A New Progressive Approach on Abortion

January 25th, 2006

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Third Way has just released a new strategy document called Winning the Abortion Grays, describing how progressives can win the battle of reasonableness on abortion and appeal to moderate Americans. The bottom line is this: we believe it should be an imperative to dramatically reduce the number of abortions in America, while protecting the right to an abortion.

Third Way’s method is to lay out the facts behind the issues and to look beyond the traditional political frames. On abortion, that means we reject the notion that loaded terms like “choice” and “life” must define the debate. Rather, we seek policies and messages that will have a real impact and that resonate with more Americans. All Americans can agree that 1.3 million abortions per year in America is too many. Who is happy that 1 in 5 pregnancies ends in abortion?. (For more on the demographics of abortion, see our report The Demographics of Abortion).

That is why we believe that progressives should stand for dramatically reducing the number of abortions in America while protecting personal liberties. This approach recognizes the moral complexity of the issue, preserves the right to an abortion, and exposes conservatives as those who want to accomplish their goals by putting people in jail. Progressives must devote themselves to creating an America where dramatically fewer women must face the abortion decision. That is where the majority of Americans are. Notably, author and abortion debate expert Will Saletan has a markedly similar new message, which he described in his recent New York Times op/ed Three Decades After Roe, A War We Can All Support (commemorating the 33rd anniversary of Roe v. Wade — NYT, January 22, 2006)

That is also where I am personally. I come from the choice community. I have worked at places like Planned Parenthood Federation of America and the National Women’s Law Center, always with abundant energy and a heart-felt devotion to abortion rights, family planning and healthy pregnancies. I have also always owned up to the complexity of my own feelings about abortion. I believe that a woman is denied a fundamental liberty if she lacks control over monumental decisions like when and whether to have a child. And, even before I had my own three children, I recognized my feelings of discomfort with abortion. My feelings have taught me that it is possible to believe in the importance of preserving safe access to abortion and at the same time recognize the moral complexity of the issue. You can be for the public policy imperative of reducing the number of abortions in the United States and still be committed to abortion rights.

Please read our message memo Winning the Abortion Grays to learn more about our thinking in this area. And, as always, feel free to send us your thoughts.