By Dan Gilgoff, God & Country
On the 36th anniversary of the Supreme Court's Roe v. Wade decision, which legalized abortion, the Obama administration released a statement that reaffirmed the president's commitment to abortion rights but that departed somewhat from the Democrats' traditionally strict pro-choice line by articulating a goal to "reduce the need for abortion." While recent Republican and Democratic presidents have used the Roe anniversary either to institute or rescind a ban on U.S. funds to family planning groups abroad that provide or promote abortion—with Republican presidents instituting it and Democrats rescinding—Obama declined to take any action on the ban, known as the Mexico City policy.
"Not signing that repeal during the March for Life—as he was previously thought to do—was an initial sign of respect," said a Democrat close to the White House, referring to the annual anti-Roe march organized by abortion opponents. "This is a signal that the new administration is going to take a different approach and tone from the old culture wars.
"Notice the emphasis on abortion reduction," the Democrat continued, referring to the president's statement on the Roe anniversary. "This is the first statement from the president on abortion, and it reflects the significant change we have all been advocating for."
Traditional pro-life groups are dismissing the Obama administration's moves as purely symbolic and rhetorical. "His policies, deferred today for a few hours, weeks, or—we hope—months, will certainly promote and increase the abortion rate," blogs the Family Research Council's Chuck Donovan.
Here's President Obama's statement on the Roe anniversary:
On the 36th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, we are reminded that this decision not only protects women's health and reproductive freedom, but stands for a broader principle: that government should not intrude on our most private family matters. I remain committed to protecting a woman's right to choose.
While this is a sensitive and often divisive issue, no matter what our views, we are united in our determination to prevent unintended pregnancies, reduce the need for abortion, and support women and families in the choices they make. To accomplish these goals, we must work to find common ground to expand access to affordable contraception, accurate health information, and preventative services.
On this anniversary, we must also recommit ourselves more broadly to ensuring that our daughters have the same rights and opportunities as our sons: the chance to attain a world-class education; to have fulfilling careers in any industry; to be treated fairly and paid equally for their work; and to have no limits on their dreams. That is what I want for women everywhere.
The president's vow to reduce demand for abortion has been adopted by other prominent Democratic officials. Check out these lines in House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's statement marking the Roe anniversary:
"I will continue to work to preserve the right to privacy while promoting a comprehensive approach to reproductive health care, including planning for healthy families, reducing the number of abortions and unintended pregnancies, and providing full and medically-accurate sexuality education."
Now the question is whether the Democrats will actually pass legislation that advances their stated goal of reducing demand for abortion.
After Election Day, I was struck by how important the Democratic Party's so-called faith consultants thought it was that the party deliver on promises to enact abortion-reduction policies in order to maintain its credibility among culturally conservative voters who moved to the Democratic column last year. So far, the Democrats' shift on the abortion issue has been purely tonal.