By Dan Gilgoff, God & Country
The White House is moving from listening to policymaking mode on its plan to "reduce the need for abortion" and for a "common ground" approach around related reproductive issues, like reducing unwanted pregnancy. The administration expects to roll the plan out as early as this summer.
For Obama's faith-based office staff members—who are partnering with the White House Council on Women and Girls on the project—devising the plan on reproductive issues appears to be the top priority. It's also so sensitive that it's the one part of the faith-based office's mission that's being handled entirely by White House staff.
All other aspects of the faith-based office's mission—reducing poverty, promoting responsible fatherhood, facilitating interfaith dialogue—are being led by the outside Advisory Council on Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships. The council's various task forces will issue recommendations later this year.
But the White House curtain-raising on its plan around abortion is expected to come first. It will be a huge moment for the administration. My God & Country column from the most recent U.S. News Weekly explores the process behind developing the plan and the anxiety among abortion-rights supporters and opponents as they await word on its release.
Here's the top:
As a member of President Obama's Advisory Council on Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships, Nancy Ratzan clearly believes that faith has a role in government. But that doesn't mean she's comfortable with the role the White House's faith-based office is playing in devising Obama's policies on abortion and other reproductive issues. "I have real concerns about understanding those issues from a faith perspective as opposed to a scientific and individual rights perspective," says Ratzan, who is president of the National Council of Jewish Women and a supporter of abortion rights. "You're creating the possibility that the religious views of some are going to be imposed on others."
Over the last month or so, the Obama administration has met with Ratzan and dozens of other activists on both sides of the abortion issue as it seeks what it calls "common ground" on thorny reproductive issues, including its goal of reducing demand for abortion. Now, as the White House begins drawing up a policy plan, advocates on both sides are jittery. "I'm in a trust but verify mode," says Richard Land, who heads public policy for the Southern Baptist Convention, which opposes abortion rights. "I've seen some signs that they are eagerly seeking common ground and other signs that they're not."
The administration is expected to announce its plan as early as this summer, according to those involved in the process. Whether those proposed policies can satisfy the president's pro-abortion rights base while also winning over more conservative religious groups is the biggest test yet for Obama's vow to be a peacemaker in the nation's culture wars.
When Obama rolled out the revamped White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships in February, he tasked it with exploring how to "support women and children, address teenage pregnancy, and reduce the need for abortion." Crafting policy around those goals has been a joint project of the faith-based office and the new White House Council on Women and Girls. Both report to Obama's domestic policy adviser, Melody Barnes, who has led some meetings with outside groups.
Those sessions have included representatives from organizations as politically far apart as the pro-abortion rights Planned Parenthood and the evangelical Concerned Women for America, which vigorously opposes such rights. The White House asked those and other groups for policy proposals in four areas: reducing unwanted pregnancy, increasing access to adoption, supporting maternal health, and reducing demand for abortion. "There were definitely areas of disagreement," Kristen Day, who runs an antiabortion group called Democrats for Life, says in describing a recent White House meeting. "But for the most part, people were respectful and were doing more listening than debating."