Thursday, July 23, 2009
NEW YORK (AP) — Seeking elusive common ground on abortion, prominent activists and clergy on both sides of the debate are throwing their support behind a bill aimed at preventing unintended pregnancies and supporting pregnant women.
The bill’s backers hope President Barack Obama, who has appealed for a more civil tone to the debate, will embrace it as a step toward reducing the need for abortions, but many staunch anti-abortion leaders remain hostile. “It’s part of a big political scam,” said Douglas Johnson of the National Right to Life Committee.
At issue is the so-called Ryan-DeLauro bill — first introduced in 2006 and being reintroduced Thursday by Reps. Tim Ryan of Niles, D-17th, and Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn. Supporters range from abortion-rights activists to Roman Catholic academics who consider abortion an evil.
“This is a landmark bill for the culture wars — a prototype for how we can approach things in the future,” said the Rev. Joel Hunter, an evangelical megachurch pastor from Orlando, Fla., who opposes abortion.
Hunter, who serves on the White House faith-based advisory council, said the key to the bill is its breadth — appealing to liberals with proposals to prevent unintended pregnancies and to conservatives with provisions to support women who choose to carry unintended pregnancies to term.
Among the bill’s many provisions: increased access to contraceptives, expanded Medicaid coverage for family planning, more support for comprehensive sex education, support for pregnant and parenting college students and expanded adoption assistance. The Congressional Budget Office has not yet done an analysis of the bill’s potential cost.
Though Obama has urged Americans to seek common ground on reducing the need for abortions, the White House has yet to propose or endorse any specific legislation to achieve that.
Joshua DuBois, director of Obama’s Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships, said the administration is still assessing input gathered during consultations with groups on both sides of the debate.
Ryan and DeLauro noted that Obama’s chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, had backed their bill when he served in the House, and they expressed optimism that presidential support would come eventually — boosting its chances for advancing.
“This is a bill that seems to mesh with the president’s interests,” DeLauro said. “I see no reason why the White House could not endorse it.”
Ryan, a Roman Catholic, describes himself as “pro-life” but has drawn the wrath of anti-abortion activists in recent years for several votes he’s cast.
“Don’t blame me for wanting to solve problems,” he said. “Whether you say you’re pro-life or pro-choice, most reasonable people will say we should try to reduce unintended pregnancies and the need for abortions.”
Among those backing the bill are two major abortion-rights groups — the Planned Parenthood Federation of America and NARAL Pro-Choice America. Abortion opponents voicing support include the Rev. Samuel Rodriguez, president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference, and the Rev. Frank Page, a former president of the Southern Baptist Convention who, like Hunter, serves on Obama’s faith-based council.