If the abortion debate had a tagline, it might go something like this: "Dividing America Since 1973." That was the year of Roe v. Wade, a landmark Supreme Court case, which legalized so-called "abortion-on-demand" in the United States. From that decision until today, abortion has been a battleground for those fighting the culture wars.
Perhaps no social or political issue produces more anger, more animosity and more anguish. Just utter the word "abortion" in mixed company and see if it doesn't ignite fiery arguments without warning. Today, about 42 percent of Americans call themselves "pro-choice" and 51 percent call themselves "pro-life." It is an ideological stalemate.
But despite most Americans' personal passion on the issue, many seem tired of the debate itself. The sound bytes are worn out and the rhetoric is often devoid of basic civility. "I think there is a lot of frustration that we don't try harder to find common ground on abortion, and I think that there is some common ground even among many irreconcilable differences," says Ron Sider, pro-life author of The Scandal of Evangelical Politics. "In general, there is a longing for people who listen to others who disagree with them and debate respectfully despite major differences."
Surprisingly, there are many commonalities on abortion among Americans. According to a 2009 Gallup poll, even though most Americans soundly reject the idea of overturning Roe v. Wade, a whopping 71 percent of Americans support some form of limits on abortion. And according to the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, 66 percent of Americans support finding "a middle ground on abortion laws."
Out of this hunger, pro-life Christians and pro-choice political progressives have struck a partnership. Their goal is to reduce the need for and occurrences of abortions in America, and their strategy includes providing additional aid for expectant mothers, increased access to contraception for low-income women and greater incentives for adoption. The "abortion reduction agenda," as it's called, is a new angle on America's most vicious debate, and one that resonates with individuals on both sides of the issue.
"Americans are tired of the rancor and name-calling. It has not only become non-productive, but it has almost become boring," says Joel Hunter, an abortion reduction proponent and pro-life pastor of the Northland megachurch in suburban Orlando. "People are not weary of the cause, but they are tired of the debate itself."
Still, not everyone is equally enthusiastic. Some all-or-nothing advocates from both the right and left have responded with disdain. The founder of the Pro-Life Action League called abortion reduction a "sell out" and Douglas Johnson of the National Right to Life Committee called it the "burial ground" for the pro-life movement. Progressive writer Frank Clarkston claimed that the movement is rooted in "anti-abortion tactics" while Sarah Posner wrote in The American Prospect that it's "incrementalism masquerading as progressivism."
Despite the naysayers, most Americans support an abortion reduction agenda. According to a recent poll by Public Religion Research, 83 percent of all voters agreed that "elected leaders on both sides of the abortion debate should work together to find ways to reduce the number of abortions by enacting policies that help prevent unintended pregnancies, expand adoption and increase economic support for women who wish to carry their pregnancies to term." The poll found similar percentages among "pro-life" voters, white evangelicals and Catholics. Additionally, this guy named "Barack Obama" has pledged his support. It seems we may have finally found some common ground on what is historically America's most vicious debate.
Jonathan Merritt is author of Green Like God: Unlocking the Divine Plan for Our Planet. A portion of this article appeared in Relevant Magazine.