“Abortion reduction” gets some ink

t-shirt-pro-life-without-exception-720170Remember when President Bill Clinton said he wanted abortion to be safe, legal and rare? Remember how he was pro-lifers’ favorite president? Oh wait, that’s right, the “safe, legal and rare” formulation isn’t a pro-life mantra but a pro-choice mantra. And Bill Clinton fit perfectly in the pro-choice camp.

But somehow when President Barack Obama says something along the same lines, we are to believe that he is no longer one of the most articulate advocates of abortion ever to ascend to the White House but, rather, a lightbearing pro-lifer? Time magazine’s Amy Sullivan has a headline up right now that says:

Barack Obama, Pro-Life President?

This is because he created a council — a faith-based “advisory council” — that will look at, among other things, “reducing the need for abortions.”

Yes, with his campaign promise to Planned Parenthood that his first priority as president would be the passage of a bill removing any state-based restrictions on abortion, with his move in the first week to fund international groups that perform abortions and with his 100 percent rating from NARAL Pro-Choice America, I’m pretty sure that headline sums it up. Fighting any restriction on abortion is the new “pro-life”! Princeton professor Robert P. George calls the notion “delusional” and I’m pretty sure pro-lifers in general would be willing to trade President Obama’s actual record and actions for that advisory council.

Remember those less complicated times when “pro-life” meant you opposed abortion and “pro-choice” meant you supported abortion rights? Well, President Obama is shooting for a new political paradigm where opposition to any restriction on abortion + support for increased government spending along the lines of what liberals normally support = a new category of abortion reduction. I certainly understand why President Obama would want to push that storyline but it would be nice to have the media exercise a bit of caution before running with it.

Mark Stricherz wrote about the issue during the campaign, noting that government funding of abortion increases rather than decreases the abortion rate. He alleged that while government can promote policies that reduce abortion, they are very expensive. I’m not sure that after we get done borrowing and spending trillions of dollars on these “stimilus” and “bailout” bills that there would be any reasonable amount of money left to experiment with the “abortion reduction” theory.

Other pro-lifers have noted that Obama opposes the Hyde Amendment, legislation that has to be renewed each year to protect taxpayers from paying for abortions. The Guttmacher Institute, Planned Parenthood’s research arm, says the most tragic result of this amendment is that women who would otherwise get abortions end up having their children. They say that some 18 to 35 percent of women who would abort their children don’t do it when taxpayer funding for abortion is unavailable. Others give a conservative estimate of 1 million children who were not aborted because of this amendment.

And University of Alabama professor Michael New has published studies showing that legal restrictions on abortion, such as public funding restrictions and informed consent laws, are responsible for declines in the abortion rate.

In other words, while Obama and his supporters say that you can oppose any restriction on abortion and support bigger government programs and that this combination means you support “abortion reduction,” there’s a lot of debate over whether that’s a reasonable claim to make.

It sort of seems like some in the mainstream media have just lost all of their cynicism and desire to hold elected officials accountable — traits they had in abundant supply even weeks ago. Take this puffy piece from Politico, about how awesome Obama and his religious outreach is:

Faith leaders say they are already seeing results. Most notably, Obama lifted the ban on federal funding for overseas abortion services, but he did it quietly and privately, heeding advice from the religious community not to follow the example of his two predecessors by tackling the issue on the Jan. 22 anniversary of Roe v. Wade. Instead, he waited until the next day to sign the memorandum.

Waiting a few hours to fund groups that perform abortions is a “result” to crow about? Of course, contra this story, Obama lifted the ban on funding of groups that perform abortions rather than on the direct funding of the abortions themselves.

Let’s head over to Rob Stein’s piece in the Washington Post, headlined Obama Tries to Appease Both Sides of Abortion Debate. It’s a solid story all about how Obama is trying to change the debate over abortion from its legality to his claim that certain government spending programs can reduce “the need for” abortions. The article is built around the Obama paradigm-shifting efforts but it’s not a puff piece:

Obama’s approach has already been tested: Three days after his inauguration, he lifted a ban on U.S. funding for international health programs that provide abortions and abortion counseling, and last week he persuaded House Democrats to drop from the stimulus package a plan to allow Medicaid to expand contraceptive services.

Both moves produced mixed results: The international funding decision thrilled family-planning proponents but infuriated abortion opponents, even though some praised Obama for doing it quietly and for postponing the announcement one day to avoid the 36th anniversary of the Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision, which legalized abortion nationwide. The decision to back off the Medicaid family-planning expansion was welcomed by some conservatives but surprised and disappointed women’s health advocates.

Again, this trumpeting of the hours-long wait — can this be for real? And I’m not entirely sure that Obama’s pressure on the condom package IN A SUPPOSED STIMULUS BILL should really even fall into this debate. The outrage over Rep. Nancy Pelosi’s $200 million for contraception was more about whether such a provision belonged in a “stimulus” bill rather than whether contraceptive services were good or bad or appropriate for government funding in general.

Still, the story lays out the fault lines pretty well:

Obama’s approach will be tested again by a series of upcoming decisions on sensitive issues, including how he deals with the Bush administration’s restrictions on federal funding for embryonic stem cell research, which is controversial because the cells are obtained by destroying human embryos. Obama is also under pressure to reverse a Bush administration regulation protecting the rights of health-care workers who object to providing abortion, the morning-after emergency contraceptive pill and other types of medical care, to take steps to increase access to contraception and abortion, and to cut funding for abstinence-only sex education.

It’s really nice — refreshing even — to see this reporter clearly explain why embryonic stem cell research is disliked by pro-lifers. Remember how reporters use to lump embryo-destroying research with all other stem cell research? It’s also helpful to see what the two sides will be battling over. He mentions a likely upcoming Supreme Court justice nomination, too.

And there’s more on how Obama waited a few hours before sending funds to groups that provide abortions:

When he took office, he was expected to immediately reverse the international family-planning policy, but instead of doing so on the Roe v. Wade anniversary, Obama used the day to issue his first statement as president on abortion — a statement that included similar conciliatory language.

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.”

But the story also includes the perspective of pro-lifers who fail to see how this is in any way noteworthy:

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

Even some of those taking a wait-and-see approach dismissed Obama’s low-key reversal of the international family-planning restriction as meaningless.

“For me, it’s the difference between killing you in broad daylight and me taking you out and killing you behind the barn,” said Daniel Akin, president of the Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, N.C. “The result is the same. And I’m one of the evangelicals willing to give him a chance.”

The story gets quite a bit of perspective from religious opponents of abortion including Richard Doerflinger of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops on how Obama could attempt to moderate his support for research on embryos without compromising his principles.

It’s actually a really helpful introduction to the two sides, although it does give a bit of short shrift to pro-choice activists who loathe the whole “abortion reduction” moralizing.

My big beef with these stories, though, is that they just sort of assume that increased government spending and programs — on, say, increasing contraceptive availability, expanding health care benefits or subsidizing day care — are undeniable methods of reducing the need for abortion. There is a correlation between poverty and abortion (and wealth and contraceptive use) but a) correlation is not causation and b) there are many economists who disagree that many federal welfare programs achieve their stated goals in any case. We’ve been warring on poverty for a long time now without altogether that much success and it’s not a universally accepted belief that government spending is the best way to tackle economic problems. Anyway, how many of these “abortion reduction” proposals are different from the legislative agenda of the left for the past several decades? Is this just dressing up old proposals with a new selling line? Does that matter?

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  • http://depravitydepravity.wordpress.com/ holmegm

    Didn’t Guttmacher find a few years back that wealthier women were more likely to abort an unintended pregnancy?

  • Dave

    Was this story posted because the reporters don’t get religion, or just don’t understand what “pro-life” and “pro-choice” mean?

  • http://www.getreligion.org Mollie


    For all future references, this blog will cover abortion stories. If you don’t like it, feel free not to read them.



  • http://goodintentionsblog.com Bob Smietana


    A study from Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good, which we covered in the Tennessean, found that states with higher WIC and TANF grants had lower abortion rates. That study also found that the government funding of abortion increased the rate of abortion, as did the so-call family cap on TANF. The family cap was designed to discourage women from getting pregnant, since they would not get additional assistance for a new child. The unintended consequence was to give women an incentive to have abortions, especially if the government would pay for the abortion.

    In one of the cases we wrote about, a pregnant woman who wanted to have an abortion changed her mind after seeing an ultrasound of the baby. That change of mind did not eliminate the constraints she had — namely very little $$ and no insurance. Because as a pregnant woman, she qualified for TennCare state funded insurance, some of those constraints were lifted.

  • Dan

    It is pretty obvious that the Obama administration’s abortion strategy is to give Emily’s List and Planned Parenthood what they have been promised but to do so as quitely as possible. This is just another version of the same old “new” approach to the abortion issue. These “new” approaches to the abortion issue — approaches that are often billed as being aimed at getting beyond the “polaring debate” — always come from the pro-choice camp and are always just the pro-choice position dressed up in some different, sligher sweeter sounding, rhetoric. These “new” approaches are always non-starters insofar as they are offered as a final resolution of the abortion debate. The pro-life side sees abortion for what it is as and, as a consequence, for pro-lifers any real solution to the problem of abortion must include a complete ban.

  • http://www.southernconnections.com/roller George Frink

    It has been clear for a long time, Mollie, that you’re going to “cover abortion stories.”
    Even so, Dave asked you a reasonable question about this blog.
    You do appear to have left the stated “GetReligion” mission to take an anti-abortion stance. Not just today.
    Slapping his face, and I do believe you slapped his face, wasn’t an answer to the question he asked.

  • http://www.getreligion.org Mollie


    Trust me, you’ll know when I’m slapping someone. Telling someone they’re welcome to skip my abortion posts is sort of the opposite of slapping someone. Cut the histrionics, please.

    Dave asked the same question he has asked many times whenever I cover abortion or homosexuality stories.

    I’m done having the debate.

    These issues are heavily religious — the Washington Post story I analyzed quoted a multitude of religious sources. It handled them really well.

    And the thing about media coverage of these topics is that they almost always are biased against traditional religious adherents. That’s a huge part of what this blog hopes to tackle. If you can’t get that — and, again, I’ve debated this ad nauseum — that’s fine. Don’t read my posts. I take no umbrage.



  • http://www.southernconnections.com/roller George Frink

    For someone like me, who has variously scanned or read GetReligion for years without encountering your debate with Dave, and if you read as many blogs as I do that’s more than possible, that’s enough background to your debate not be left disoriented by your reply.

  • dalea

    What I notice in the coverage is there appears to be no pro-abortion religious voices covered. Nor is there any information on how banning abortions would work. Abortions used to be illegal, or hard to get, which never seemed to stop them from being performed. The anti-abortion voices seem to iterate a general abstract ideal state and call it a solution. There needs to be much more nuts and bolts in the coverage.

  • http://www.getreligion.org Mollie


    Thanks for the link to the Tennessean coverage of that study. I hope there will be more studies along the same lines.


    I completely agree with your first point. Anyone who followed the Democratic platform battles knows that these “abortion reduction” issues are quite contentious and mostly because of the debate over whether abortion is an immoral thing that should be reduced or a moral choice women can make. These debates are populated by a ton of religious adherents on both sides. I linked to one abortion-rights supporter who objects in principle to the abortion-reduction meme. There are many more.

  • Jerry

    Your position is clear in your use of quotes around a number of words and phrases.

    I find it interesting that people keep repeating the campaign promise that Obama did not keep in spite of the many voices that say that bill will never come up in Congress or if it does will never pass. To me, it’s a dead issue.

    “estimates” don’t cut it when it comes to deciding what is really going on. Given the problems we have with more hard statistics when it comes to medical treatment, I don’t believe any estimates or stats from anyone on this issue who has a strong bias in either direction. I want reputable relatively neutral scientific studies, peer reviewed and replicated. Maybe some of those you cited were of that kind, but I could not tell from following the links one step down.

    There are measures that are advocated by anti-abortion folk such as informed consent that many on the “other side” of the fight would find not only perfectly acceptable but a very good idea. I know that won’t satisfy those on the extreme end of the spectrum, but I’d bet the farm that the majority of those who are for keeping abortion legal would be in favor or making sure women understand their options and consent to them.

    I don’t know what President Obama will actually propose in this area, but I think there’s an opening for people to propose such measures as informed consent that don’t affect the legality of abortion.

    The whole stem cell issue has only two coherent philosophies behind it. The Catholic position of “don’t create them” solves the problem from one direction. The Catholic position is philosophically coherent. The pro-abortion position is also coherent since pro-choice people don’t consider embryos at an earlier state of development as having human rights.

  • http://www.getreligion.org Mollie


    Just because Obama broke his promise to pro-choice activists doesn’t mean that it isn’t significant.

    I mean, based on my reporting, I’m pretty sure that FOCA is a completely dead issue and will go nowhere in Congress. It’s just that unpopular.

    But THAT Obama made the promise — and broke it — is significant, no?

    And as for the studies, they are all very political. It’s rather unfortunate. But, then again, the more time you spend looking at studies, the more you realize how difficult it is to avoid the politicization.

    President Obama has in the past opposed informed consent legislation. You don’t get that 100% NARAL rating for nothing!

    And as for the last issue, the WashPost article had some interesting stuff about how Obama might navigate the embryonic stem cell issue.

    As for my various quotes — I used them because “abortion reduction” isn’t an objective term but a relatively new political slogan. I mean, pro-choice and pro-life are as well but I think that they are understood enough by this point. And I guess I put them around pro-life and pro-choice as well. I guess sometimes I used them to set them apart, sometimes for emphasis, sometimes to show that they’re not established terms. It’s a difficult issue to write about!

  • Jerry

    I linked to one abortion-rights supporter who objects in principle to the abortion-reduction meme. There are many more.

    As we say in other places, many comments “slipped” in while I was composing mine. I would REALLY like to see more coverage from moderates who believe that a woman basically should be making the moral choice but wants to see restrictions based on the age of the fetus, informed consent, real family planning etc.

    Bob Smietana’s post raises just the kind of issues that I hope President Obama will address. His post shows that we need to be very careful about thinking through the side-effects of our policies.

  • Jerry

    This is almost a real-time discussion. I agree it’s a very hard issue to write about because it touches on people’s core beliefs.

    I know what President Obama’s position has been in the past. I hope that enough people will engage with him and change his mind. Of course, that will get into the area of what “informed consent” really means to different people and I’m sure that will also be controversial.

    On a personal note, I give you kudos for what you’ve written in spite of my quibbles. Sure I’m not going to agree with everything you write but what’s new about that?

    Maybe someday God will grant us a real miracle – people taking responsibility for the consequences of their actions and the whole issue will disappear. I can hope and pray for it to happen anyway.

  • Dave

    Mollie (#3), then this blog is formally a blog on quality of journalistic coverage or religion and conservative complaints about abortion coverage. Perhaps the name should be modified to reflect this.

    George (#6), I do not feel slapped by Mollie, merely informed by her of a change in the formal nature of this blog that in fact brings it into line with its unofficial nature for some time now. Their blog, their rules.

  • http://www.getreligion.org Mollie


    Nope, absolutely no change at all. But, like I said, I’m done having this debate with you and I’m happy to provide this service for our many readers who appreciate our coverage of sanctity of life issues.

  • Dave


    I never said I don’t appreciate your coverage of what you call sanctity of life issues. Some of it I could skip, but you’ve given me grist for my Unitarian Universalist mill. My Fellowship is embarked on a growth program and one of the questions I and the rest of a committee are addressing to the congregation three Sundays hence is how big a tent we are willing to become. I’ve crafted a hypothetical newcomer whom I would never have thought of had I not read the abortion posts to this blog.

  • http://www.tmatt.net tmatt

    Dave is, of course, completely wrong on the change of status for the blog.

    We remain committed to seeing fair and accurate coverage of voices on both sides of the abortion debate. Same old same old.

    Anyone who thinks that the traditional religious voices in this debate have been handled fairly in the mainstream press has not been paying attention to decades of media-bias studies.

    Once again, the essential and unchallenged document FROM WITHIN the mainstream press is the LA Times classic from the late David Shaw.

    Please read it: http://www.getreligion.org/?p=966

  • Dan Berger

    I would REALLY like to see more coverage from moderates who believe that a woman basically should be making the moral choice

    Yes, but… doesn’t that reduce the woman’s physician to an automaton? Or do you support forcing women to do the work of finding a physician who is willing to perform abortions?

  • http://www.getreligion.org/?p=3978 E.E. Evans

    It’s striking to me that both in these responses, and in the media, the role of the father (doesn’t it take two, normally?) is almost never highlighted. I’d like to see more media coverage of the male perception of abortion and what potential fathers see as their responsibility. I think this reflects both a societal bias towards individualism, one which has infested (sic) even our American faith communities.

  • Ann

    E.E. Evans says: The role of the father is almost never discussed.

    Obama has discussed the father’s role on numerous. I read a line in one of the bills that funded outreach for the father.

    Obama has frequently stressed the mother and father’s need to be accountable for their children’s future.

  • Joe

    It’s interesting that the focus on poverty is so quickly used as evidence of bias, as if poverty policy wasn’t a religious issue. While the coverage of poverty issues is never analyzed here or treated dismissively on ideological grounds,, it may be the greatest example of people not getting religion

  • http://www.getreligion.org Mollie


    Actually I never said the focus on poverty was evidence of bias. I did point out that different people have different ideas about how to reduce poverty and throwing government funds at the problem is just one of them. So pretending that it’s the only one advocated by people who care about the poor is bad reporting.

    In the future, please try to quote me (like I quote articles, etc.) when you make claims.



  • http://www.getreligion.org/?p=3978 E.E. Evans

    Well, if Obama is discussing the role of the father, which I also have heard, how come it’s not getting more attention in general conversations about abortion?

  • Joe K

    Journalists (and politicians) who use the term mother or father will bias the reporting to the pro-life side because these terms require there be a “child.” The idea that a mother or father would kill their child would be morally repugnant even for most abortion supporters.

    I’d be willing to bet Obama’s reference to fathers was limited to children outside the womb. If i’m wrong, then you’re right in that general press does poor job in covering this angle.

  • http://symboldictionary.net/ Jennifer

    Personally, I would like to see more coverage of the (hypocritical?) disconnect between the support of embryo-creation/disposal by otherwise “pro-life” folks seeking fertility treatment* and their opposition to using those embryos in research.

    IOW, why does there seem to be an unspoken acceptance of dead embryos as long as the eventual goal is live babies- yet any whisper of suing those discards for saving lives is verboten? Everyone on both sides seem to tiptoe around this issue…

    *I’m especially curious to know how many of these are Catholic?

  • http://www.getreligion.org Mollie


    Or how about a story about how churches and pro-life groups are so frequently silent about the issues of IVF?

  • Dave2

    We remain committed to seeing fair and accurate coverage of voices on both sides of the abortion debate. Same old same old.

    But surely GetReligion has no business covering those abortion stories which have no connection to religion, just as it has no business covering basketball stories with no connection to religion, or science stories with no connection to religion. Stories about science or basketball or abortion become relevant to the blog only when they intersect with religion, specifically when they manifest a journalistic failure to understand religion. Even if a story is downright unfair or inaccurate about science or basketball or abortion, surely that alone does not warrant a post on GetReligion.

    Or is it the position of the blog that every abortion story, without exception, no matter how apparently unrelated to religion, is secretly saturated in religion and therefore fair game for the blog, and moreover that every journalistic failure to understand the pro-life perspective is ipso facto a journalistic failure to understand religion? I mean, what about pro-life atheists like Christopher Hitchens?

  • http://www.getreligion.org Mollie


    We probably cover less than one percent of the abortion stories out there. All abortion stories deal with sanctity of life issues (issues pregnant with religious implications) but we only look at the bigger ones or bigger themes.