Antiabortion ... pro-reality?

New "middle-ground" effort "causing a fissure" in the movement.

By Lynn Harris

Published November 19, 2008 4:22PM (EST)

From the Washington Post: "Frustrated by the failure to overturn Roe v. Wade [and the second tanking of the abortion ban in South Dakota], a growing number of antiabortion pastors, conservative academics and activists are setting aside efforts to outlaw abortion and instead are focusing on building social programs and developing other assistance for pregnant women to reduce the number of abortions."

"Social programs" and "assistance" like "crisis pregnancy centers" and helping healthcare providers not do their jobs? 

Not necessarily. "Some of the activists are actually working with abortion rights advocates to push for legislation in Congress [the Pregnant Women's Support Act; the Reducing the Need for Abortion and Supporting Parents Act] that would provide pregnant women with health care, child care and money for education -- services that could encourage them to continue their pregnancies," the Post reports. "Their efforts, they said, reflect the political reality that legal challenges to abortion rights will not be successful, especially after Barack Obama's victory ... Although the activists insist that they are not retreating from their belief that abortion is immoral and should be outlawed, they argue that a more practical alternative is to try to reduce abortions through other means."

"If one strategy has failed and failed over decades, and you have empirical information that tells how you can honor life and encourage women to make that choice by meeting real needs that are existing and tangible, why not do that?" said Douglas W. Kmiec, a law professor at Pepperdine University who served in the Reagan and Poppa Bush administrations -- and an antiabortion Catholic who endorsed Obama (and received hate mail, and was denied Communion).

Huh. Quoth Bitch Ph.D.: "It's so crazily reasonable, I almost thought this came from the Onion." 

Right, except for the part where the response of the harder-core antiabortion factions stops at the "crazily" part. Honestly, they would make so much more sense if they stuck to their "abortion is murder, period" platform. But this shift, it seems, has forced them (specifically, Cardinal Francis George of Chicago, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops) to say things like, "It's still to be proven what the connection is between poverty and abortion." (You mean, other than "direct?" [PDF])  And Pro-Life Action League founder Joe Scheidler, always good for a groaner: "You don't have to have a lot of social programs to cut down on abortions." OK ... some social programs? Because we know for a fact that outlawing abortion backfires

Anyway. What I like about this, besides the tasty schadenfreude, and, you know, the whole thing, is the fact that with this story, and this (still-early) shift, there's also a shift in focus -- away from discussions of the "middle ground" on abortion that so often seem to imply that it's only the feminists who need to go there (translation: be less hysterical, slash, need to quit handing out free abortions, with balloons, to every woman at any stage of pregnancy who entertains a fleeting doubt). In reality, of course, this "prevention" idea is not an inspiration some clever lover-not-fighter had last week; reproductive rights groups have long been working to both enable legal, accessible abortion and address circumstances that could lower its incidence.

And maybe I'm still wearing my goofy hope-colored glasses, but -- even though these guys are so not going the distance on all factors leading to abortion, such as, in some cases, their movement's own opposition to contraception [!] -- something's stopping my knee from jerking right into cynicism. Even as the fleeing Bush administration keeps tossing legislative junk in Obama's path like the desperate bad guy hurling bookcases and folding chairs behind him, maybe, just maybe, these gathering ripples of cooperation reflect a political and cultural reality much bigger -- and stronger -- than the narrow minds who would resist it, and the one man who has come to symbolize it. Or, to be far less grandiose, maybe these expanding efforts will, I don't know, help a few more women.







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.

MORE FROM Lynn Harris

Related Topics ------------------------------------------

Broadsheet Health