White House convening private meetings to develop abortion “common ground” policies

by on May 7, 2009  •  In Reproductive rights

Today's Wall Street Journal carries an article by Laura Meckler describing the closed-door meetings being held at the White House that have brought together abortion rights supporters and abortion opponents in the attempt to craft policy proposals to diminish the number of unwanted pregnancies and thus reduce the need for abortion:

Interviews with several participants suggest there is some common ground, but plenty of disagreements remain. It will be challenging for the White House to settle on policies that reach across the spectrum. Some in the antiabortion community, for instance, suggested more support for pregnancy "crisis centers," which discourage women from having abortions. But abortion-rights supporters say these centers give out inaccurate information. Abortion-rights supporters want more support for contraception, which some abortion opponents are unenthusiastic about.

"Not everyone may agree on every issue we discuss, but we think there is enough common ground and potential for common ground here that people can help us to move forward," said domestic policy adviser Melody Barnes, who is leading the initiative.

The meetings — anywhere from a dozen to two dozen people at a time — began about a month ago and are expected to continue for another six to eight weeks. The White House hopes to have a proposal formed by late summer, Ms. Barnes said.

At the end of the process, the White House doesn't plan to seek any official endorsement for its proposals from any of the participants, Ms. Barnes said. Staff will review the comments and materials provided and develop recommendations for the president. … At the start of the initiative, the White House took off the table any discussion of whether abortion should be legal.

Ms. Barnes told participants that the White House is interested in hearing ideas in several areas, among them: sex education; responsible use of contraception; maternal and child health; pregnancy discrimination in the workplace and elsewhere; and adoption.

Participants say that suggestions included: improving education about use of contraception; better access to emergency contraception (which can be used after sex); improving education about sex, relationships and the "sacredness of sex"; stamping out employment discrimination against pregnant women; improving family-leave policies; and encouraging adoption. One suggestion was to set a concrete goal for abortion reduction, such as a 25% reduction in four years. The number of abortions peaked in 1990 at 1.6 million and has declined every year since then, reaching 1.2 million in 2005, the latest year for which data are available. …


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