WASHINGTON — Pro-life leaders see President Obama's "abortion reduction" plan as public relations spin: feel-good language that lacks measurable goals and aims at changing perception but not policy.
"It's very important for us to be educated and not taken in by rhetoric," said Wendy Wright, president of Concerned Women for America.
Wright was a silent participant in an April 3 conference call with White House aides that was billed as the start of Obama's plan to gather "diverse perspectives" from both abortion advocates and faith-based groups.
Obama said at a press conference marking his first 100 days in office April 29 that he had formed a White House task force to work with pro-life and pro-abortion groups to develop policies aimed at reducing the number of "unwanted pregnancies."
The administration's goal is to "support maternal and child health, reduce unintended and teenage pregnancies, strengthen adoption and reduce the need for abortion," media spokesman Shin Inouye said.
"The qualifiers 'unintended and need' come straight from the liberal abortion handbook," said Wright. "The language is intentionally vague. A pregnancy may be unintended but not unwelcome."
"People hear the phrase 'reduce abortion' and they think 'reduce the number' of abortions. The administration is not saying that," she explained. "Number is quantifiable, but need is subjective. You can't prove that 'need' is reduced. Someone may feel a 'need' for abortion after going to Planned Parenthood, but they won't after going to a crisis-pregnancy center."
The only speakers on the conference call were Obama appointees, Wright said. She and Kristen Day, executive director of Democrats for Life of America, listened in "silent only" mode.
"We didn't get any specifics," Day said. "We didn't know who else was listening on the call."
According to a U.S. News report, White House speakers were Joshua DuBois, director of the Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships; Melody Barnes, Domestic Policy Council director; and Tina Tchen, director of the new White House Council on Women and Girls.
Barnes is a former director of Planned Parenthood and former board member of Emily's List, a group that promotes pro-abortion candidates. Tchen is a former vice president of the National Organization for Women.
"The speakers framed the debate," said Wright. "They're looking toward the 2011 budget and will come up with a plan for the president in a few months after holding small group meetings and seeing 'what's used in communities.'"
Administration officials de--clined repeated attempts by the Register to identify pro-life participants on the conference call or explain who would be contacted for future meetings.
Commenting on the White House plan, Heartbeat International's president, Peggy Hartshorn, said, "I see this rhetoric about 'reducing abortion' as another ploy to try to convince the American people that Obama is a 'moderate' on abortion.
"However, his record indicates clearly that he is the most pro-abortion president we've ever had. He knows that the policies he's promoting (birth control, comprehensive sex education, funding of Planned Parenthood, abortion as part of a national health-care system, etc.) will only serve to entrench and expand abortion in America and around the world, and this is really his goal."
Why has the "reduce abortions" spin worked so well?
"After the 2002 elections, Democrats realized people didn't like the party being perceived as hard-core pro-abortion," Wright said. "They convened seminars, brought in speakers and morphed their language."
As the Los Angeles Times noted, in December 2004, soon-to-be Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean signaled he would maintain the party's defense of abortion, telling NBC's Tim Russert, "We can change our vocabulary, but I don't think we ought to change our principles."
Father Frank Pavone, national director of Priests for Life, suggested, "People who say they're 'pro-choice' are usually ambivalent about abortion, and, because of that, I think there is usually some measure of sincere desire to reduce its frequency."
"But sincere efforts by this administration to do so would place the president and his team in direct conflict with the abortion advocates who helped to elect them," he said. "For the abortion industry, any reduction in abortions is a loss of business. Business interests and political interests are pretty powerful dynamics to overcome, especially when they point together in the same direction."
At Wright's request, on March 24 DuBois met with her and spokesmen from CareNet, the Family Research Council and the Christian Medical Association. The faith-based groups gave him research showing proven ways to quantifiably reduce abortions.
Wright said some conservatives have questioned why she would initiate talks, knowing how unlikely an Obama policy change is.
"We know what works, and we can back it up with evidence," she explained. "I felt I'd be robbing them if I didn't share that with them. It's up to the Obama administration if they use it."
She cited a 2006 Heritage Foundation study by Michael New. It showed that abortions increased through the 1970s and '80s, but in the 1990s, states began adopting pro-life legislation. Parental involvement requirements, in--formed consent laws and partial-birth abortion bans reduced abortions by almost 20%.
The spread of ultrasound technology and the proliferation of crisis-pregnancy centers also helped, Wright added.
These are life-affirming efforts the administration should support, said Father Pavone, adding, "Since there are many forced abortions in our country, a strong national initiative to prohibit pressure tactics on the part of doctors, parents and anyone else to make someone get an abortion would be helpful."
Democrats for Life will continue pushing its proposed Pregnant Women Support Act, according to Day. The bill seeks to reduce the number of abortions in the U.S. by 95% in the next 10 years by promoting abstinence, personal responsibility, adoptions and support for women facing unplanned pregnancy.
Hartshorn concluded, "Abortion numbers have only been low when and where abortion is illegal or very restricted. If this administration seriously wanted to reduce abortions, they would be in favor of restricting it or eliminating abortion as a legal option. By saying they want to reduce abortion, they imply that it is not good; if it is not good, why not eliminate it?"
"To reduce abortions we must reconnect God's purposes to sexual intimacy: babies and bonding within marriage between a man and a woman," she said. "Sexual integrity or sexual wholeness &mdash God's plan for our sexuality &mdash is the real way to reduce abortions, by making them unwanted."
Gail Besse writes from Boston.