By Karna Swanson
WASHINGTON, D.C., JULY 24, 2009 (Zenit.org).- A reputed coalition of pro-life and pro-choice leaders gathered in the U.S. capital this week to launch what it terms a "common ground" approach to defusing the culture wars surrounding the abortion debate. The only problem is that the bill in question has garnered very little, if any, support from major pro-life players.
Democrat representatives Tim Ryan of Ohio and Rosa DeLauro of Connecticut announced at a press conference Thursday the reintroduction of the Preventing Unintended Pregnancies, Reducing the Need for Abortion and Supporting Parents Act, joined by supporters of the bill, including representatives from major pro-choice organizations such as NARAL and Planned Parenthood.
The 87-page bill, first introduced in February 2007, aims to reduce the need for abortions through an increase in family planning initiatives, and better access to both preventative and postpartum care.
Noticeably missing at the press conference announcing the "common ground" solution to the abortion debate was the other side.
Those pushing the bill hailed it as a coup for reaching across the divide, even though the supposed pro-life sponsor of the bill, Ryan, is actually only a self-proclaimed pro-life Democrat who has been asked to step down from the board of Democrats for Life of America due to his increasingly pro-abortion voting record.
And among the pro-life supporters, not one major pro-life group was in attendance, although a list of 23 moderate-to-progressive pro-life individuals and organizations were named as representing the other side.
That said, there are some elements of the bill that the pro-life movement widely supports, such as a measure that would expand coverage of maternity and postpartum care. The bill would also make it illegal for private insurers to consider pregnancy as a pre-existing condition.
Other stipulations include grants for the purchase of ultrasound equipment for community health centers, a new violence screening and treatment program for women, financial assistance for pregnant woman and young mothers who are attending college, and an ad campaign to alert new parents of the resources available to them.
The bill would also provide money for initiatives to promote adoption and foster care.
But these proposals already appear in another piece of legislation introduced to both houses of congress earlier this year by Pennsylvanian Senator Bob Casey and Tennessee Congressman Lincoln Davis, both Democrats.
Called the Pregnant Women's Support Act, it is part of the Democrats for Life of America's "95-10 Initiative," which aims to reduce the U.S. abortion rate by 95% over the next 10 years.
The bill was drafted in 2005 and would provide services supporting pregnant women and new families. According to the Democrats for Life's Web site, the plan has as its main pillars the promotion of abstinence, personal responsibility, adoptions and support for women and families who are facing unplanned pregnancies.
The bill's supporters are careful to say the legislation doesn't belittle the work being done to work toward the abolition of abortion, but that it addresses a real need that both sides of the abortion debate can agree upon: No woman should have to get an abortion because she can't afford to have a baby.
The chairman of the U.S. bishops' Committee on Pro-Life Activities, Cardinal Justin Rigali, reiterated this sentiment in a letter he wrote in April to U.S. representatives. He said the act "provides an authentic common ground, an approach that people can embrace regardless of their position on other issues."
"In a society where disagreements on abortions and the rights of the unborn child seem persistent and intractable, there are some statements that almost everyone can endorse," he explained. "First, the fact that over a million abortions take place every year in this country is a tragedy, and we should at least take steps to reduce abortions.
"Second, no woman should ever have to undergo an abortion because she feels she has no other choice, or because alternatives were unavailable or not made known to her. An abortion performed under such social and economic duress meets no one's standard for 'freedom of choice.'"
In February, the U.S. episcopal conference called the bill a "common-sense solution that people on all sides of the political debate can support."
But the Pregnant Women's Support Act also got little backing from the other side.
Planned Parenthood, NARAL, and other pro-choice groups, opposed the bill on the grounds that it's focus was on "influencing" women against abortion, and that it didn't get at the root cause of abortion, which they say is preventing unintended pregnancies (contraception).
In a commentary posted in February on RHRealityCheck.com, an online community committed to advancing reproductive rights, Cristina Page articulates why a pro-choice person could not support the Pregnant Women Support Act and its "righteous rhetoric."
Page took issue with leaving contraception out of the equation, and of funding "Life Support Centers" -- which sounded to her too much like funneling money into "ideological, coercive and misleading" crisis pregnancy centers.
She also didn't trust a stipulation to extend coverage under the State Children's Health Insurance Program (SCHIP) to both low-income pregnant women and unborn children -- which would treat mother and child as separate, legal entities, and create a dangerous precedent.
The abortion-rights camp decided to write a bill representing the real "common ground" -- an all-in-one, comprehensive approach that takes some of the proposals to assist women who chose to carry their pregnancy to term, and adds a lot more funding for sex education and contraception.
The bill would make it mandatory that women who qualify for Medicaid would be able to have access to family planning services such as contraception. It would also increase funding of the Title X Family Planning Program, which provides contraceptive and related reproductive health care services to low-income women.
The Federal government allocated a record $288.3 million in 2005 for family planning under Title X, millions of which went directly to Planned Parenthood. The family planning and abortion agency revealed that more than one-third of its billion-dollar operating budget comes from government funding and grants, such as Title X.
What the pro-choice "common ground" legislation fails to mention are measures to offer counseling to women seeking abortion and funding for pregnancy centers that provide women with abortion alternatives, which are both measures that the pro-life movement says leads to a reduction in abortion.
Also gone are services to parents who receive a positive test diagnosis for Down syndrome or other prenatally diagnosed conditions.
Nonetheless, its supporters have called the introduction of the Ryan/DeLauro bill a watershed moment for the political process and a beacon of hope in a time of political divisiveness. Doug Johnson of the National Right to Life Committee, however, calls it a "scam."
Both sides are reportedly urging President Barack Obama's administration to get behind their bill, and it could ultimately be up to the president to determine whose ground gets to be called the "common ground."
Dan Gilgoff of U.S. News and World Report revealed this week that the administration is leaning toward the pro-choice camp, but has it clear that the pro-life movement, including the U.S. bishops' conference, will walk away from his "common ground" table if he goes the direction of the comprehensive approach.
Pro-life leaders have suggested separating the sex education and family planning measures from those supporting pregnant women, thus creating two bills. The White House could back both bill s and support both sides.
This might be appealing to Obama, especially in the wake of his visit to the Vatican where he promised Benedict XVI that he would work to reduce the number of abortions in the United States. It wouldn't look good to alienate the bishops' conference so soon after that.
But that's not an option the pro-choice lobby is willing to let pass, on the grounds, they assert, that measures to reduce the number of abortions must include getting at the root cause of "unintended" pregnancies (the promotion of contraception).
The pro-life movement disagrees, citing studies in the United Kingdom and Sweden where the promotion of contraception led to higher, not lower, abortion rates.
And the discussion continues, as divisive and emotionally charged as ever, with not even a glimmer of a true common ground agreement shining on the Washington horizon.
By Karna Swanson