Tuesday, June 16, 2009

The Ground that Common Ground Can Stand On

My colleagues over at RHReality Check have begun a new section of their blog dedicated to writing about common ground on abortion. I spoke to its moderator, Christina Page, yesterday, and she has invited me to share my thoughts on the forum. I'll let you know when that happens.

I told her that I believe in people of diverse views and good intentions coming together to seek genuine areas of overlapping concerns through careful dialogue and engagement. However, I am skeptical about the current calls for common ground as a way of developing public policy. As I wrote last week for the Women's Media Center, I firmly believe that the only common ground on abortion I can stand on must begin with an agreement that we must reduce the numbers of women who become unintentionally pregnant in the first place -- because of a lack of information or a lack of services or a lack of opportunities in their lives. As comments on this blog and the WMC site attest, I was criticized by people on all sides for that position.

More than a decade ago, I was part of an intense, two-day common ground initiative at the Wye River. Religious leaders across the spectrum participated, and we did agree on where common ground could be sought. I encourage you to read the paper that emerged from that dialogue at the website of the Religious Institute. I reread it just a few minutes ago and believe it is as applicable today as when it was written. At that common ground meeting, we agreed that there were seven opportunities for common ground dialogue:

* Promoting sexual responsibility
* Fostering equality and respect for women
* Strengthening parent-child communication about sexuality
* Working to reduce teenage pregnancies
* Improving prenatal and maternal care
* Supporting the choice of adoption
* Working together to reduce the conditions that lead to unplanned pregnancies

The common ground on abortion has already been carefully laid out. As Scripture teaches, there is nothing new under the sun. If people who oppose abortion are ready to talk about empowering women's moral agency and providing sexuality education and contraceptive services to teens and young adults, I believe real common ground can be found. After all, those of us who are pro-choice are already advocating for prenatal and maternal care and adoption as real options.

Is it cynical, or realistic, to believe that today's calls for common ground, whether in the blogosphere or at the White House, are going to come up with a pretty similar list? And can you blame those of us who have been part of these conversations for, say, 20-30 years for not being so enthusiastic about another round that starts at ground zero?


Pam said...

According to the Guttmacher Institute, 54% of women who have abortions used artificial contraception in the month they became pregnant. Even if we all agree (and I think we do) that preventing unintended pregnancy is a good basis for common ground in principle, I'm not sure I see the connection (that I agree INTUITIVELY should be there) that MORE contraceptive use will lead to fewer unintended pregnancies and less NEED for abortion.

As long as abortion is seen as a perfectly acceptable back-up to contraceptive failure, I don't understand how its increased use will appreciably in the end reduce the need for abortion.

The Daily Kos wrote a long piece in 2007 disrespecting the notion of the "contraceptive mentality" but fair-minded people who are really open to understanding the "other side" (in this case not only pro-lifers but those against artificial contraception) should really take a look at it.

I would so very much like to work on a common ground initiative, but I continue to see a complete unwillingness of the pro-abortion/ pro-abortion-rights (I know it is inflammatory to call this group "anti-life" as a counter-weight to the "anti-choice" epithetthat is routinely applied to people like me...), pro-contraception folks won't even HEAR or understand our argument in a spirit of sympathetic engagement, much less set the bar for the common ground at anywhere near a position that respects our legitimate viewpoints.

Rev. Debra, you go as far as anyone by giving a voice to a few of us here, but I have no hope for common ground, and not because the pro-life side (the reasonable part of the movement) is unwilling to listen or engage.

Pam said...

Sorry - to follow up - below are the statistics I am relying on from the Guttmacher Institute:

• Fifty-four percent of women who have abortions had used a contraceptive method (usually the condom or the pill) during the month they became pregnant. Among those women, 76% of pill users and 49% of condom users report having used their method inconsistently, while 13% of pill users and 14% of condom users report correct use.[9]

• Forty-six percent of women who have abortions had not used a contraceptive method during the month they became pregnant. Of these women, 33% had perceived themselves to be at low risk for pregnancy, 32% had had concerns about contraceptive methods, 26% had had unexpected sex and 1% had been forced to have sex.[9]

• Eight percent of women who have abortions have never used a method of birth control; nonuse is greatest among those who are young, poor, black, Hispanic or less educated.[9]

• About half of unintended pregnancies occur among the 11% of women who are at risk for unintended pregnancy but are not using contraceptives. Most of these women have practiced contraception in the past.[1,10]

I'm not seeing that the contraceptive use is doing so very much to reduce unintended pregnancy OR abortion.

Anonymous said...

Who is responsible for effectively using contraception?

Anonymous said...

Just found your blog for the first time. I agree that we must reduce the number of women who become unintentionally pregnant. With the number and variety of contraception methods that exist in 2009 people who don't want to get pregnant really shouldn't.

As a male, one can achieve early middle-age without ever not using barrier methods, and I'm living proof of that.

I personally have a problem with killing another person for convenience sake. To protect the life of the mother--no question. Because the fetus has a medical condition with a poor outcome--we all do at some point in our lives.

I'm not sure that the law is the best method to prevent more abortions, but I'd rather they were less socially acceptable.

Anonymous said...

Why should society find abortions less acceptable?