When both the Left and Right begin sharpening their knives, it means you are on to something. This new threat raising the hackles of liberals and conservatives still hunkered down in culture-war bunkers? It's a movement focused on comprehensive strategies to reduce abortions by providing economic supports for vulnerable women and preventing unintended pregnancies. A chorus of critics across the ideological spectrum has lined up to malign these common-ground efforts with all the righteous zeal of those who make the perfect the enemy of the good.
Liberal bloggers slam Catholics and evangelicals working on this approach as radical "anti-choice" hardliners cozying up to the Religious Right. Religious conservatives denounce the effort as a betrayal of faith and question research that finds abortions decline when women have quality health care and access to robust social services. The National Right to Life Committee starkly dismisses common ground on abortion as the "burial ground." The Pro-Life Action League mocks it as a "sellout."
While these reactions run the gambit from the predictable to the absurd, they share a scorched-earth rhetorical style and an absolutist devotion to hardened agendas. If politics is the art of the possible, these common-ground naysayers seem more comfortable defending turf and demonizing opponents than seizing a unique political moment when pro-choice and pro-life public officials are finally doing more than exploiting abortion as a "wedge issue" to divide voters and win elections.
Indeed, the time is ripe to end the abortion stalemate. President Barack Obama has made abortion reduction a priority of his Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships. In Congress, pro-life Rep. Tim Ryan has joined pro-choice Rep. Rosa DeLauro to co-sponsor the Reducing the Need for Abortion and Supporting Parents Act. Sen. Bob Casey Jr. and Sen. Lincoln Davis introduced the Pregnant Women Support Act, legislation that helps expectant mothers with prenatal health care, nutrition support, and other critical programs. At a time of grave economic crisis, it's more essential than ever that we reject the false divide between social justice and pro-life advocacy. Policies that help put Americans back to work, ensure families have affordable health care, and strengthen fraying social safety nets also lower the abortion rate, which is more than four times higher for women living in poverty than for women earning 300 percent above the poverty line.
Citizens weary of abortion politics as usual are hungry for a breakthrough. A post-election poll conducted by Public Religion Research found that most voters -- including 81% of Catholics and 86% of white evangelicals -- believe elected officials should work across party lines to increase economic support for vulnerable women, expand adoption opportunities, and prevent unintended pregnancies. While these are positive trends, hard work remains. Secular progressives who view access to abortion as a fundamental right and many religious Americans who believe it is a profound threat to the sanctity of life must still reach across bitter divides with courage and humility.
Winning hearts and minds in a democracy demands more than fiats or fist-shaking. As Roman Catholic Bishop Blase Cupich of South Dakota cautioned his fellow bishops at a national meeting, a "prophecy of denunciation quickly wears thin." Religious Americans can maintain a prophetic spirit that speaks truth to power while at the same time engaging in dialogue and responding pragmatically to social and political realities. Those who make an idol of "choice" as the ultimate virtue must recognize that choice without responsibility is a false freedom. In an instant-gratification culture that objectifies women and divorces sex from loving relationships, pro-choice advocates can also acknowledge that cultivating greater reverence for the dignity of sexual intimacy is as important as promoting contraception. It's also a mistake to dismiss all pro-lifers as reactionary fundamentalists aligned with conservative political orthodoxy. This only perpetuates stereotypes, undermines potential alliances, and alienates the majority of religious Americans who recognize that the moral wisdom of faith traditions defies easy political labels. If those on opposing sides of this polarizing issue embrace a spirit of greater humility, compassion, and critical introspection, enemies become potential allies and old assumptions fade away.
Comprehensive efforts to reduce abortions are a cause for hope that the pro-life and pro-choice communities should embrace. After more than three decades of political paralysis and legal gridlock, the time has come to break new ground.
John Gehring is a senior writer for Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good.
Simone Campbell, an attorney and Sister of social service, is the executive director of NETWORK, a National Catholic Social Justice Lobby.
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