Now that the mid-term elections are over the opportunity exists to talk about difficult issues in a somewhat less political atmosphere and without debate one of the most divisive issues we face is abortion.
Voters in the very red state of South Dakota and the uber blue state of Oregon reaffirmed support for legal abortion rights last week when they defeated anti-choice measures that would have (in South Dakota's case) banned abortion or (in Oregon) required parental notification without exemptions for rape or incest.
Few Americans want to ban abortion outright but many Americans regardless of political ideology (or theology) share a common goal of reducing the number of unwanted pregnancies - and therefore abortion. Is there a middle ground?
That is the question the editors of The Christian Century asked just before the election:
The elusive middle ground on abortion took concrete shape in September. Two bills were introduced in the House of Representatives that are designed to reduce the number of abortions not by tightening restrictions on abortion but by expanding the social programs that reduce the likelihood of abortion.
The Pregnant Women Support Act, introduced by Lincoln Davis (D., Tenn.) and Chris Smith (R., N.J.), and the Reducing the Need for Abortion Act, sponsored by Tim Ryan (D., Ohio) and Rose DeLauro (D., Conn.), are the most comprehensive bills yet formulated to address the social issues that lie behind the decision to have an abortion. The Ryan-DeLauro bill is notable for bringing together a member of the Congressional Pro-Life Caucus (Ryan) and a member of the Congressional Pro-Choice Caucus (DeLauro). Ryan said the proposal is aimed at "broadening the stagnant debate that too often accompanies this issue."
Some pro-life legislators have begun to recognize the hollowness of the high-profile battles over the legality of partial-birth abortion procedures or of parental notification rules. Even victory by the antiabortion forces on such issues does virtually nothing to reduce the number of abortions. Political energies would be better spent on providing women and children with health insurance, medical care, childcare and education so that they are less likely to find themselves in a position in which abortion seems a desirable option.
As The Christian Century notes in their editorial, the Ryan -DeLauro bill "omits any reference to contraception and therefore might gain wider support. (Even contraception programs have become suspect among some conservative Christians.)" That's too bad. Any effort that will truly reduce the number of unwanted pregnancies has to include federal support for contraception. But even with that glaring omission the bill is a positive step.
Western European nations already have lower abortion rates than the U.S. and a major reason is that "women in Western Europe have access to sex education, contraception and health care for themselves and their newborn children."
Abortion is a political issue that will bring out voters - on both sides - every time. But maybe...just maybe...the recent legislation introduced in Congress affords us the opportunity to find common ground both the pro-choice and pro-life sides can stand on.