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President Obama has made much about finding common ground on abortion, and Democratic oriented think tanks like Third Way and Faith in Public Life have ballyhooed the idea, while finding very limited agreements with a small group of white evangelicals. As some of us have pointed out, the abortion reduction agenda that is part of the conversation is not only slanted to the religious right, it is, in fact the agenda of the antiabortion movement and the religious right.

President Obama, in a meeting with Catholic reporters in advance of his meeting with the Pope, acknowledged very little attainable common ground on abortion.

Catholic News Service reports:  

He said he has never "been under the illusion that ... we were going to simply talk all our differences away on these issues."


But he expects agreement on significant areas, such as "on the idea of helping young people make smart choices so that they are not engaging in casual sexual activity that can lead to unwanted pregnancies, on the importance of adoption as an option, an alternative to abortion, on caring for pregnant women so that it is easier for them to support children."

It will be more difficult to find common ground on other areas, he added.

"I personally think that combining good sexual ... and/or moral education needs to be combined with contraception in order to prevent unwanted pregnancies," he said.

"I recognize that contradicts Catholic Church doctrine, so I would not expect someone who feels very strongly about this issue as a matter of religious faith to be able to agree with me on that, but that's my personal view," he said. "We may not be able to arrive at perfectly compatible language on that front."


On the other hand, Obama said, "I would be surprised if those who believe abortion should be legal would object to language that says we should try to reduce the circumstances in which women feel compelled to obtain an abortion.

"If they took that position, I would disagree with them," he continued. "I don't know any circumstance in which abortion is a happy circumstance or decision, and to the extent that we can help women avoid being confronted with a circumstance in which that's even a consideration, I think that's a good thing. But again, that's my view."

Obama hits exactly on the divide, since sexuality education and access to birth control are the only proven reliable methods of reducing unplanned pregnancies in any significant number, and thus the need for abortion.  There has never been any disagreement about adoption reform as a good thing, and providing better circumstances for pregnant women and better infant and child care is something that  very few, if any prochoice advocates, are likely to have any issue in principle.  (How to get there might be another question for everyone, as we may soon see, depending on what the president proposes, and the posturing stops.) But if that is the only thing on which everyone can agree, it is unlikely to much affect the abortion rate, the common ground conversation is pretty much a bust.

Part of the concern I have had with the common ground discussion as framed by Third Way and Faith in Public Life, among others has been the marginalization and exclusion of legitimate prochoice voices, from the religious community, such as the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice, and from the wider prochoice community, in favor of people whose perspective is a narrowly framed electoral goal of faith outreach for the Democratic Party, and the manufacture of a whole class of faux leaders and spokespeople, while leaders of historic substance and representing actual constituencies, are sidelined. Also marginalized and sandbagged are advances in and the defense of reproductive rights, LGTB civil rights, and separation of church and state in the face of ongoing onslaught from the Religious Right.  

This marginalization has led to the quiet spectacle of ostensibly progressive and prochoice people not only serving as obstacles to progress, but in effect, facilitating the rollback back of the civil and human rights of others.  We see this clearly in the passage of Prop 8 in California at a time when Faith in Public Life was proposterously declaring the culture wars just about over.  For all of this, the electoral results of the faith outreach/common ground efforts have been been dubious at best, as Chip Berlet has shown).  Meanwhile, increasing conscience clause exemptions for antiabortion and anti birth control medical providers and pharmacists; and the increasing legal barriers to abortion at the state level, and the ongoing violence and harassment, all of which has contributed to the overall decline in the number of abortion providers.

Reproductive justice advocates are calling out this situation at On The Issues magazine. Publisher and editor in chief Merle Hoffman argues that

"...the present public discussion of the need for "common ground" in the abortion debate is a reflection of the Obama Administration’s attempted conciliation or reconciliation between adversarial parties. So far, the discussion has talked about reducing the need for abortion."

And she sees those elements of the prochoice community involved in these discussions as on "more on the verge of capitulation than conciliation."

The fog of common groundism is lifting. And just in case anyone has forgotten what thoughtful, well informed, yet passionate and articulate discussion of reproductive justice looks like Loretta Ross offers a reminder of and a vision of reproductive justice free form the bonds of common groundism.

I think it’s important for reproductive justice activists to have a serious discussion -- immediately -- about public policies, reproductive justice and President Obama’s Administration.

Reproductive justice is built on the foundation of human rights. The framework of "reproductive justice" requires that the most vulnerable populations be kept in the center of our lens, not at the margins. This means that we may have to work hard and quickly to create a public policy platform worthy of and capable of doing justice to the reproductive justice framework.

She then lists a number of "exciting" and "historic" opportunities for reproductive justice, as well as listing some formidable challenges.

Having said all of that, I believe we need to have a discussion about how we can take advantage of this historic moment to advance a reproductive justice agenda that will benefit women, men and families of color to advance and protect their full human rights.

She concludes by stating the first we need to "say what we believe"; "say what we want", and "discuss how to get what we want."

Her essay epitomizes what a thoughtful, compelling, well informed, visionary and strategic sensibility looks like and offers a profound contrast the the diversionary mush that has too often passed for informed discourse on these matters of late.

Chip Berlet and I wrote after the election:

It would be nice if conservative White evangelicals called off the Culture Wars that they started and continue to aggressively pursue. It would be even nicer if liberal (and even some progressive) pundits stopped prematurely announcing the end of the Culture Wars and the demise of the Christian Right. Neither is likely to happen any time soon.

What progressives need to do is convince centrist Democratic Party honchos to end their quixotic quest for "values voters" among the rank and pew of conservative evangelical and Roman Catholic voters by sounding a rhetorical retreat on social issues such as reproductive justice and LGBTQ equity. That’s not exactly what the Obama campaign did, but it is what centrist Democratic Party consultants and their anti-abortion evangelical allies advocated. Whether the rhetorical retreat turns into a policy retreat remains to be seen.

Some Democratic political wonks who study polls and electoral outcomes have been selling, wittingly or unwittingly, a dubious narrative about the role of White evangelicals for several years now. It is time to take a close look at their product.

We have, and found it to be wanting.

[Crossposted from Talk to Action]

Originally posted to Frederick Clarkson on Fri Jul 03, 2009 at 11:50 AM PDT.

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Comment Preferences

  •  A few years ago a (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    HeyMikey, Sychotic1, Themistoclea

    health care professional from Harvard University explained on a PBS program that the country with the most liberal abortion laws has the fewest abortions because of the social and financial services available to women including prenatal care, housing, jobs, day care and adoption services.

    It is unconscionable the way the extreme right and left political groups in this country play this emotional subject for votes and money, instead trying to reach a consensus, as you say, to help solve the problem.

    It is apparently solvable, but the profits and political benefits from not solving it seem to trump helping the mother and the unborn child, when possible.

    •  I think you misunderstand me (11+ / 0-)

      I don't see abortion as a problem to solve. Rather I respect the human and civil rights of women to make this moral choice when they deem it to be necessary. Obviously, it is not something that anyone seeks or aspires to, and as Gloria Feldt recently pointed out to a misguided common grounder, if there were no unplanned pregnancies, there would be very few abortions.

      I also know of no "extreme left" political groups playing this issue for votes or for money. That is a false equivalence with the right, which certainly has a long history of doing just that.

    •  What's the Extreme Left Doing? (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      moiv, shirah, eve

      The anti abortion crowd opposes sex education and birth control. They oppose all the compromise positions. So there is no compromise to find with the only groups who are pushing the restrictions.

      Everyone else would leave it up to conscience which is what the extreme left also wants.

      We are called to speak for the weak, for the voiceless, for victims of our nation and for those it calls enemy.... --ML King "Beyond Vietnam"

      by Gooserock on Fri Jul 03, 2009 at 12:30:41 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  The extreme left chooses to ignore, I think, (0+ / 0-)

        that there are voters who are religious, not very well educated, easily frightened and even more easily manipulated who seem unable to put this issue into perspective.

        I ran into some of these people calling Virginia voters from my home in Houston for the Jim Webb campaign. These people were incapable of making a balanced decision on who they voted for. I was asked several times whether Jim Webb supports abortion. Their choice was binary. It's these people who are being manipulated by the right wing for political and financial gain.

        There seems to be a militancy to the left wing that has been used by the strategists on the right to whip this issue up into a polarized struggle to the death, no pun intended.

        For the record, my personal position is that I favor the right to choose because I don't think the government should have a religious camera that invades the bedroom of Americans to spy on and control the personal behavior and choices people make.

        I do not think that under most non life-threatening or congenital circumstances I would have chosen to have an abortion when I was young. I happen to believe that life starts at conception but this is a philosophical point of view, not a religious one, given that I am not religious.

        I am appalled that the right wing has turned into the Gestapo on this issue and unfortunately we will not get them off our backs until ordinary, religious people have been given an opportunity to overcome their own hysteria through thoughtful leadership and an articulate progressive public policy that faces up to the concerns of these people by reframing the issue instead of continuing the knock down drag out fights over this issue. Ego must be taken out of it to succeed IMO.

        I am equally concerned about the way the right wing gun lobby has successfully frightened people into pouring votes and money their way.
        Recently 3 high school students held up a student at TSU in Houston with a weapon at a bus stop. The university student wrestled the gun away and in the process one of the teens was shot.
        It is beyond the pale that the gun lobby has wielded this power so that teens can get guns.
        This issue needs to also be wrested away from the right wing and must be reframed so that there is concensus.

    •  What would be an example of an extreme left (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      position or campaign on this issue?

      As far as I know, there is the just say no to abortion, birth control, and sex education crowd with some folks dropping one or both of the last two as issues to oppose. There are also shades of difference as to whether and what impact a pregnancy would have on the pregnant woman. Those on the hard conservative side would not allow abortion even if the life of the woman is truly endangered - which, of course, would or could mean the death of the fetus.

      And then there is the legalized and available sex education and birth control with varying restrictions on abortion up to the limits set by the Supreme Court in various decisions.

      Some anti-abortion folks deride "pro-abortion" people, but I don't know of anyone who is pro-abortion. I'm not sure what that would mean. There are pro- access to safe and legal abortion folks.

      •  I think we make the mistake of (0+ / 0-)

        not recognizing that there are some people who think it is morally wrong to have an abortion and that instead of wooing those people with a platform that focuses on helping those women who want an alternative to abortion to get that alternative, we instead fight this on ideological grounds framed by the right wing.
        It becomes a shouting match and far worse, as we have seen, instead of being addressed sanely.

        •  They require an awful lot of wooing (3+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          moiv, eve, arlene

          and I'm really not sure how to accomplish it without giving them something unacceptable in the form of punitive restrictions.

          My simple take, which should be comprehensible at the common eighth-grade-level communications baseline, is that liberals want to reduce the demand for abortion, not attack the supply.  There are a million ways to elaborate on this, but the bottom line is that if they can't accept the premise that Democrats are not in the sex-punishing business but are perfectly happy to both reduce the pregnancies on the front end and make them less destabilizing when they happen, there is no common ground.

          "Conservative principles" are marketing props used by the Conservative Movement to achieve political power, not actual beliefs. -Glenn Greenwald

          by latts on Fri Jul 03, 2009 at 03:19:59 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •   I agree (0+ / 0-)

            but that has not been the argument front and center until Obama mentioned it recently.

            I agree that we need to step back from the confrontation and push for what you're talking about.

            •  sorry, but that has always been the argument (2+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:
              shirah, eve

              it is what the prochoice community has been about for a century. Ever visited the Planned Parenthood web site?

              •  Thanks, I just visited Planned Parenthood (0+ / 0-)

                as you suggested and they are, IMO, standing for what makes sense and is constructive.

                I guess I got the impression from when I joined NARAL during the primaries that their membership includes some rabidly unreasonable people, even though the leadership sounded very sensible to me.

                What I've been trying to say, but have not said it very well is that I believe that there are powerful financial interests on the right that use wedge issues to recruit unsophisticated, naive voters by manipulating their emotions on these so-called wedge issues. In truth the Democratic leadership in the Congress and the White House has  not had the courage to use their bully pulpit to push back against the superficial and wrong rhetoric on the right that has nothing to do with solving the rabid animosity that has culminated in violence.

                Recently, a man associated with the right to life movement was interviewed by Rachel Maddow and he was repudiating the behind the scenes goal of people like Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson to foment agitation and even violence. We have had mass hysteria over this wedge issue and I'm just saying that our side needs to try harder to win the arguments by refusing to be drawn into a battle but articulating a position that can be seen as preferable to the current culture war by all but the loons on the right.

            •  A moving goal line farther and farther right (1+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:

              This has been the position for ages on the Left and among centrists.

              The Right has moved ever farther to the right, including in recent years trying to get state constitutional amendments passed that define life as starting at conception.

              These props would outlaw using birth control. Why? Because they might prevent pregnancy - because they might do so in some way that, for example, prevents implantation of a fertilized egg.

              These proposals would also mean that anyone who did anything that affected a pregnancy once the egg was fertilized could be charged with murder. Sometimes they exempt the pregnant woman.

              So ask why the movement from the Right is ever farther to the right?

              •  I think that the move further and further to the (0+ / 0-)

                right is intended by the evangelical "leadership" like Pat Robertson to be used for political and financial purposes. We need to do 3 things to counter that.

                1. avoid the temptation by our side to be drawn into an ideological battle.
                1. make sure that our side reframes the issues in the way that marginalizes the nonsense coming from the right
                1. have our political leaders speak publicly about a sane policy.

                We have the same problem on gun control and the "war on drugs". The right wing "leaders" use fear and misinformation to manipulate voters for political and financial gain. The only sensible solution to the violence of the war on drugs, IMO, is to decriminalize some drugs to take the profit out of the trafficking. But our politicians are afraid to talk about this because virulence of the right wing rhetoric has worked so well - e.g scaring people over "illegal aliens".

                •  but this IS an ideological issue (1+ / 0-)
                  Recommended by:

                  We need to know what we believe and why -- AND be able to articulate it well in ways that resonates. That's why your entire line of reasoning has been so problematic. One cannot reframe arguments to move ideas credibly without ideology. This is not the same thing as behaving badly or in ways taken as unnecessarily shrill.  But the failure of political leaders to take clear stands and to develop appropriately winning ways is due to the absence of ideology, not because of it.

                  •  well said! (0+ / 0-)

                    I agree that there is a principle behind our position and for me that principle is the right of personal privacy and protection from government intrusion.

                    From what I can tell the shrill right wing doesn't seem to understand that principle or is so overwhelmed/confused/dizzy from the propaganda out of the Pat Robertson division of the Republican Party that they turn into mindless militants.

                    I guess where I've been coming from is that there is something inside me that makes me want to get these people out of the clutches of the Pat Robertson wing of the Republican Party so they can join a rational debate on the subject and be part of the solution. I see their blind adherence to a position that has been used to get others political power as a danger to the Republic and have wanted to find common ground with them so they feel safe enough to step off their little island.  

                    •  they also have ideology (1+ / 0-)
                      Recommended by:

                      and many are deeply committed to it. While people can and do change sides from time to time, this ought not be our first concern. There are gettable people who are not as deeply committed to the ideology of the religious right.  They are what pollsters and pols call "persuadables."  As it happens, the Beltway Insiders are invoking the idea of common ground with the religious right as possible and desirable. As desirable as it may be, it is really not possible. Not anytime soon anyway. And this is the fatal flaw of the common ground argument. It has resulted in a scaling back of thoughtful prochoice and pro sexuality education discussion in favor of pandering to conservative Catholics and evangelicals.

                      It has not worked, and there is no evidence that it is going to. We have our work cut out for us to change the conversation in a more productive direction. THAT, I think, is possible, and why I take the time to do diaries like this.

                      •  I agree that pandering is not the way to go. (0+ / 0-)

                        I agree with your comment.

                        I would like to think that there are derivatives of our position that would be palatable to everyone except perhaps the right fringe, defined by those who would commit violence supposedly in the name of their ideology.

                        I am not religious and would find it unacceptable to pretend that I espouse a religious basis for my choices. In fact I think that religion is, in part, an artificial expression of a genetically based sense of right and wrong, fairness and justice that most people seem to be born with.

                        I think that sense of right and wrong, whether or not people attribute it to religious thought, can be the basis of some common ground, if it is reframed, if possible, in a way that doesn't stoke a knee jerk reaction.
                        e.g. it would be good if all pregnant women had access to prenatal care
                        IMO that does not deny anyone the right to opt for an abortion.

                        Unfortunately, the extreme right wing - as defined by, say, Pat Robertson - has succeeded in subverting in their followers the natural sense of right and wrong we are all born with and appears when a child says "that is not fair". It is subverted when people are taught it is right to kill an abortion doctor or wage a war against people who are innocent of wrongdoing. I believe these people are very passionate and are being used to distract the country from getting us on a sustainable path. The end goal is to fatten the pockets of the Pat Roberts of this world.

                        I also believe that we need to find a way to calm or quiet the pitchforks and crusades that have been used by clever operators since the beginning of human history for their own purposes.

  •  Common ground on abortion... (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    ogre, Gooserock, moiv, arlene

    is like trying to find common ground on civil rights.  It would be similar if the President wanted the NAACP to find "common ground" with the Klan.

    Roe v. Wade is common ground.

    Anything else is losing ground.

    HotFlashReport - Opinionated liberal views of the wrongs of the right focusing on abortion and reproductive rights.

    by annrose on Fri Jul 03, 2009 at 12:25:36 PM PDT

  •  Yep Because You Don't Just Get Abortion (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    in the conversation.

    The problem is mandated and the compromises are forbidden.

    You can't find the middle ground between something and a veto.

    We are called to speak for the weak, for the voiceless, for victims of our nation and for those it calls enemy.... --ML King "Beyond Vietnam"

    by Gooserock on Fri Jul 03, 2009 at 12:32:16 PM PDT

  •  SPECIFICS on common ground? (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    he expects agreement on significant areas, such as "on the idea of helping young people make smart choices so that they are not engaging in casual sexual activity that can lead to unwanted pregnancies, on the importance of adoption as an option, an alternative to abortion, on caring for pregnant women so that it is easier for them to support children."

    OK, so there are a zillion unwanted kids languishing in state custody, available for adoption but not adopted. Seems like a GREAT place to start if both sides are serious about "common ground" would be to ramp up drastically (a) efforts to make these kids' lives more humane until they are adopted, and (b) efforts to get them adopted.

    Any takers?

    And how about this: the right-wing home-school crowd would likely appreciate some kind of monthly stipend, plus medical care, for stay-at-home moms, beginning during pregnancy. Surely that would discourage some abortions. Let's put our money where our mouths are about valuing children and families. Many countries already have something like this ( ; [PDF])
    But wait! Those countries are librul Euro-sorta-socialist! And if the homeschoolers get govt $, then so do unemployed single black moms! It's -- gasp -- WELFARE! No matter how much sense it makes, we can't do WELFARE. Oh, well. Back to complaining about other people having abortions.

    "The true strength of our nation comes not from the might of our arms or the scale of our wealth, but from the enduring power of our ideals." - Barack Obama

    by HeyMikey on Fri Jul 03, 2009 at 12:58:15 PM PDT

  •  Sectarian Medical Practice (0+ / 0-)

    Anyone who wants to invoke conscience to deny women reproductive services certainly can do so, I believe.  What I find objectionable is that faith-based medical providers are allowed to stay under the radar and pull a "gotcha" on unsuspecting women.  

    The conscious striken can use faith-based anti-abortion, anti-contraceptive, anti-sterilization reproductive medical protocols if they must, they just need to be up front about it and advertise the fact, so us patients know ahead of time before we spend our hard-earned money on something we don't want or need.

    Don't look back, something may be gaining on you. - L. "Satchel" Paige

    by arlene on Fri Jul 03, 2009 at 01:09:03 PM PDT

  •  Obama is So Wrong on This (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    There simply is no common ground.  He doesn't know this because he hasn't seen the real agenda of the anti-choice advocates.  As a Democrat, he wouldn't be allowed to.  As a former Republican and former chair of the Republican Party in the county with the most voters in Colorado, I have seen this from the inside.  The fact is that these people believe abortion and birth control is wrong.  They believe that women and especially doctors, but including nurses and administrative staff, are commiting or aiding and abetting murder.  They believe that all of these people should be punished by the government.  They would have government stop sex of any kind that they didn't like, be it marital, extra-marital, pre-marital and certainly homosexual.  Unfortunately, President Obama doesn't know this and frankly, most of the American public just doesn't believe it.  But they are wrong.  The above is what they deeply believe and nothing will ever change that.  Our problem is that those on the other side of the aisle just refuse to believe that the anti-choice movement really believes this.  But they do.  There is no common ground.  Obama should give it up and just go forward with what he knows is right.  That's what we elected him to do.

    •  While I agree completely (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Frederick Clarkson, julifolo, arlene

      with your assessment of the anti-abortion and anti-contraception agenda, I cannot let Obama off so lightly.

      The anti-choice movement is quite open in its ongoing crusade to make safe, professional abortion care unobtainable.  The "Pill Kills" campaign is just as blatant in its opposition to what anti-choicers call the "contraceptive mentality," which they insist is the root cause of abortion.

      Obama is no more ignorant or uninformed than the rest of us. He knows exactly where they stand.

      What he has yet to make clear is exactly where he stands, and exactly how high a price he expects women to pay for his "common ground."

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