February 2, 2006
Abortion: Wedge Issue or Reducing the Tragedy?
In the 1960’s,
America was divided over a centuries old debate on racial justice.
Opinion was polarized and progress stalled until Dr. Martin Luther
King, Jr. helped change the heart of the nation. His commitment
to non-violence and appeal to our best ideals opened hearts and
minds and made the path for progress possible. Inspired by King’s
personal courage, Presidents Kennedy and Johnson showed political
courage within a divided political party and a divided nation
by taking on a moral issue “as old as the Scriptures and
as clear as the American Constitution.”
Today I believe we
could be on the threshold of a similar breakthrough on the issue
of abortion. My optimism reflects the emergence of two essential
ingredients for success: a plan that resonates with Americans’
desire for fewer abortions and a growing coalition within the
Democratic Party committed to that goal.
While putting aside
the debate on the legality of abortion, “Democrats for Life”
have developed a plan with the goal of achieving a 95% reduction
in the number of abortions within the next ten years. Congressman
Tim Ryan is keen to introduce this plan entitled the “95/10
Initiative,” which is grounded in sound research, bold ideas,
and common sense. Research conducted by the Alan Guttmacher Institute
shows that half of pregnancies in this country are unplanned and
half of those end in abortion. The realities of economic hardship
also factor into women’s choice for abortion. The 95/10
Initiative takes this research into account and has developed
an innovative two part strategy.
First, it addresses
the three million unintended pregnancies per year through grants
for age appropriate pregnancy prevention education. We must be
capable of openly discussing appropriate sex education programs,
promoting abstinence for teens, and generously funding contraception
and counseling. Second, it provides support for pregnant women
in ways that encourage them to continue their pregnancies such
as day care, pregnancy counseling on campuses, permanent adoption
tax credits, better availability for referral information, shelters
for women and children in crisis pregnancies, support for safe
haven laws and better medical insurance for mothers and children
through their first year of life.
The strength of the
95/10 Initiative is not only in its compelling content but also
in the momentum it has generated within the Democratic Party.
Announced in the Democratic National Committee offices and endorsed
by both pro-choice and pro-life Democrats, it represents an important
step forward for the Party. This initiative is not the only step
forward. Democrats are united behind the senatorial candidacy
of Robert Casey, Jr. in Pennsylvania. Casey is a pro-life Democrat.
The enthusiastic support for candidate Casey among party leaders
is a tangible sign of a more inclusive attitude that reflects
the wisdom of a majority party. Recent statements by Senators
Clinton, Kerry and DNC Chairman Howard Dean recognize the need
for a more sophisticated approach to the complex issue of abortion.
Given these developments I believe the Democratic Party has made
more progress on this issue in the last ten months than in the
past ten years.
It may seem that we
should expect Republicans to make common cause with us in this
endeavor, and perhaps a few individuals will join in support of
95-10. However, the Republican power base, still wrestling with
the facts of evolution, is paralyzed by mainstream policy proposals
to reduce abortions. Still after years of Republican control of
the House of Representatives and five years of a Republican President,
abortion rates for 2004 remain at about 1.3 million per year.
If talk were
a solution the problem would be solved. We can all recite the
favored lines about life and culture and family. But, talk is
ultimately no different than tin cans tied behind a moving car
– an empty rattle that fades into the background noise and
has no important impact. America has paid a high moral and political
price for the ten year stalemate on reducing the number of abortions.
We should demand and provide something better. The 95/10 Initiative
allows Democrats to take the lead in doing just that. Democrats
have provided effective political leadership and innovative policy
proposals to reduce homelessness, decrease poverty, and address
hunger. Today, abortion presents the same challenges within another
critical social issue.
Roemer is a Former Congressman from Indiana, a Former Member of
the 9/11 Commission and a Past Candidate for Chairman of the DNC.
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