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As the anniversary of the Roe v. Wade decision nears, anti-abortion activists prepare for the annual March for Life and their counterparts plan religious services to pray for the safety of abortion providers.
But, 37 years after the contentious Supreme Court decision legalizing abortion, is there any hope for common ground?
Experts say it will be difficult — especially in light of recent health care battles — but not impossible.
Laurie Zoloth, professor of bioethics and religion at Northwestern University, said there are some projects — such as giving incentives to teen girls to avoid a second pregnancy — that can bring feuding factions together.
“It’s where people of faith mutually unite around a concern about an actual and specific other — a pregnant woman, a newborn baby — those actual, specific human beings rather than an abstraction,” she said.
“Then the projects can really begin to exist.”
Polls indicate Americans are tired of abortion warfare. An October poll by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life found 60 percent of respondents said the country needs to find a “middle ground” on abortion.
President Obama, in a closely watched speech at the University of Notre last May called for “common ground” on reducing unintended pregnancies and increasing adoption opportunities.
Shin Inouye, a spokesman for the White House, said the administration is continuing to address those initiatives as Obama nears the end of his first presidential year.
“Various White House offices are working together to develop strategies to reduce unintended and teenage pregnancies, support maternal and child health and reduce the need for abortion,” he said.
“The president welcomes a strong debate and healthy discussion on this and other important issues facing the country.”
But debates over abortion as Congress has attempted to overhaul health care have at least temporarily extinguished the hopes for common ground, observers say.
“The fact that abortion was once more used as a way to divide people, not to unite people, was not an encouraging moment for religious unity,” said Zoloth.
The Rev. Carlton Veazey, president of the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice, was among the religious progressives who decried the amendment sponsored by Rep. Bart Stupak, D-Mich. — and heavily supported by U.S. Catholic bishops — that would bar government funding of abortion in the health care bill.
“The Stupak thing and the Catholic bishops really demonstrated how far we’ve come — not very far,” Veazey said.
Richard Doerflinger, the chief spokesman for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops on its anti-abortion public policy, said the health care debate has “sucked the oxygen out of the room,” but polls show the majority of Americans opposed federal funding of abortion.
“In terms of public support, that’s the common ground,” he said.
“Now the pro-abortion groups are outside that common ground, but I can’t help that.”
Third Way, a Washington progressive think tank, sees some consensus in health care proposals in Congress that could reduce the need for abortions.
Rachel Laser, director of Third Way’s Culture Program, said the legislation includes education programs for preventing teen pregnancy and home nurse visits to support new low-income parents, reflecting goals of legislation proposed by Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., and Tim Ryan, D-Ohio.
Her organization brought a range of religious leaders together in July to support that bill and last year rallied a coalition of evangelicals and progressives who agreed on a common agenda that included abortion reduction.
“The problem is the common-ground abortion movement is going to take time,” said Laser. “When an issue has divided the country for decades … it takes many years to get the numbers that you need” to prevent the kind of fight that has occurred over health care.
Wendy Wright, president of Concerned Women for America, said there may be “small things” in the health care legislation that represent agreement among abortion rights supporters and opponents, but she will continue to oppose any federal policies that would fund abortion or contraception.
“I think we’ll continue to see good language (about reducing abortion) because politicians are recognizing that the majority of Americans are pro-life,” said Wright. “But the real tests are in the policies that are promoted and where money is funneled.”
Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission said there are lines that can — and cannot — be crossed by people on either side of the abortion debate.
“I think we can find common ground on public funding of nurseries in high schools and community colleges to encourage girls who want to have their babies and not have to sacrifice their schooling,” he said. “We’re not going to have common ground on public funding of abortion.”
Marc Stern, co-executive director of the American Jewish Congress, said the decades-long debate now has the added fuel of constant media attention and the contentious political climate, making it even more likely it will continue for years to come.
“The American public… doesn’t want to ban abortion, neither does it like abortion,” said Stern, who graduated from law school the year the Supreme Court ruled on Roe v. Wade. “You would think that that would give rise to some common ground. It does not. … Starkly stated, firm unbending principles are easy to communicate in a very rapid media environment.”
Copyright 2010 Religion News Service. All rights reserved. No part of this transmission may be distributed or reproduced without written permission.

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