Could the third time be the charm? That is the hope of Representatives Tim Ryan (D-OH), an opponent of abortion, and Rosa DeLauro (D-CT), a pro-choice supporter, who reintroduced a compromise bill to reduce the need for abortion on July 23, 2009.[i] The Preventing Unintended Pregnancies, Reducing the Need for Abortions and Supporting Parents Act, is the third version of legislation first introduced in 2006 that is designed to achieve common ground on the issue of unintended pregnancy.[ii]
The bill would help prevent unintended pregnancies through comprehensive sex education programs, improved access to contraception, and expanded Medicaid family planning coverage, while providing support for parents through programs for pregnant and parenting college students, health care coverage for pregnant women and children, and expanded adoption assistance to assist pregnant and parenting women.[iii]
“We are particularly pleased that comprehensive sex education programs have been included in the bill and that the language closely mirrors the language from the Responsible Education About Life (REAL) Act,” said William Smith, vice president for public policy at SIECUS. “The REAL Act remains the ‘gold standard‘for funding comprehensive sex education programs and much of it has found its way into this legislation. Comprehensive sex education works and the American people support it.”
Third Way, a centrist think tank, helped craft the bill and solicited opinions from people and organizations on both sides of the abortion debate including faith leaders, health care providers, and women’s health advocates.[iv]
Supporters say that the bill balances pro-choice groups’ desire for more pregnancy prevention services with abortion opponents desire to provide support for pregnant women who choose to carry their pregnancies to term.
And it has opened up a new line of dialogue between the sides. Smith explained, “By supporting common sense approaches that will empower individuals to make more informed, responsible, and healthier decisions for themselves and their families, this bill sets aside the false choices that the culture war has passed off for too long as the legitimate boundaries of discourse and public policy.”
“It’s historic,” said Representative Ryan, at the press conference announcing the bill’s introduction. “We had pro-life evangelical pastors from the South on the same stage as Planned Parenthood, all agreeing to reduce abortions. Who’s against that?”[v]
Despite the optimism, evangelical mega-pastor and bill supporter Rev. Joel Hunter, noted that supporters on both sides were “taking heat” from other members of their advocacy communities.[vi]
And whereas many leading pro-choice organizations have signed on to the bill, many of the leading anti-choice groups condemn the bill. “[This] proposal is fraught with funding for abortion providers and provisions that further encourage promiscuous sex and discourage parental involvement,” said Tony Perkins, President of the Family Research Council in a press release.[vii]
Still, the bill’s sponsors remain optimistic that this time it could become law. Over 50 organizations have released statements of support for the bill, and the provisions of the legislation seem in line with President Obama’s public statements calling for advocates to tone down the rhetoric and reach common ground on abortion.[viii] “This is a bill that seems to mesh with the president’s interests,” Representative DeLauro said. “I see no reason why the White House could not endorse it.”[ix]
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[i] Bernie Becker, “House Democrats Seek Moderate Ground on Abortion,” The New York Times, 23 July 2009, accessed 3 August 2009, <http://thecaucus.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/07/23/house-democrats-seek-moderate-ground-on-abortion/?scp=1&sq=bernie%20becker%20abortion&st=cse>.
[iii] David Crary, “New Push in Congress for Common Ground on Abortion,” Associated Press, 22 July 2009, accessed 3 August 2009, <http://www.google.com/hostednews/ap/article/ALeqM5iMPOCPs140tGQGiDpt_HbbQwZLhAD99JOIMG0>.
[iv] Becker, “House Democrats Seek Moderate Ground.”
[v] Stack Erdos, “Ryan Tries to Bridge Abortion Divide; Pro-life Group Boots Him from Board,” Business Journal Daily, 28 July 2009, accessed 4 August 2009, <http://www.business-journal.com/default.asp?sourceid=&smenu=1&twindow=&mad=&sdetail=14218&wpage=1&skeyword=&sidate=&ccat=&ccatm=&restate=&restatus=&reoption=&retype=&repmin=&repmax=&rebed=&rebath=&subname=&pform=&sc=1711&hn=business-journal&he=.com>.
[vi] Becker, “House Democrats Seek Moderate Ground.”
“Ryan Bill Increases Abortion While Claiming to 'Reduce Need' for Abortion,” Family Research Council, Press Release, 22 June 2009, accessed 6 August 2009, “<http://www.frc.org/pressrelease/ryan-bill-increases-abortion-while-claiming-to-reduce-need-for-abortion>.
[viii] Erdos, “Ryan tries to bridge abortion divide.”
[ix] Crary, “New Push in Congress.”