February 2, 2006
Abortion: Wedge Issue or Reducing the Tragedy?
By Tim Roemer

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.

Tim 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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Tim Roemer

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