Anti-Abortion Strategy in the Age of Obama

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Democrats for Life posters at the 2006 March for Life.

It didn’t turn out like they had planned. Two decades of political investment by the antiabortion movement and the Religious Right did not result in the overturning of Roe v. Wade.  Even conservative Chief Justice John Roberts acknowledged during his confirmation hearing, “Roe v. Wade is the settled law of the land.” Then the rising prospects of the Democratic Party, and the historic election of the prochoice president Barack Obama and a Democratic Congress, seemed to have secured Roe for the foreseeable future.

But due to the success of the notion of “abortion reduction,” the general approach driving the politics of the antiabortion movement for at least two decades, all has not been lost. [1]

A broad strategy to reduce the number of abortions performed in the United States has been pursued by most of the movement, although there are disagreements about how to do it, notably over violence and other criminal acts. The tactics employed fall under three broad categories: erecting legal obstacles to abortion at the state level such as mandatory waiting periods; preventing the use of public funds for the provision of abortion care at all levels of government; and political, legal, and extralegal interference with obtaining and providing abortion care, which includes harassment of patients and clinic staff, violence and threats of violence.   A goal of the last tactic is to get doctors to abandon the practice and discourage new doctors from including abortion as part of standard ob/gyn practice. “We have opportunities before us which if properly exploited,” declared militant strategist Mark Crutcher, of Life Dynamics in 1992, “could result in an America where abortion may be perfectly legal, but no one can get one.” [2]

In the mid-90s, the mainstream of the anti-abortion movement found itself in crisis in the wake of a high profile assassination of doctors and clinic staff in Florida, Massachusetts and Canada; an escalation of death threats, bomb and anthrax threats as well as actual bombings and arsons. Movement leaders were beset by an unflattering media circus in the wake of the incendiary claims of some that the murder of abortion providers was “justifiable homicide.” [3] What’s more, many proponents of anti-abortion violence shared the anti-government ideology and revolutionary rhetoric of the Christian Patriot and militia movement of the era. They saw legal abortion as violence waged against the people by an increasingly secular and tyrannical government. [4]

Then, as now, there was a prochoice Democratic president, and the end of legal abortion was nowhere on the horizon.  In the wake of the 2009 assassination of prominent abortion provider Dr. George Tiller by a veteran of both the Patriot movement and militant antiabortion activism, and a dramatic escalation in militant antiabortion activism and violent rhetoric, the movement finds itself in an analogous situation today [5] As in the 1990s, steady efforts to reduce access to abortion provides a viable,  incremental, way forward for the movement as it copes with the climate as well as actual violence promoted by their co-belligerents in the war on abortion.

But there is also an important difference.

 

Battleground Democratic Party

The anti-abortion movement could not have anticipated that elements of the prochoice Democratic Party would promote policy in their direction just at the moment of the Democrats’ political ascendance. Although there had been rumblings and debate, [6] the first real indication of this move was during the election campaign of 2006, when the centrist, business-funded think tank Third Way advised Democratic candidates to try to neutralize the issue by saying, “We must reduce the number of abortions while protecting personal liberties.” [7] They claimed to want to appeal to anti-abortion Roman Catholics and conservative evangelicals as part of the party’s various “faith outreach” efforts. However this approach to finding common ground required turning a blind eye to the reality that access to abortion care in the U.S. is receding, and that their approach mainstreams a fundamental concept of anti-abortion strategy and related terminology. They did this by recasting contraception and sex education as if their primary purpose was to achieve the goal of reducing the number of abortions.

Further, this approach to common groundism accompanied by an effort to “dial down” the rancor of the so-called culture, led the Democratic Party and its presidential candidate to seek if not a reduction in the number of abortions, a reduction in the “need” for abortion through public policy that supports women so that they are less likely to become pregnant, or so they enjoy support if they do become pregnant. [8]

This notion of “abortion reduction” and its close variants were at the heart of a number of Congressional legislative proposals in 2009, none of which gained much support.  The bill most favored by Democratic advocates of “common ground” on abortion, “Preventing Unintended Pregnancies, Reducing the Need for Abortion and Supporting Parents Act,” (best known as the Ryan-DeLauro bill) was introduced with much fanfare and enjoyed the support of leading prochoice organizations, and some prolife groups and individuals – but it attracted not a single significant prolife advocacy group or any major prolife religious leaders or organizations. As if to underscore the lack of political viability of this approach, prolife Congressman Tim Ryan, the Ohio Democrat, says he was “booted” from the advisory board of Democrats for Life for taking the lead with the prochoice Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro of Connecticut in sponsoring the bill. [9]

What’s more, with some minor exceptions, the large Roman Catholic wing of the anti-abortion movement would not sign on because, while some conservative Protestant evangelicals view contraception as an acceptable way of preventing unwanted pregnancies and thus abortion, few Roman Catholic leaders take that view.  Douglas Johnson of the heavily Catholic National Right to Life Committee, for example, has repeatedly called the president’s efforts at finding common ground on abortion a “scam.” [10]

If, as seems likely, given the 2009 legislative standoff, there will be little in the way of change in abortion policy coming out of Washington any time soon, the public policy action for the anti-abortion movement will be in the states, where it has most been for two decades. What’s more, the issue of “conscience clause” exemptions from acknowledgment, let alone provision of abortion in reproductive health care, will continue to be vigorously pursued by the anti-abortion movement both in federal policy and in the states. This will likely remain a serious fissure in “common ground” conversation in the current and likely ongoing efforts to reform the health care system in the U.S.  Indeed, at this writing, anti-abortion advocates are seeking to expand the opportunities for health care providers to opt out of providing, and even health insurers from covering, abortion care.

 

What’s Past Is Prologue

The standoff over the Ryan-DeLauro must have been a disappointment for advocates of the “common ground” abortion reduction agenda that emerged in 2009, sponsored jointly by Third Way and the liberal think tank Faith in Public Life, an offshoot of the Democratic Party oriented Center for American Progress. Their paper was titled: Come Let Us Reason Together: A Governing Agenda to End the Culture Wars (CLURT).  Ostensibly moderate evangelicals David Gushee, formerly of Southern Baptist Seminary; Reverend Jim Wallis of Sojourners, and Ron Sider of Evangelicals for Social Action played important roles in the development of the manifesto. CLURT highlighted sexuality education (with an emphasis on abstinence) and access to contraception, in addition to economic supports for women and improved adoption options as areas of “common ground” on abortion. All these elements, though, were missing from its landmark predecessor, the anti-abortion, bipartisan but Republican-oriented manifesto from the 1990s, The America We Seek: A Statement of Pro-Life Principle and Concern, of which Gushee was the principal author. [11] (See sidebar.) This was the mainstream antiabortion leaders’s effort to salvage the movement’s focus and credibility, partly in response to the public backlash against the assassination of doctors and other violence.

CLURT represented a certain hybrid of traditional progressive approaches and elements of the 1990s anti-abortion agenda – but its signature approach was the idea (and borrowing the language) of abortion reduction as a policy goal on which both sides could supposedly find common ground. [12] But CLURT avoided discussing issues of access, and barriers to abortion care, key areas where the anti-abortion movement has gained ground since the 1990s through its state and local-level incremental political strategy of forcing waiting periods and the like on those seeking abortions.

"Public policy has its limits," David Gushee declared at the January 15th press conference announcing CLURT, which was hosted by Faith in Public Life and Third Way. "We call for abortion reduction. I support this because I believe that one of the things that must not be done to human beings is to abort them; and yet those facing crisis pregnancies need help to create the conditions in which they can sustain and protect the lives for which they are now responsible." [13] Rachel Laser of Third Way summarized the point on behalf of the group:

Reducing abortions through addressing the root causes of abortion. The policies in our shared agenda prevent unintended pregnancies and support pregnant women and new families; they do not ban or even restrict legal access to abortion in any way. They include but are not limited to comprehensive sex education, increased access to contraception for low-income women, expanded health care coverage for pregnant women and children, and support for pregnant and parenting students, and for adoption. [14] [Emphasis in the original]

The CLURT authors had, as shown above, blurred the careful wording of the 2008 Democratic Party platform position on abortion that rejected language emphasizing reducing the number of abortions in favor of emphasizing the right to choose and reducing the need for abortion. The platform also called for greater support for women who seek to carry their pregnancies to term and for better adoption options.  The White House Office of Faith Based and Neighborhood Partnerships (OFBNP) embraced this general thinking in its mission statement posted on the White House web site: “It will be one voice among several in the administration that will look at how we support women and children, address teenage pregnancy, and reduce the need for abortion.”

Gloria Feldt, a past president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America, warned that the anti-abortion, abortion-reduction agenda was being further enshrined by the courts.

This won attention from Wendy Wright of Concerned Women for America, (formerly a militant leader in Operation Rescue) who misleadingly (but perhaps understandably so), claimed that the Office of Faith Based and Neighborhood Partnerships “is now tasked with reducing the number of abortions – something that pro-life groups have very good experience in accomplishing.” She then restated a key element of the abortion reduction agenda, “Pregnancy resource centers and regulations on abortion have a terrific track record in helping women choose alternatives to abortion. Funding abortion or abortion providers is one of the worst things that could be done.” [15]

Meanwhile, Gloria Feldt, a past president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America, warned that the abortion-reduction agenda was being further enshrined by the federal courts.  “A cascade of more than 30 post-Roe Supreme Court decisions—starting with 1980’s Harris v. McRae (upholding the Hyde Amendment’s prohibition on Medicaid abortion coverage) through Planned Parenthood v. Casey (allowing legislatures to restrict abortion in any way that does not create an “undue burden”)—laid a smooth path for 2007’s Gonzales v. Carhart decision, which upheld the first ever federal abortion ban (misnamed the Partial Birth Abortion Act). The Roberts Court reversed its often-reaffirmed precedent that women’s health is paramount in abortion law, and it used anti-abortion code language to signal that it will likely allow states and Congress to limit women’s reproductive rights further.” [16]

 

Roman Catholics and “Common Ground”

The spectacle of about 70 Catholic Bishops denouncing the decision of Notre Dame to invite president Obama to speak –solely because he is prochoice – may be a bellwether.

While Gushee and some prolife evangelicals can accept targeting federal funds for improved family planning and sexuality education on the prevention side of pregnancy – key parts of the common ground strategy – few Roman Catholic leaders will ever go along.  The U.S Conference of Catholic Bishops, (USCCB) has opposed legislative efforts to enhance access to contraception even though it is well established as the most reliable  way to prevent unintended pregnancies. Deirdre McQuade, assistant director of policy and communications at the “pro-life secretariat,” of the Bishops’ Conference told U.S. News and World Report: “The phrase ‘reducing the need for abortion’ is not a common-ground phrase. We would say that there is no need for abortion, that abortions are signs that we have not met the needs of women. There is no authentic need for abortion.” [17]

Pushing the divide even wider, ever larger numbers of Catholic Bishops are taking aggressive stances against prochoice politicians, refusing communion, publicly declaring their stances on abortion, stem cell research and LGTB civil rights as not only at odds with Catholic teaching, but “anti-Catholic.” The most recent elected official to receive such treatment was Rep. Patrick Kennedy (D-RI) son of the late Sen. Ted Kennedy.  But  the spectacle of about 70 Catholic Bishops [18] denouncing the decision of Notre Dame to invite president Obama to speak last year  – solely because he is prochoice – may be a bellwether. Several American Cardinals and a third of the American Bishops are due to retire in the next few years, providing the opportunity for Pope Benedict XVI to set an even more profoundly “theologically orthodox” direction for the American church for a generation. [19] 

 

Religious Supremacism, or You Can’t Be Prochoice and Religious

David Gushee himself later aired doubts about the entire Democratic common ground project.[20] What’s more, he indicated to journalist Sarah Posner, he has not abandoned the long-term goal of criminalization, stating that “the principles articulated [in The America We Seek] still reflect my own views.” [21]

Integral to the approach of a wide swath of the movement is their embrace of religious supremacism. This aspect of ideological anti-abortionism, which is even held by such supposed moderates as Gushee, may pose an unbridgeable chasm in ever finding any actual common ground. This is evident in Gushee’s subtle, but ominous, warning on the op-ed page of USA Today soon after President Obama took office. The occasion was Obama’s expected lifting of the Bush-era executive order barring federal funding of international family planning groups that support abortion and embryonic stem cell research. [22]

“I do confess,” Gushee declared, “that my desire to retain good relationships with the Obama team has tempted me to give what was asked in return for the big payoff of a serious abortion-reduction initiative that I could wholeheartedly support.” Gushee wrote that he does not want to sacrifice principles in order to ensure access to power and he found himself struggling with what he saw as the reality that his side might lose on other aspects of abortion policy “for a long time to come.” He is worried that taxpayer funds might be used to pay for abortion services in violation of the “sacred beliefs” of his movement’s members. He is also worried that tax-exemption or taxpayer subsidies for religious institutions and anti-abortion health professionals could be jeopardized if they are “required as a condition of accreditation, or employment, or contact with federal dollars, to actively facilitate or perform deeds that their conscience forbids them from doing.”

“And if we lose there,” he dramatically concluded, “then the entire relationship between religious faith and American society will move into a period of profound crisis.” [Emphasis added]

Gushee has neatly expressed, here,  the religious supremacism that remains a distinguishing feature of the anti-abortion movement. We can hear it in their refusal to acknowledge that the vast majority of Christians, Jews and others – as well as clear majorities of Americans, see abortion as a moral choice. [23] Their unambiguous implication is that anyone who is prochoice cannot be religious. [24] We increasingly hear such expressions not only from well known leaders of the Religious Right, but from ostensibly moderate and liberal Roman Catholic and evangelical abortion opponents. Two liberal Roman Catholic advocates for abortion reduction gave us a high profile and exceptionally clear example in a 2009 op-ed in The Cleveland Plain Dealer. “Secular progressives who view access to abortion as a fundamental right” are, in their formulation, pitted against “religious Americans who believe it is a profound threat to the sanctity of life...” [25]

Underscoring the stark distortion of such views is the fact that most of the major institutions of mainline Protestantism and the major bodies of Judaism, among others, are officially prochoice and are members of the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice (RCRC). The conflation of anti-abortionism with religion itself, and the prochoice view as inherently nonreligious, or “secular,” sets the stage for a one-sided conflict that goes far beyond matters of incivility, or “rancor.”

This situation has had consequences far beyond the issue at hand. As we have reported in The Public Eye, for example, there has been a quarter century of organized assault on the prochoice mainline Protestant churches. [26] Rightwing outside interests, working with conservative dissident factions, have used abortion and homosexuality as wedge issues to keep prochoice, progressive Protestant denominations in turmoil and headed for schism.  This has widened the opening for conservative Catholicism and evangelicalism to increasingly displace them at the center of American culture. These efforts have been led, in part, by some of the same neoconservative Catholic leaders behind The America We Seek. [27]

 

Public Financing of Abortion

Another stumbling block for the common ground alliance is the anti-abortion movement’s opposition to public funding of organizations with expertise in birth control and sexuality education but that also provide abortions, even if the funded project has nothing to do with abortion.

As journalist Adele Stan has detailed in The Public Eye, a wide swath of the anti-abortion movement, Catholic and non-Catholic, is ratcheting up its longtime campaign against Planned Parenthood by seeking to thwart public sector grants and contracts at all levels, no matter what the grants and contracts are for. [28] This revived coalition was sparked by the opening of a new clinic in Aurora, Illinois after a bitter battle. But the war of attrition has also had successes. In Orange County, California a $300,000 health and sexuality education grant to the local Planned Parenthood was cancelled by a unanimous vote of the Board of Supervisors. County Supervisor John Moorlach told The Los Angeles Times, “I personally have a problem with government funding of an organization that provides abortion services.” [29]

The looming intertwined issue of public financing of abortion and services deemed to be related to abortion is not new and dates back to the 1970s and the Hyde Amendment, which barred Medicaid and other federal funding of abortion in 1976. In fact, you could call Hyde the first volley in the abortion reduction strategy.

Before the Hyde Amendment, about a third of all abortions performed in the United States were for poor women on Medicaid. "No other medical procedure was singled out for exclusion," the National Network of Abortion Funds (NNAF) reported. "Today, 33 states have followed suit, prohibiting state Medicaid funding as well." All but one of these states (South Dakota) follows the Hyde exceptions of rape, incest, or life endangerment.  The report details the disproportionate burdens placed on disadvantaged women, and observes that “women of color disproportionately depend on such coverage, making abortion funding a matter of racial justice as well as economic justice and women’s rights.” [30]

But the federal restrictions did not stop there.  Over the years, Congress has also legislated against access to abortion services for women in the military and Peace Corps, disabled women, residents of the District of Columbia, federal prisoners, and women covered by the Indian Health Service. Indeed, it could be fairly argued that except for the legal right to an abortion, federal policies constitute the greatest abortion reduction program of all. "Prior to 1996," states the NNAF report, "legal immigrants and U.S. citizens were equally eligible for Medicaid." But the 1996 welfare reform law signed by President Clinton required a five-year waiting period before most new legal immigrants could even apply. Less than half of the states fill in the five year gap with their own funds, and nine states permanently deny Medicaid coverage to noncitizen residents.

As of this writing, House Democrats passed a health care reform bill that would extend the principles of the Hyde Amendment to proposed overhaul of the health care system, and further block federal subsidies for private health insurance that covers abortion care.  While President Obama reportedly opposed the move, he told Katie Couric on the CBS Evening News in July that there is a “tradition” in Washington “of not financing abortions as part of government funded health care.” [31] Obama’s approach to common ground on abortion in the health care debate has been advanced under the rubric of seeking to keep the legislation “neutral” on abortion. But but anti-abortion legislators in both parties argue that some funds might go to subsidize abortions covered under private insurance. A spokesman for the USCCB told The New York Times, “The concerns are kind of intractable.” [32] Prochoice leaders point out that without the subsidies, private insurers, which already cover abortions, might no longer do so. Obama and others, perhaps gulled by their efforts to find common ground, were taken by surprise that Hyde operating as the default principle guiding public programs does not go far enough for the USCCB and many antiabortion Democrats who support universal health care.  All appeared willing to sacrifice it over arguably minor issues of the commingling of private and public funds that might touch on abortion.

Defenders of abortion rights might rightly worry that “conscience clauses" could also be said to have a venerable history. The original conscience clause legislation passed in 1973 in the wake of Roe "states that public officials may not require individuals or entities who receive certain public funds to perform abortion or sterilization procedures or to make facilities or personnel available for the performance of such procedures if such performance “would be contrary to [the individual or entity’s] religious beliefs or moral convictions.” [33] This provision has allowed even major medical facilities such as Roman Catholic hospitals to refuse to deal with abortions without jeopardizing their ability to receive public grants and contracts or affect their tax exempt status. A new rule promulgated late in the Bush administration expanded and particularized the exemptions, stating that health workers may even refuse to provide information or advice regarding abortion. The Obama administration has rescinded the Bush rule, but says it plans to leave some kind “reasonable” exemptions in place.

What we see now is a far ranging effort on the part of anti-abortion forces to use conscience clauses as a wedge, pitting religious supremacist notions of religious freedom against the civil, human, and even religious rights of others.

 

What’s missing?

Anti-abortion leaders know that state-level barriers to access have reduced the number of abortions, and that any advance in abortion coverage in the current health care reform debate or improved access in any way would be a reversal of their fortunes. Abortion services are unavailable in 87% of the counties in the United States, according to a study by the Alan Guttmacher Institute. [34]

Prochoice leaders recognize the situation as well. NARAL reports that “more than 500 anti-choice measures have been enacted in the states since 1995” and that in effect these measures, all legal under Casey, are “essentially rolling back this fundamental right for many women." Such laws are known as TRAP laws (Targeted Regulation of Abortion Providers). These include, among others, abortion bans after 12 weeks, counseling with an antiabortion slant, mandatory delays, insurance prohibitions for abortion, and allowing health care providers such as hospitals to refuse to provide medical services and referrals.

In 2009, improved access was nowhere on the national political or legislative agenda in Washington, apparently so that fighting over abortion would not derail health care reform. Even some prochoice groups and legislators went along with this. The key piece of prochoice legislation is the Freedom of Choice Act, (FOCA) which has been introduced in every Congress since 1989. FOCA would codify Roe v. Wade, and eliminate the legal barriers to access.  That is why the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and leading antiabortion groups waged a vigorous preemptive lobbying campaign before the new Congress was seated in 2009. All year (and as recently as December 2nd)  the conservative weekly Human Events issued screeching fundraising letters signed by Mike Huckabee warning about “this EVIL law” (sic), which he described as “the most radical piece of pro-abortion legislation ever proposed.” In fact, the bill was not even introduced in the 111th Congress – even though President Obama had previously said he would sign it if it reached his desk.

But the reality of the Washington moment does not alter anyone’s understanding of the stakes.

Matt Bowman of the Alliance Defense Fund, (the leading legal strategy group of the Religious Right) said: “FOCA will strike down other laws, state and federal, that reduce abortions,” he declared, “and will force states to facilitate abortions.... 125,000 children that were not killed this year because we have these laws, and 125,000 children (added to the existing 1.3 million abortions) who will be killed in 2009 and every year after if FOCA is passed. FOCA is indeed a staggering expansion of abortion, both in principle and in actual lives lost.” [35]

The Feminist Majority Foundation’s annual survey on clinic violence found that in 2008, "one in five clinics experienced severe violence."

A 2009 Washington Post story on post-Casey abortion reduction policy battles in the states underscored the effectiveness of the TRAP laws. The article focuses on Mississippi as an example of “one of the most restrictive states in the country and a model for antiabortion forces elsewhere.” Women seeking abortions “must go twice to the clinic, at least 24 hours apart.” This can be significant in terms of travel time and costs since Mississippi, which used to have six clinics, now has only one. The Chicago-based Americans United for Life, a key anti-abortion legal strategy center, takes credit for “helping state after state become more pro-life every year.” “The greater goal, even in legislation, is to influence the culture,” said Terri Herring, head of Mississippi’s Pro-Life America Network. “This is a major culture war that isn’t going away.” [36]

All this is occurring in a hostile and sometimes violent environment for abortion providers. The Feminist Majority Foundation’s annual survey on clinic violence found that in 2008, “one in five clinics experienced severe violence. The most common severe forms of violence reported in 2008 include blockades, facility invasions, and stalking.  They list a host of harassments faced by patients and staff in 2008 from death threats and bomb threats to vandalism, home picketing, and break-ins. Unsurprisingly, the Feminist Majority Foundation also reports that the number of abortion providers has dramatically declined: from 739 in 2005 to 683 in 2008. [37]

In short: Barriers to access are up; the number of abortion providers is down; and the only legislative remedy is stalled in Congress with its future uncertain.

 

Conclusion

As a practical matter, militants like Mark Crutcher and advocates of incrementalism via policies that advance abortion reduction do not disagree on ends so much as means. But it should be noted that Crutcher and his ilk are not going to “dial down” their rhetoric or their activities just because some people would prefer that they do so.

“Obviously, we cannot look for common ground with these people;” Crutcher declared in 2006, “without giving the impression that even we believe their position has at least some moral legitimacy. It would be no different than if representatives of the Jewish people would have agreed to sit down and look for common ground with the Nazis while the ovens at Auschwitz were burning day and night. The Nazis would have loved it because it would have given moral credibility to their position.”

“When we agree to look for ways to reduce the “need for abortion,” he continued, (making the same point at the spokesperson for the Catholic Bishops quoted above,) “by definition we are conceding that such a need exists. After all, rational people don’t go looking for something unless they believe it actually exists.  In other words, when we engage in common ground discussions we reinforce one of the abortion lobby’s fundamental arguments.” [38]

The strategy of the antiabortion movement, which like any other movement is never homogeneous, has nevertheless changed little since the 1990s when abortion reduction became, in all of its variants, a major thrust of the movement. Political realism on the part of both militants and pragmatists, the reality of the steady decline in the number of abortion providers, and the increase in state level obstacles make Mark Crutcher’s aphorism of the 1990s as true today as it was in 1992.

Frederick Clarkson is the editor of Dispatches from the Religious Left: The Future of Faith and Politics in America (IgPublishing),and cofounder of Talk2Action, the group blog about the Christian Right. He is a member of the Public Eye editorial board.

 

The America We Seek and the Origins of Abortion Reduction

The general approach crystallized over several months in early 1996 when 45 antiabortion and religious right leaders, organized by the neoconservative Ethics and Public Policy Center, formally adopted abortion reduction as a series of related tactics short of criminalization. [39] Their manifesto, The America We Seek: A Statement of Pro-Life Principle and Concern was published in the flagship journal of Roman Catholic neoconservatism, First Things.

The writers were inspired by the 1992 Supreme Court decision in Casey v. Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pennsylvania, which ratified the state level laws seeking to discourage abortion by making the procedure more difficult to obtain. [40]

“Now, as pro-life leaders and scholars,” they declared, “we want to propose a program of action…” And the core of that program was abortion reduction via the erection of barriers to abortion access “in all 50 states” while also creating incentives for women to carry unplanned pregnancies to term. While they understood that the legal obstacles upheld in the Casey decision “do not afford any direct legal protection to the unborn child,” they stated that “experience has shown that such regulations—genuine informed consent, waiting periods, parental notification—reduce abortions in a locality, especially when coupled with positive efforts to promote alternatives to abortion and service to women in crisis.”  [Emphasis added]

Under the gun to distance themselves from the anti-abortion violence of the era, anti-abortion leaders had found a way to hold to a credible political strategy that conveyed a sufficient urgency. Nevertheless, they struggled with the emotional and political disconnect between the demagogic, if heartfelt, “bloody shirt” type rhetoric (i.e.: abortion is “murder” or a “holocaust”) and the moderate, incremental policy ideas of abortion reduction. They declared, for example, that abortion “has killed tens of millions of unborn children,” but that they were nevertheless committed to abortion reduction and providing “the infrastructure for “alternatives” to abortion via a national network of 3,000 “Crisis Pregnancy Centers.”

More consistent with their sense of moral urgency, was their referencing bills then being considered in Congress that would involve “criminal sanctions” for abortion providers, and demanded that Congress “recognize the unborn child as a human person entitled to the protection of the Constitution.” The America they seek is one whose politics and public policy advances reduce abortions while seeking to build political clout sufficient to criminalize abortion forever. But they recognized that while criminalization was unlikely in their lifetimes, they were not then, and are not now, without options. But of course, the tension remains, and the state level campaigns aimed at constitutional declarations of fetal personhood and thus challenges to the constitutionality of Roe, are ongoing.

The authors of The America We Seek were a bipartisan group of significant leaders led by host George Weigel of the Ethics and Public Policy Center (the official biographer of Pope John Paul II) and included Roman Catholic legal scholars Robert P. George of Princeton and Mary Ann Glendon of Harvard (whom George W. Bush would appoint as Ambassador to the Vatican), Father Frank  Pavone of Priests for Life; Clarke D. Forsythe of Americans United for Life; James Dobson of Focus on the Family; Ralph Reed of the then-powerful Christian Coalition, Beverly LaHaye of Concerned Women for America; William Kristol, former Chief of Staff to Vice President Dan Quayle; Phillip E. Johnson founder of the theocratic think tank of the “intelligent design” theory, Discovery Institute; Jean Bethke Elshtain, a political philosopher at the University of Chicago, and currently a cochair of the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life; and former Gov. Robert P. Casey, (D-PA).

Three of this group later played pivotal roles in the development of Third Way’s Come Let Us Reason Together document outlining an abortion reduction plan for the Democrats: David Gushee, then of Southern Baptist Seminary; Reverend Jim Wallis of Sojourners; and Ron Sider of Evangelicals for Social Action.

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End Notes

  1. Jacqueline L. Salmon, “Some Abortion Foes Shifting Focus From Ban to Reduction,” The Washington Post, November 18, 2008.
  2. Frederick Clarkson, Eternal Hostility:  The Struggle Between Theocracy and Democracy (Common Courage Press, 1997), p. 171.
  3. Frederick Clarkson, “Anti-Abortion Violence:  Two Decades of Arson, Bombs and Murder,” Intelligence Report, Summer 1998.
  4. Frederick Clarkson, “Anti-Abortion Extremists:  ‘Patriots’ and Racists Converge, Intelligence Report,” Summer 1998.
  5. See for example, Frederick Clarkson, “[I] Pray For Barack Obama To Die And Go To Hell”:  The Story The Media Missed,” Religion Dispatches, September 1, 2009.
  6. Jessica Arons and Shira Saperstein,The Right Way to Reduce Abortion,” Center for American Progress, January 20, 2006.
  7. Rachel Laser and Michael Earls, “A New Direction on Abortion for Progressives: Winning The Battle of Reasonableness,” Third Way, September 16, 2006.
  8. The political premises behind abortion have been challenged, along with the efficacy of the policies most likely to flow from them.   For an example of the electoral argument for common groundism, see Stephen F. Schenck, “Common Ground Decides Elections,” RH Reality Check, July 2, 2009.  Two examples of challenges to the electoral efficacy of faith outreach oriented common groundism are:  Chip Berlet, “Common Ground:  Winning the Battle, Losing the Culture War,” Religion Dispatches, May 19, 2009; and Jodi Jacobsen, RH Reality Check, July 7, 2009.
  9. Christine Cupaiuolo, “Common Ground Reached in Ryan/DeLauro Bill; Want Reproductive Health Care Coverage? Bring It,” Our Bodies Ourselves Blog, July 23, 2009.
  10. Deal W. Hudson, "Doug Johnson on the Obama Abortion Reduction Scam", InsideCatholic.com, September 26, 2008.
  11. Sarah Posner, “Obama's Faithful Flock,” The Nation, July 15, 2009.
  12. Rachel Laser, Robert P, Jones, Samuel Rodriguez, Joel Hunter, Katie Paris, David Gushee, Ronald Sider, “Come Let U Reason Together:  A Governing Agenda to End the Culture Wars,” Third Way, January 2009 (The America We Seek co-author Jim Wallis was one of a number of prominent endorsers). 
  13. David Gushee, “Come Let Us Reason Together Governing Agenda
    Press Teleconference Opening Remarks,” January 15, 2009. (PDF)
  14. Rachel Laser, “Come Let Us Reason Together Governing Agenda Press Teleconference Opening Remarks,” January 15, 2009. (PDF)
  15. David Brody, “White House to Meet with Conservative Evangelical Groups,” The Brody File, March 16, 2009
  16. Gloria Feldt, “Beyond Roe:  Thanks to the Supreme Court’s best-known decision, the women’s movement is stalled.  Here’s how to restart it,” Democracy Journal, Issue #11, Winter 2009.
  17. Dan Gilgoff, “White House Discerns ‘Need for Abortion’, But Some Disagree,” God & Country blog, U.S. News & World Report, June 30, 2009.
  18. Rachel Zoll, “Bishops discuss authority over Catholic colleges,” Associated Press, November 18, 2009.
  19. Frank Cocozzelli, “The Politics of Schism: The Right-wing Takeover of the Catholic Church,” The Public Eye, Fall 2009.
  20. David Gushee, “Mr. President, we need more than lip service,” USA Today, March 16, 2009.
  21. Duke Helfand, “Aging of Catholic bishops could lead to rebirth,” Los Angeles Times, April 6, 2009.
    Sarah Posner, “The Fundamental List, #68,” The American Prospect, February 18, 2009.
  22. David Gushee, “Mr. President, we need more than lip service,” USA Today, March 16, 2009.
  23. See An Open Letter to Religious Leaders on Abortion as a Moral Decision, Religious Institute on Sexual Morality, Justice, and Healing , September 30, 2009. (PDF); Religious Leaders Urge Congress To Include Abortion Services in Health Care Reform, Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice, September 23, 2009.;  Catholics Support Healthcare Reform, Including Coverage for Abortion, Catholics for a Free Choice, September, 30 2009.
  24. See Frederick Clarkson, “The Rise of Dominionism: Remaking America as a Christian Nation,” The Public Eye, Winter 2005.
  25. Simone Campbell and John Gehring, “What makes liberals and conservatives angry?  Abortion reduction,” The Cleveland Plain Dealer, March 23, 2009. For related discussions, see Frederick Clarkson, “Four Canards about Abortion Reduction,” Talk to Action, March 28, 2009 and Frederick Clarkson, “The New Secular Fundamentalist Conspiracy!The Public Eye, Summer 2008.
  26. Frederick Clarkson, “The Battle for the Mainline Churches,” The Public Eye, Spring 2006.
  27. Notably John Richard Neuhaus, George Weigel, Robert P. George, Mary Ann Glendon, and Michael Novak.  See Andrew J. Weaver, “Neocon Catholics target mainline Protestants: Institute on Religion and Democracy leads serious breach of ecumenical good will,” Media Transparency, August 11, 2006.
  28. Adele M. Stan, “New Tactics and Coalitions Take Aim at Planned Parenthood,” The Public Eye, Spring 2009.
  29. Tami Abdollah, “Orange County board votes to suspend Planned Parenthood contract,” Los Angeles Times, March 10, 2009.
  30. Shawn Towey, Stephanie Poggi and Rachael Roth, “Abortion Funding:  A Matter of Justice,” National Network of Abortion Funds, Boston, Mass., 2005. (PDF
  31. CBS Evening News, July 21, 2009.
  32. David D. Kirkpatrick, “Abortion Fight Complicates Debate on Health Care,” The New York Times, September 28, 2009.
  33. Jody Feder, “The History and Effect of Conscience Clause Laws,” American Law Division, Congressional Research Service, January 14, 2005.
  34. Rachel K. Jones, Mia R. S. Zolna, Stanley K. Henshaw and Lawrence B. Finer, “Abortion in the United States:  Incidence and Access to Services, 2005,” Perspectives on Sexual and Reproductive Health, Volume 40, Issue 1, March 2008.
  35. Matt Bowman, Barack Obama’s “Freedom of Choice Act” Would Mean 125K More Abortions, LifeSiteNews.Com, September 24, 2008.
  36. Peter Slevin, “Antiabortion Efforts Move to the State Level: Legislatures Often Mandate Restrictions,” The Washington Post, June 8, 2009.
  37. Feminist Majority Foundation, 2008 National Clinic Violence Survey, February 2009.
  38. Mark Crutcher, “Don’t Be So Open Minded that Your Brain Falls Out,” Mark’s Blog, April 6, 2006.
  39. I first reported the origins of the contemporary abortion reduction agenda in Frederick Clarkson, “Where Did the Abortion Reduction Agenda Come From?RH Reality Check, February 16, 2009.
  40. George Weigel, et al, “The America We Seek: A Statement of Pro-Life Principle and Concern,” First Things, May 1996, pgs. 40-44. Also published in The National Review; and on the web site of Priests for Life.  An earlier, less policy oriented statement of principles issued by some of the same group, led by then-Governor Robert Casey (D-PA) argued for policies that “would provide maximum feasible legal protection for the unborn and maximum feasible care and support for pregnant women, mothers, and children.”  Robert P. Casey, et al,A New American Compact: Caring about Women, Caring for the Unborn,” 1992.  Republished at Catholics Online, June 17, 2008.

 

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