The "middle ground" on abortion

A real solution, or a call for feminists to "relax"?

Published February 15, 2006 8:34PM (EST)

Is it possible to find a "middle ground" -- an authentic one -- on abortion? One that's not just "phony political positioning"? The Washington Post's E.J. Dionne thinks so. He praises Thomas R. Suozzi, county executive of New York's Nassau County, for taking a "third way" position that "involves more than soothing rhetoric."

Suozzi, a Democrat, has already called on both pro-choice and antiabortion forces to create "a better world where there are fewer unplanned pregnancies, and where women who face unplanned pregnancies receive greater support and where men take more responsibility for their actions."

"Last week Suozzi put money behind his words," writes Dionne. "He announced nearly $1 million in county government grants to groups ranging from Planned Parenthood to Catholic Charities for an array of programs -- adoption and housing, sex education, and abstinence promotion -- to reduce unwanted pregnancies and to help pregnant women who want to bring their children into the world. Suozzi calls his initiative 'Common Sense for the Common Good' and, as Newsday reported, he was joined at his news conference by people at both ends of the abortion debate."

For those of you who stopped reading after the word "abstinence," yeah, I know. NARAL Pro-Choice New York -- though it welcomed most other elements of the Suozzi plan -- immediately responded that abstinence-only programs don't work; Dionne acknowledges that the most effective programs appear to be those that mix encouragement of abstinence with education about contraception.

But it'll be interesting to see what happens, Dionne says, if Suozzi challenges New York Attorney General Eliot Spitzer, the front-runner for the Democratic nomination for governor. "NARAL strongly supports Spitzer, who opposes the ban on partial-birth abortion that Suozzi -- otherwise an abortion rights supporter -- favors," notes Dionne.

Other middle-ground moves: NARAL's ad last year inviting the "right-to-life movement" to "help us prevent abortions." NARAL is also supporting a pro-contraception bill introduced by Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid, who opposes abortion but at least gets that birth control could help prevent it. (Boy, have we had to set the bar low.)

Dionne believes that his antiabortion friends need to make some concessions, too. "My question to them is whether they honestly think that their current political strategy, focused on knocking down Roe and making abortion illegal, will actually protect fetal life by substantially reducing the number of abortions," he writes. "I hope Tom Suozzi finds imitators, and allies on both sides of the question."

What caught my eye about this piece -- whether or not I agree with its conclusions -- is that it, at the very least, managed to describe this "middle ground" without shaking fingers at abortion advocates for being uncompromising and strident. All too often "middle ground" is not only phony posturing but also code for "the feminists need to be less hysterical." It'll be interesting to see not only whether such initiatives will continue to have legs but also whether they're reported responsibly.

By Lynn Harris

Award-winning journalist Lynn Harris is author of the comic novel "Death by Chick Lit" and co-creator of She also writes for the New York Times, Glamour, and many others.

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