Correction to This Article
This article referred to Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) as antiabortion. She supports abortion rights.

Some Abortion Foes Shifting Focus From Ban to Reduction

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By Jacqueline L. Salmon
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Frustrated by the failure to overturn Roe v. Wade, a growing number of antiabortion pastors, conservative academics and activists are setting aside efforts to outlaw abortion and instead are focusing on building social programs and developing other assistance for pregnant women to reduce the number of abortions.

Some of the activists are actually working with abortion rights advocates to push for legislation in Congress that would provide pregnant women with health care, child care and money for education -- services that could encourage them to continue their pregnancies.

Their efforts, they said, reflect the political reality that legal challenges to abortion rights will not be successful, especially after Barack Obama's victory this month in the presidential election and the defeat of several ballot measures that would have restricted access to abortions. Although the activists insist that they are not retreating from their belief that abortion is immoral and should be outlawed, they argue that a more practical alternative is to try to reduce abortions through other means.

"If one strategy has failed and failed over decades, and you have empirical information that tells how you can honor life and encourage women to make that choice by meeting real needs that are existing and tangible, why not do that?" said Douglas W. Kmiec, a law professor at Pepperdine University who served in the Reagan and George H.W. Bush administrations. Kmiec, a Catholic who opposes abortion, was criticized by some abortion foes because he endorsed Obama.

Obama supports abortion rights and is unlikely to appoint justices who would overturn the controversial Supreme Court decision that allowed the practice. But during the campaign, he spoke of wanting to reduce abortions and of finding "common ground" in the debate.

The new effort is causing a fissure in the antiabortion movement, with traditional groups viewing the activists as traitors to their cause. Leaders worry that the approach could gain traction with a more liberal Congress and president, although they do not expect it to weaken hard-core opposition.

"It's a sellout, as far as we are concerned," said Joe Scheidler, founder of the Pro-Life Action League. "We don't think it's really genuine. You don't have to have a lot of social programs to cut down on abortions."

The diverse group that has come together to try a different tack includes prominent pastors such as Joel Hunter; Samuel Rodriguez, president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference; Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good; Sojourners, a progressive evangelical organization; and RealAbortionSolutions.org, a coalition of Catholics and evangelical leaders.

Others include Catholics United, a progressive Catholic lay group; Richard Cizik, vice president for governmental affairs of the National Association of Evangelicals; the Rev. Thomas Reese of Georgetown University's Woodstock Theological Center, a prominent Jesuit thinker; and Nicholas Cafardi, former dean of the Duquesne University School of Law and a Catholic canon lawyer.

Their actions have not come without consequences. Cafardi resigned from the board of Franciscan University of Steubenville in Ohio after writing a column supporting Obama and declaring the abortion battle lost. Kmiec has received hate e-mail, and a priest denied him Communion in April. And Denver Archbishop Charles J. Chaput has criticized Kmiec and several of the groups involved, saying they have "undermined the progress pro-lifers have made and provided an excuse for some Catholics to abandon the abortion issue."

The activists say the time has come for more cooperation on difficult social and moral issues such as abortion.

"We are not compromising our values, but at the same time we are finding a way we can all accomplish our agenda, or at least a piece of our agenda, together," said Hunter, pastor of Northland in Longwood, Fla., one of the nation's largest churches, and a board member of the National Association of Evangelicals. "There's got to be a way we can take some of these hot-button issues and cooperate, rather than simply keep fighting and becoming gridlocked in this hostility of the culture wars."


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