Since 1973, Americans have been arguing over the issue of abortion. Amidst the rancorous debate and occasional violence, very little has been achieved other than the election of many Republicans chanting the anti-abortion mantra. The abortion rate is roughly equivalent to what it was in 1973, and many religious people have been duped into thinking that one party is in favor of abortion and the other is opposed to it.
It is time to reframe the discussion around abortion, in the hope that we might accomplish something.
Everyone is "pro-life" (except for suicides and sociopaths). To suggest otherwise ignores something fundamental about the human condition. It is most often used when the speaker wants to vilify someone.
Similarly, no one is really "pro-abortion," just as no one is "pro-disembowelment." Every abortion is a tragedy, and represents a failure of society at many levels.
"Pro-Choice" is not the appropriate term either, because "The Choice" will happen whether or not this "Choice" is legal. We only need to look to either the developing world. In 2003, nearly 50% of world-wide induced abortions occur in countries where abortion is illegal. Or we could turn to pre-1973 America for the physics of abortion. They will happen whether or not the procedure is legal.
Beyond the old way of discussing this issue, the core discussion is whether or not a particular course of action reduces the overall number of abortions. It should also be noted that Catholics are not unanimous on this issue. In fact, in the United States, American Catholics mirror the population in general for the unfortunate and unnecessary procedure. In the wider Church, the debate continues as well. No less an authority than Cardinal Carlo Martini, the former Bishop of Milan, called legal abortion a "positive", echoing a recent World Health Organization report which showed that countries where abortion was criminalized showed no decrease in the number of abortions, and a marked decline in maternal health. Predictably, the Vatican issued a statement offering corrections to Cardinal Martini's statement.
I will leave the moral language to the clergy and the theologians. Its not clear that language like "abomination", or "intrinsic evil" help to improve the situation. But if you believe that every abortion is a tragedy, then it follows that reducing the number of abortions is a worthy goal.
Let this be the anchor of the new way to discussion the issue. If we all agree abortion is a tragedy, and if we all agree that criminalization has failed and that the data shows it does not make the situation better, then shouldn't we work to reduce the number of abortions by other means? Instead of focusing on abortion per se, we should focus on eliminating unwanted pregnancies.Instead of focusing on the procedure itself, we should focus on giving women more options, by providing free access to family planning services, and better access to women's heathcare services in general. It is useful to consider that the major cause of abortions in this country is unplanned pregancy. The government, the private sector, and faith-based groups all have a role in acting on ways to reduce the number of abortions.
Once beyond the criminalization argument an entire range of options opem themselves up. To those who ascribe to a free-market approach, I ask "are there economic incentives that could help to lower the number of abortions?" To the faith-based communities I ask, "are you doing enough to take care of women with unwanted pregnancies so they do not need to have abortions?" To the rest of us I ask, "What are the new ways to think about this problem that could help to lower the number of abortions?"
Many positive ways of looking at this problem have been proposed. Congress has shown, with their Reducing the Need for Abortion and Supporting Parents Act bill (HR 1074) and the Prevention First Act (HR 819) bill, they are serious about finding new solutions to serious problems posed by the practice of abortion. These efforts have been supported by Democrats and Republicans.
Congress has also worked on making other alternatives more attractive, including adoption, with the Adoption Promotion Act of 2003, which is now Public Law No: 108-145. Just as the new language on abortion will help to reframe the discussion, Congress' new approach could be a forerunner of a strategy that will avoid the divisiveness of the past, and give a glimmer of hope that we can make real progress on this issue in the future.
As Catholics and as Democrats, we believe that our faith perspective informs our political outlook at this situation - and visa versa. We call upon our Church to broaden the dialog beyond casting the stone of blame on an individual, but to use our Catholic Social Teaching to get at these deeper issues. We call upon our party to work even more diligently in the areas of academic and vocational opportunities for our young generation, particularly women; to work for universal health care; and to move forward legislation that will result in the creation of jobs that pay solid wages. We call upon the press to cover Democratic people of faith and their positions on this serious issue with equal weight to that of Republicans. We believe that using the principles of Catholic Social Teaching and our solid Democratic platform will be the most effective means to address abortion.