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President Obama has commissioned a panel to work out a “common ground” plan to “reduce the need for abortion.” Pro-life participants size up the White House task force.
BY Steve WeatherbeREGISTER CORRESPONDENT
WASHINGTON — President Obama has
gotten a lot of mileage out of his declared desire to want to reduce abortion.
He repeated the claim when he visited Pope Benedict XVI in July.
Pro-life participants in Obama’s
task force to reduce abortion agree that the effort to find “common ground” on
the issue is more than window dressing.
Even those critical of his
pro-abortion policies agree that the task force is intended to produce real
results, not just placate pro-life or religious voters with meaningless
But where the participants differ is
on just what those intended results are: to reduce the number of abortions done
in the United States or to reduce “the need for” abortion — or simply to
justify new legislation providing more government funding for contraception and
sex education promoting it.
One of the earliest participants in
— and critics of — the task force announced on April 29 was Wendy Wright, the
president of Concerned Women for America, a Washington-based lobby group that
promotes conservative Christian values.
She attended a meeting with White
House staff and 20 people from organizations concerned with the abortion issue.
“I identified only four pro-lifers
out of those 20,” Wright told the Register.
Towards the end of the meeting, the
person in charge, Melody Barnes, the director of the White House Domestic
Policy Council, asked Wright for input. But when Wright responded that the
government could reduce abortions by restricting the procedure, by rallying
public sentiment against abortion, or by defunding it, Barnes “testily”
interrupted, saying, “It is not our goal to reduce the number of abortions.”
At that point, the room fell into a
stunned silence. Barnes, who was formerly a board member for Emily’s List, an
organization that raised funds for pro-abortion candidates, then elaborated.
The task force’s goal was to “reduce the need for abortion,” she said.
Wright reported this in an Internet
story later, which she speculates got her disinvited from further meetings.
The difference is significant, Wright
later told the Register. “There is no way to quantify a reduction in the need
for abortion,” she said. “But you can quantify a reduction in the number of
abortions and so you can hold the government accountable.”
The issue was raised by Obama’s visit
to Pope Benedict XVI, where he was widely reported to have promised to reduce
the “number” of abortions rather than just “the need.”
However, a second look at the
president’s words when he announced the task force, which was also widely
reported as being about reducing the number of abortions, shows he actually
stated that its goal was to “reduce the number of unwanted pregnancies that
result in women feeling compelled to get an abortion.”
Wright suspected at first that the
task force was a deceptive maneuver to co-opt the organizations or individuals
involved into supporting or appearing to support what was actually a “preset”
But this fear was dispelled at the
outset by organizers of the meeting, she reports, who stated clearly that the
task force would not claim any participants had “signed on” to the ultimate
However, Wright is afraid that the
task force will ultimately recommend “more government funding for abortion
providers,” specifically for sex education and for contraceptives and
“These programs have been a big
failure in terms of reducing unwanted pregnancies and abortions,” said Wright.
“But they continue to get a lot of government funding.”
Stephen Schneck, director of the
Life Cycle Institute at The Catholic University of America in Washington and a
member of Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good, says the White House task
force to reduce abortion need is “a sincere effort or I would not be a part of
Schneck has participated in “four or
five” conference calls with White House staff, which have consisted mostly of
“us listening while they talk about what they want to do. … I haven’t had much
to say: I’m a very small fish.”
The point seems so far to be
outreach using well-connected individuals such as Schneck, who belongs to
several organizations involved in common ground activities.
Schneck gathers from these calls
that the people in the White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood
Partnerships who are leading on the abortion issue are focusing on two bills
pending since the previous administration: the Pregnant Women Support Act and
the Ryan-DeLauro bill.
“The question is how much these
initiatives have really caught the attention of the real powers that be in the
White House yet. There’s a lot going on right now over there,” said Schneck.
The first measure, introduced by
Rep. Lincoln Davis, a Democrat from Tennessee, in 2006, would provide health
care and child care for pregnant women. In its current form, however, Schneck
believes it might be opposed by pro-abortion groups and politicians because it
extends State Children’s Health Insurance Program benefits to unborn children.
This refers to federal medical funding provided for the children of poor but
working adults, who are themselves ineligible for federal aid.
The second bill, the work of Reps.
Tim Ryan of Ohio and Rosa DeLauro of Connecticut, both Democrats, would
increase health care for poor mothers, free visits by nurses to first-time
mothers, increase a tax credit for adoption, and provide child care for couples
More problematic for many
pro-lifers, the bill would fund contraceptives for low-income women and sex education
focused on abstinence but also the use of contraceptives.
Chris Korzen, the Washington-based
director of Catholics United, also believes that these two bills are being
considered by the White House.
Korzen, too, is “absolutely
convinced” the Obama administration is sincere and that compromise measures
that are also effective in reducing “the need for” abortion do exist.
Schneck observes that the Obama
administration has emphasized inclusion of those three controversial words —
“the need for” — in describing the initiative to appease pro-abortion groups
“who don’t see abortion as a moral issue.”
Deidre McQuade, assistant
communications director for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ pro-life
secretariat, is highly critical of the notion that there is any need for
abortion. “There is no medical need for abortion,” she said.
Nonetheless, she says, the Church
supports any common ground initiatives that authentically respect the dignity
of life and of women. But the bishops’ conference doesn’t believe contraception
respects either of those and so opposes the Ryan-DeLauro bill.
On the other hand, she says, if the
White House task force helps get the Pregnant Women Support Act passed, “We
would be fully, wholly, joyfully behind that too.”
McQuade says everything of value in
the Ryan-DeLauro bill is also in the Pregnant Women Support Act — and much more
As for the task force, McQuade won’t
call herself an outright skeptic, but she does say, “It’s unclear to me that it
The White House insists that it
does. In response to inquiries from the Register, White House director of
specialty media Shin Inouye issued this statement: “The staff has been very
active and has held dozens of meetings and calls with stakeholders from across
the spectrum. This input is being gathered, and the staff’s findings will be
sent to the president.”
Those who are outside this loop are
the most skeptical of the administration’s motives. Representative of these is
University of Alabama professor Michael New, author of a 2006 study for the
Heritage Foundation showing that abortions were reduced by 20% by state laws
requiring informed consent and parental involvement and prohibiting
New also issued a harsh critique of
a study by Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good that claimed increased
spending on welfare programs for pregnant women and unwed mothers reduced the
New said he is “very skeptical about
the Democrats in general and Obama in particular” with regard to any actions to
“This seems to be a continuation of
the soft rhetoric Obama used during the election to reach out to conservative
and religious voters. It was apparently successful. He got more Catholic voters
than [2004 Democratic candidate John] Kerry.”
But New says Obama’s voting record
as senator indicates no interest in reducing abortion. And the Democratic Party
draws strong support from pro-abortion groups and providers such as Planned
Parenthood and Emily’s List. It would be hard, he says, for the party to turn
its back on them. He also warned pro-lifers to be skeptical of claims that
indirect programs aimed at improving socioeconomic conditions will also reduce
abortion. “The hard evidence just isn’t there,” he said.
As for spending on contraceptives or
their promotion (as provided by the Ryan-DeLauro bill), he says there is no
evidence indicating this would have a negative impact on abortion rates. On the
other hand, he said, “The introduction of oral contraceptives historically is
linked to a general rise in sexual activity.”
New and Wright both urge pro-lifers
to see the task force in the larger context of the Obama presidency. Wright
notes Obama’s quick restoration of foreign aid for abortion-promoting nonprofit
organizations. And the White House and Democrats in Congress are pushing for an
omnibus health-care legislative package that will reportedly include federal
funding for abortion and override state restrictions on abortion.
Reports National Right to Life: “These bills pose one of the greatest threats to
pro-life policies since the Supreme Court handed down its Roe v. Wade ruling legalizing abortion in 1973.”
Weatherbe writes from
Victoria, British Columbia.