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Obama Plan Aims to Appease Both Sides of Abortion Issue

"The stars are starting to align," said Stephen Schneck, director of the Life Cycle Institute at Catholic University. "For a variety of reasons, this appears to be a unique political moment where this idea seems to have caught fire."

"Obama has begun to usher in the new politics of abortion," agreed Rachel Laser of the Third Way, a group that has been advocating such approaches across many issues.

Obama's strategy emerged during the presidential campaign. In his third debate with Republican John McCain, he repeated his support for abortion rights but called it "a moral issue and one that I think good people on both sides can disagree on," adding: "There surely is some common ground when both those who believe in choice and those who are opposed to abortion can come together and say, 'We should try to prevent unintended pregnancies.' "

Obama also pushed for the Democratic platform to include a call for reducing "the need for abortions."

Said Joel C. Hunter, pastor of the evangelical Northland Church near Orlando: "I'm pro-life. I hate abortion. But this administration is trying to be very sensitive. They are trying to approach things in the least inflammatory, least contentious way so we can work together and have a more nuanced approach."

Several pending proposals could offer the starting point for legislation aimed at reducing abortion by steps such as making contraception more available, making it easier for pregnant women to receive health care and day care and stay in school, and making it easier for prospective parents to adopt.

"The president could capture the imagination of the American people and do a lot to ease the culture wars on this issue," said David P. Gushee, a professor of Christian ethics at Mercer University in Georgia. "He could package together some of these initiatives to tackle the demand side of abortion."

But many abortion opponents doubt the president is committed to true compromise.

"The common ground Obama seeks for the pro-life movement is the burial ground," said Douglas Johnson of the National Right to Life Committee.

And abortion opponents who support Obama's efforts expressed concern about what will happen if he is unable to deliver. "Many of us feel like we've stuck our necks out with our constituencies," said Jonathan Merritt, an independent evangelical. "He will have done us a great disservice if he does not come through."

Reproductive rights advocates will be promoting measures that could inflame the issue, such as expanding access to contraceptives, including the morning-after pill, and lifting restrictions on providing abortions to women in the military at government facilities.

"I do think there's a difference between looking for common ground and compromising one's principles," said Marcia D. Greenberger, co-president of the National Women's Law Center.

Both sides will be closely watching Obama's decision on former President George W. Bush's funding restrictions on stem cell research. Many research proponents hope Obama will issue an executive order that lifts the constraints without any caveats. But he could accompany his order with a statement acknowledging opponents' moral concerns or go further -- not allowing federal money to be used for stem cells from embryos destroyed in the future, for example.

"There are a number of things the president could do if he really wanted to do a compromise," said Richard Doerflinger of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

Staff writer Michelle Boorstein contributed to this report.

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