Rep. Rosa DeLauro: Obama Can Find Common Ground on Abortion

The Connecticut Democrat makes the case for her bill aiming to 'reduce the need for abortion.'

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By Rep. Rosa L. DeLauro

Democratic Rep. Rosa L. DeLauro represents Connecticut's Third Congressional District. She and Rep. Tim Ryan recently reintroduced the Preventing Unintended Pregnancies, Reducing the Need for Abortion and Supporting Parents Act. While Dan's away, we've asked a selection of prominent guest bloggers from a variety of perspectives to give their thoughts on religion and public life.

Among the questions Dan asked me to consider for this post was the following: Can President Obama find common ground on—and reduce the need for—abortion? Well, yes, I believe he can. And I believe that, after many years of hard work by, and open dialogue with, advocates on all sides of the abortion issue, we in the House of Representatives have given the administration a template for this common, concerted action with the Ryan-DeLauro bill.

For too long, there has been too much heat and not enough light shed on the question of reducing abortion in this country. And for too long, we have allowed our differences to divide us on this contentious issue.

Now, I have been and will always be a strong and unyielding believer in a woman's fundamental right to choose. This is a belief I share with a majority of the American people, who continue to support Roe v. Wade and who oppose making it harder for women to get an abortion.

Many of my colleagues, including the bill's cosponsor, Congressman Tim Ryan of Ohio, have been equally passionate and committed to the opposing view. For all of us, on both sides of the abortion issue, this is not a decision taken lightly but a morally complex matter of conscience that goes to our most basic and fundamental principles.

That is why our bill takes a different approach to the abortion question from what we have seen in the past. We have tried with this legislation to break the stalemate that has impeded forward progress on reducing the abortion rate in this country. At its heart, our bill aims to broker a détente and turn down the volume on the "culture wars" that have plagued our attempts to prevent unplanned pregnancies in the past. And it emphasizes, not the 10 percent of the issue where we continue to differ but the 90 percent where we all agree: We all want to provide support for new parents to strengthen their families and to make difficult life decisions, unconstrained by financial necessity.

Our bill is supported by groups on all sides of the abortion issue, including NARAL, Planned Parenthood, the National Women's Law Center, Catholics for Choice, Sojourners, and Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good, just to name a few.

This is because—despite legitimate differences—there is much we do agree on. We all want to see fewer unintended pregnancies and abortions. Each year, approximately half of all pregnancies are unintended, and about half of those end in abortions. Approximately 750,000 teenagers become pregnant every year, and 88 percent of births to females ages 15 to 17 are the result of unintended pregnancies.

The Ryan-DeLauro bill aims to stem this troubling tide, with new programs to prevent teen pregnancy, improved access to prenatal care, home visits for first-time mothers, and many other new initiatives.

On the prevention side, it increases funding for Title X of the Public Health Service Act. It also restores the Medicaid entitlement to coverage of family planning services that was repealed in the budget reconciliation bill, and it provides grants to states to reduce teen pregnancy.

But to reduce the number of unwanted pregnancies, we must also foster an environment that encourages pregnancies to be carried to term and improve access to child care and children's healthcare. This bill increases and expands the adoption tax credit for all children. It also expands postpartum coverage from 60 days to one year for women whose labor and delivery are covered by Medicaid and CHIP.

In providing a comprehensive approach to this issue—from increased funding for child-care assistance to after-school programs to nutritional support through food stamps—this bill promotes real parental responsibility once the child is born. And it does so by reducing the economic pressures that can sometimes cause a woman to decide not to carry a pregnancy to term.

But of all the important goals this bill can help us reach, perhaps the most important is that it helps move us all forward on this issue—beyond the question of the legality of abortion and toward actually reducing the need for abortion.

With this bill, we affirm both our core principles as Democrats and our commitment to promoting life. And I am happy to say that the new administration, while remaining steadfastly pro-choice, has adopted a similar framework in tackling the question.

This middle ground established by the Ryan-DeLauro bill is an excellent step toward making President Obama's goal of achieving common ground a reality. It can help all of us, on all sides of the abortion issue, finally move forward on the principles where we agree. I very much hope it passes and that it lays the groundwork for future legislation along the same lines. On this important, complex, and controversial issue, it is long past time that we stop yelling past each other and start listening.

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