say forcefully, "we are pro-choice not pro-abortion"

yet, in fact any attempt to humanize the child in the womb is vehemently resisted.

So how can there be common ground until the abortion rights side is willing to give any ground?

The simple answer is, there can't be and to hear Rev. Hunter say there is some big BREAK THROUGH because the abortion rights fanatics will now at least exchange a few words with us, is very unconvincing and naive.

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Sher commented…

This is a thought provoking article. I agree with the comments that encourage others to get involved in loving and supporting the women, men and children who are involved in crisis pregnancies. There are Pregnancy Resource Centers all over America that are seeking to do just that. I would encourage everyone to look up their local Pregnancy Resource Center and ask God to show them how He wants them to get involved.

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Neil Doherty commented…

The problem with the "let's just give out a lot of contraceptives so women don't get pregnant" solution is that every form of chemical contraception (estrogen/progesterone combi-pills, norplant injections, "the patch", etc.) also work as abortifacients. Do your research. Contrary to popular (mostly male) opinion, they don't prevent ovulation in all cases. They may lessen the regularity of ovulation, but all of them have the secondary "back-up" effect of thinning the endometrial lining so that implantation can't occur, and in the case that it does, prevents nourishment from being delivered to the child so that it starves.

Plus, do your research on what the effect of increased promotion/use of contraception has had on the rate of unplanned pregnancies. In every single country as contraceptions has been advocated, the two have increased together. We've tried it over and over, and it has not worked in a single case. Even in Africa, with the AIDS epidemic, which of the countries that we've loaded with donated contraceptives has reduced or flat-lined their rate of exposure? Not a single one. Which country alone has reduced its prevalence of AIDS? Uganda, which has implemented an abstinence-only approach. You push contraceptives without instilling a proper sense of the procreative dimension of sex, and what you get is sexual license and irresponsibility.

The solution is us evangelicals re-examining the meaning of sexuality and of life and living the witness of a Gospel that includes an ethically informed view of life and potential life. Sex and openness to life, along with a proper knowledge of how a woman's body has been created is the answer, not condoms or chemicals. Check out the couple to couple league if you want some alternatives to the "we should make women's infertile so they don't have to get abortions" mentality.

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Charles G. commented…

"This is a thought provoking article. I agree with the comments that encourage others to get involved in loving and supporting the women, men and children who are involved in crisis pregnancies. There are Pregnancy Resource Centers all over America that are seeking to do just that. I would encourage everyone to look up their local Pregnancy Resource Center and ask God to show them how He wants them to get involved. "

The above is very true Sher, but unfortunately the Obama friendly pro-lifers like Rev. Hunter wish to work with organizations like Planned Parenthood which directly attack "Crisis Pregnancy Centers" because the volunteers that work in them actually acknowledge the worth of the unborn child along with the mother, but Planned Parenthood refuses to acknowledge the worth of the "fetus" at all unless and only if the mother speaks affirmatively of her unborn child.

Planned Parenthood and other abortion rights organizations will only use the term "potential life" when describing a human in the womb even though this is inaccurate since those in the womb are not "potential" at all, but "actual" human life.

"Potential human life" would better describe sperm or an ovum, which, on it's own, is not another human life, and only has genes and DNA identical to the mother or father. An embryo carries a whole new set of genes and dna specific to him/herself and has a human identity already all his/her own.

"Embryos are only potential babies" they say. OK, so what? Infants are only potential children, children are only potential adolescents and therefore adolescents are ONLY potential adults.

Are we therefore to conclude that younger humans are inferior in humanity to older humans before they are fully adults? No, why not since this is the mode of reasoning and logic used by the pro-choice side?

Again, how can we find "common ground" with people that truly believe and promote human inferiority of the youngest of humans, when such a belief has it's basis, not in the science of biology or in medicine, but merly in prejudice and bigotry based on a personal or religious belief that those in the womb are humanly inferior to those outside the womb. In other words, mere geography determines the unborn childs humanity? Is this something that "progressives" are supposed to respect and champion?

I don't see how.

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Sheri commented…

I feel as though I may get stones thrown at me for this comment, but truly, I don't think the issue is necessarily abortion. The true issues are the underlying causes of abortion. Some off the top of my head are poverty, sexual violence/rape and a lack of comprehensive sexual education. If we are able to achieve less and less poverty and sexual violence, and create better sexual education for teens (even pre-teens now these day), I do believe that abortions will not be nearly as needed. And yes, some may say that is a "reductionist" approach, but in truth, I personally do have qualms with taking the law away completely. And like it's been said in other comments, a Christian law is not going to make more Christian converts. In fact, non -believers most likely get a very unloving sense from the Christian right when it comes to this issue (and probably many others), and we all know that we are called to love.

It is easy for those of us in the middle class (not wanting to make any assumptions about readers here, but just as an example) to want to get rid of abortions altogether, because we may not have the problems that the majority of abortion-seeking women do. It's not necessarily about "trying to put yourselves in their shoes", but to love them and understand where they are coming from, and see how they feel that the abortion is necessary. We aren't supposed to come in and stomp on them and make them feel like crap about themselves because they are having an abortion. Unfortunately, I think that's what some people do (what comes up in my mind is protesters at family planning clinics, etc.).

So I do think that we need a new approach. Honestly, I don't think making abortion illegal is the answer. Women are going to have abortions regardless, especially if the underlying causes of abortion are still prevalent, and we should all know that. Thousands of women die each year due to unsafe and illegal abortions, and we shouldn't want that either. So I think that reducing abortions is a great approach and something that is realistic and something that we can strive towards. Like it's been said before, no one is "pro-abortion". No one wants to see abortions happen, but they do happen, which is an unfortunate thing. So, thinking about good and realistic approaches towards this issue is probably what will work the best.

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