A doctoral candidate at Rice, Blake Ellis, posted a really interesting article over at History News Network yesterday. One of his contentions is that tactics like the removal of family-planning services from the stimulus bill have made it clear that “the goal of the anti-abortion movement is not a reduction in the abortion rate, but rather strict control over the private sexual decisions of the country’s citizens.”
While FPL has worked with a host of pro-life leaders who are interested in reducing the abortion rate (CLURT, Real Abortion Solutions), we’ve also witnessed pro-life obstructionism, which seems hell-bent on policing morality and private decisions than actually preventing abortions. Extreme right-to-life advocates claim that common ground solutions are just smoke-and-mirrors, covering up President Obama’s actual agenda to “promote unlimited abortions… and force [taxpayers] to pay for abortions.” Of course, neither of those claims is grounded in reality–Pres. Obama has repeatedly emphasized his desire to reduce the number of abortions. and we have numerous statutory impediments to government funds going towards abortions (like the Hyde Amendment).
(And don’t get me wrong, we’ve also encountered critics on the left .)
But what’s so fascinating about the HNN piece is that it challenges our assumptions about conservative evangelicals–especially about more “old-school” evangelicals. (Obviously, much has been said about the changing of the guard and the younger evangelicals’ broader agendas.)
Ellis claims that historically many evangelicals haven’t agreed with being fiercely political about abortion, even within quite conservative denominations. One of his examples is Foy Valentine, who pushed the Southern Baptist Convention “toward a liberal stance on issues of race and poverty and opposed Farwell’s near-exclusive focus on opposing abortion rights” in the 1960s and ’70s.
And… get this…he was a proponent of abortion reduction, through prevention and support for women and families. According to Ellis, he advocated for sex education in churches and made clear that Baptists should play a role in reducing the number of abortions in the country.
And in 1971, at an annual meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention, Baptists overwhelmingly approved a resolution calling for “legislation that will allow the possibility of abortion under such conditions as rape, incest, clear evidence of severe fetal deformity, and carefully ascertained evidence of the likelihood of damage to the emotional, mental, and physical health of the mother.”
Ellis concedes that many evangelicals leaders and denominations have taken a harder right turn on abortion since then, but makes this final point:
…The actions of these Baptists serve as a reminder that the alliance of southern evangelicals with anti-abortion ideologues was neither inevitable nor unavoidable; and it may be reversible. …Progressives can build new alliances that might undermine the power of Christian Right leaders who would apparently rather block government support for poor women than work to actually reduce the number of abortions.
That’s what we’re trying to do. Thanks for Ellis for reminding me that’s it possible and right to find common ground on this issue.
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I was pretty well stunned by Steve Waldman’s report from John Green that 25 percent of Obama voters were pro-life. My guess would’ve been roughly half that number. There’s a lot to unpack here.
1) Why such high crossover? Because the Obama campaign’s outreach on abortion reduction (think Doug Kmiec, the nomination acceptance speech, the third presidential debate) and the efforts of outside groups like Matthew25 resonated? Because economic anxiety crowded out abortion as a primary voting issue? Because McCain didn’t make his case well? Because pro-life voters are tired of the GOP boilerplate and yearning for common ground? I think any thorough explanation has to account for all of these factors.
2) What happens next? If I had a nickel for every “tightrope” metaphor I’ve read since Inauguration Day, it would cover my lunches and bus fare for at least a week. Thus far, the administration has taken a couple of steps to walk it: spelling out abortion reduction as a principal aim of the faith-based council, and including pro-life as well as pro-choice leaders on it; repealing the Mexico City policy, but waiting until after the observance of the Roe Anniversary to do so. After a few big-ticket items like stimulus get checked off the agenda though, symbolism will likely have to be followed with action on abortion reduction if the administration wants pro-lifers continued support, especially as Supreme Court appointments loom.
3) Will the Democratic party try to cement Obama’s gains in future elections by continuing to emphasize abortion reduction and common ground? It shouldn’t be taken for granted.
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Today, the media’s been abuzz with the not-so-surprising news that President Obama is set to overturn the Mexico City Policy, which prevents U.S. funding from going to international NGOs that endorse or provide abortions. Some of the reporting has been a bit murky.
Reuters story ran under the headline “Obama to lift funding ban for abortion groups abroad.” The article goes on to say, “President Barack Obama on Friday will lift restrictions on U.S. government funding for groups that provide abortion services or counseling abroad, reversing a policy of his Republican predecessor George W. Bush.”
Politico: “It’s known as the Mexico City Policy, or global gag rule, which bans federally funded non-government organizations from performing abortions in foreign countries.”
Associated Press: The policy bans U.S. taxpayer money, usually in the form of U.S. Agency for International Development funds, from going to international family planning groups that either offer abortions or provide information, counseling or referrals about abortion. It is also known as the “global gag rule,” because it prohibits taxpayer funding for groups that even talk about abortion if there is an unplanned pregnancy.
BBC: President Barack Obama is set to lift a ban on US funding for groups that provide abortion services abroad, officials say.
What’s implicitly being said– that the overturning of the “global gag rule” will allow U.S. dollars to pay for abortions– is simply not the case. Regardless of the status of the Mexico City Policy, we have a law on our books (the Helms amendment) that prevents federal money from going to abortion procedures. Revoking the Mexico City Policy will allow for the funding of organizations that provide family planning services, abortion referrals and counselings, and yes, abortions. BUT, that money cannot directly go towards abortions.
In addition to the media’s incomplete context, some in the pro-life community aren’t getting it right either. For instance, a FOX story quotes Douglas Johnson, legislative director of the National Right to Life Committee, saying, “President Obama not long ago told the American people that he would support policies to reduce abortions, but today he is effectively guaranteeing more abortions by funding groups that promote abortion as a method of population control.”
In the same vein, a Focus on the Family representative told the BBC: “…you cannot reduce abortions by channelling more money to the abortion industry.”
To the contrary– robust family planning and access to contraception will drive down demand for abortions. One of the key planks of the Real Abortion Solutions initiative is the prevention of unintended pregnancies. The global gag rule has prevented women from getting the health care they need, including contraception and family planning services.
As David Gibson at Beliefnet wrote today, “[the Mexico City Policy] has cut off a lifeline to untold numbers of health clinics that are the sole outlet for millions of poor people–and has resulted in terrible sufferings for women and children, increased numbers of pregnancies, and a greater number of abortions.”
Women around the globe deserve the chance at a healthy, safe life. Without NGO-operated and funded clinics– which often rely on American funding– many won’t get that care. Let’s make sure we have all the facts when we talk about policy that affects whether they receive it.
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Today is the 36th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, and the pro-life community is marked the occasion with their annual March For Life. Alongside this year’s protest of the Supreme Court ruling that protects the legality of abortion, though, a call for abortion reduction is emerging. Realabortionsolutions.org is running ads in Washington DC newspapers and Christian radio calling for measures that reduce abortion: prevention of unintended pregnancies, economic support for women and children, pre- and post-natal healthcare, adoption expansion. These planks neither restrict nor promote abortion. What they do is advance the common good. I’d hope that’s reason enough for people on both sides to support them. It’d be a shame if concrete measures to support women and children got lost in the scuffle.
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Following yesterday’s launch of a new Christian radio ad supported by nationally prominent evangelical and Catholic leaders calling for common ground solutions to reduce number of abortions in America, the website Lifenews.com posted an article that ignored the coalition of pro-life leaders supporting the ad and made numerous false accusations about its content.
While Lifenews.com found it “curiousâ€ that the nonpartisan ad did not endorse a candidate, it is more curious that Lifenews.com failed to mention the name of a single Christian leader supporting the ad, many of whom have been involved in the pro-life movement for decades and none of whom have endorsed a candidate. Evangelical and Catholic leaders supporting the ad include National Association of Evangelicals vice president Rev. Rich Cizik, Catholic University’s Life Cycle Institute director Steve Schneck, megachurch pastor Dr. Joel Hunter, Calvin College professor and author Steve Monsma, Evangelicals for Human Rights president and author Dr. David Gushee, National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference president Rev. Samuel Rodriguez and Christian marketing firm executive Joe Battaglia.
Lifenews.com claims that the ad “downplays abortion in voting.” The nonpartisan ad does not in fact mention voting, but it does asks for listeners to take the issue seriously. As the ad scripts states, it’s time to “get serious about protecting life” and “move the conversation beyond bumper sticker slogans.”
Lifenews also disputes the ad’s statement that “the number of abortion is unchanged from 32 years ago.â€ In response to this statement in the ad, Lifenews said “Not so…The abortion rate, which Faith in Public Life notes in its ad, shows a drastic change from its highest levels in the years after Roe.â€ But the ad did not cite the abortion rate. It cited the number of abortions in America. According to the Guttmacher Institute, the same research institution Lifenews.com cites to support their argument, there are 1.2 million abortions in American today (the most recent year for which there is data is 2005); 32 years ago, in 1976, there were 1.179 million abortions. LifeNews goes on to claim that the nonpartisan ad “adopts the mantra of the supposedly pro-life Obama apologists, who claim pro-life advocates have been unsuccessful in reducing abortions.â€ The ad does not claim that advocates on either side of the issue of abortion have been successful or unsuccessful. Instead, it asks both “Democrats and Republicans to come together around solutions based on results, not rhetoric.â€ If 1.179 million abortions was a problem worth mobilizing a movement around in the 1970′s, surely 1.2 million abortions should not be seen as a success today.
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