Friday, January 23, 2009

Moving on to Common Ground

By Cristina Page

On the 36th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the Connecticut Catholic Conference announced its solution to the increasing rate of teenagers seeking abortion care in the state. They proposed abortion restrictions; specifically, limiting teenager's access to abortion by requiring parental notification. If the goal is lowering the abortion rate, this is the wrong approach.

Studies show that restricting access to abortion often has little-to-no impact on the rate of abortion but instead does something far worse: increase the number of late term abortions. In Mississippi, after passage of a favorite pro-life restriction, mandating a waiting period before a woman can receive an abortion, researchers discovered the second trimester abortion rate had increased by a whopping 53 percent. In 2000, Texas lawmakers required parental consent before a teenager could have an abortion. Researchers soon discovered a spike in second trimester procedures obtained by 18 year olds. Many 17 year olds simply opted to wait to have the abortion until they could do it privately.

Call it the pro-life paradox: the strategies of the anti-abortion movement -- wherever tried -- fail to produce "pro-life" outcomes. The trend is true globally. The countries with the highest abortion rates are those that that have outlawed abortion. Abortion is completely illegal throughout most of Latin America, but abortion rates in Peru, Chile and the Dominican Republic have been estimated to be more than twice the U.S. rate. Conversely, the countries with the lowest abortion rates are those with the strongest pro-choice policies, where abortion is legal and often even free of charge.

During the Clinton administration, pro-choice policies were implemented resulting in the most dramatic decline in abortion rates ever recorded. Through the eight years of the Bush administration, the anti-abortion movement set national policy, yet none of its strategies resulted in dramatic decreases in the abortion rate. Instead, teen birth rates are now spiking in 26 states and the rates of STDs are rising too. What the Catholic Conference is recommending for Connecticut is not new but rather a continuation of the old policies that have failed, even by "pro-life" standards.

That's why many pro-life people are now supporting pro-choice policies that have proven to prevent unwanted pregnancy and reduce the need for abortion. is an organization that is supported by many religious groups and pursues common ground approaches to reduce unwanted pregnancy and abortion. Their tag line is: "Finding real solutions to our high abortion rate based on results, not rhetoric." Reverend Rich Cizik, of the National Association of Evangelicals, explained the group's philosophy, "Let's all join together to be part of a positive strategy to reduce abortions in America that puts problem-solving above political posturing." Since one in five abortions is obtained by a teenager and 60 percent by women with incomes below 200 percent of the poverty line, their platform is to favor policies that prevent unintended pregnancies, support pregnant women, and assist new parents.

The new Obama administration and Democrat-controlled Congress have committed to the common ground approach as well. To signal their seriousness, on the first day the Senate returned to session, Majority Leader Harry Reid introduced the Prevention First Act. This common ground legislation is designed to increase access to both contraception and comprehensive sex education, as well as reduce unwanted pregnancies in the United States. President Obama marked the anniversary of Roe v Wade by stating, "While this is a sensitive and often divisive issue, no matter what our views, we are united in our determination to prevent unintended pregnancies, reduce the need for abortion, and support women and families in the choices they make. To accomplish these goals, we must work to find common ground to expand access to affordable contraception, accurate health information, and preventative services."

Americans, both pro-choice and pro-life, are eager to see progress on this most intransigent of political issues. According to a Faith in Public Life poll, the vast majority (83 percent) of voters, including Catholics (81 percent), believe elected leaders should work together to find ways to reduce abortions by helping prevent unwanted pregnancies, expanding adoption, and increasing economic support for women who want to carry their pregnancies to term. None of these approaches are part of the Connecticut Catholic Conference's recently released plan. However, if both sides of the abortion conflict pooled their talents, these common ground approaches would not only be tremendously successful but would also begin to heal the wound our country has suffered over this issue for far too long. At the very least, it's worth an honest try.
Page is the author of How the Pro-Choice Movement Saved America: Freedom, Politics and the War on Sex and spokesperson for
Copyright (C) 2009 by the American Forum. 1/09

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