05/07/2009 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Conceiving Common Ground

Last November, the American people voted in change. For President Obama, common ground in tough debates not only is possible, it is urgently necessary to move America forward. On one of the hardest, most intractable of issues -- abortion -- Obama has signaled his intention to move us beyond the divisiveness of old and into the realm of shared values that can offer real solutions. Unfortunately, some of the soldiers in the abortion wars - including some of my friends in the pro-choice movement -- have not yet adapted to the changing times.

We in the pro-choice movement must embrace and not fear common ground on abortion. We do not sacrifice our support for abortion rights. We add to it common ground.

Let's understand what common ground on abortion means. As Third Way has always said, common ground on abortion is reducing abortions without criminalization and without coercion. A common ground abortion agenda seeks to address the root causes of abortion and thereby reduce the need for abortion. It has two policy tracks: prevention of unintended pregnancy, because almost half of all unintended pregnancies end in abortion, and support for pregnant women and new families, because one of the top two reasons women say they have abortions is that they cannot afford a child.

To be clear, prevention includes contraception, comprehensive sex education, and helping parents communicate with their teens about sex and healthy relationships. Support includes increasing health care coverage for pregnant women and children, providing pregnant and parenting women with additional resources to stay in school, and helping new families pay for food and child care. It also removes obstacles to adoption. This is the exact approach that pro-life Tim Ryan and pro-choice Rosa DeLauro decided to take with us when it was time to craft their common ground abortion legislation -- "The Reducing the Need for Abortion and Supporting Parents Act."

This approach does not entail abandoning principles for either side. From the pro-choice perspective, it leaves in place the right to an abortion. From the pro-life perspective, it does not expand or codify abortion rights.

Former head of Catholics for a Free Choice, Frances Kissling, when endorsing the Ryan-DeLauro bill upon its introduction in 2006, explained how this approach also has the effect of strengthening both sides:

"This two-pronged approach avoids an ideological stalemate and bridges the gap between sensible, well-motivated members of Congress who hold differing views on abortion. For those opposed to abortion rights, the recognition that contraception is vital in reducing the need for abortion is critical. For those who support the right to abortion, a stronger commitment to helping women continue pregnancies without sinking deeper in to poverty is a core value of the prochoice community."

I would go further and say that the pro-choice community also benefits from the aspect of common ground that acknowledges and respects the moral complexity of abortion. Women in my generation and younger have grown up without the baggage of the fight over the fundamental right to abortion that our mothers faced. We may have vestiges of the warrior mentality, but our outlook is more nuanced than absolutist. In order to fully connect with the values of this generation, the pro-choice movement, in addition to demonstrating its commitment to protecting access to legal and safe abortions, needs to acknowledge the moral complexity of this issue.

Another strength of this approach is that it broadens our family planning coalition to include centrist Evangelical Christians. For example, Reverend Joel Hunter, former head of the Christian Coalition, now publicly supports birth control and comprehensive sex education. You can find a list of other new friends like him here. This is a marked change of course for these pro-lifers. It's another sign of the changing times and something to celebrate.

We should also be rejoicing that pro-life members of Congress, like Congressman Bart Stupak, co-chair of the congressional pro-life caucus, are now on record supporting family planning as part of common ground on abortion. We all know that the pro-life member of Congress who supports family planning has been a dying breed this whole decade. Thanks to the Ryan-DeLauro bill, pro-lifers who support birth control are coming back into vogue.

Many of my generational peers and those willing to embrace change, including the new President of the United States, are moving solidly in this direction, opening eyes and ears to this potentially transformative third way on abortion. Isn't it time to join in this historic moment?

Rachel Laser is the Culture Program Director at Third Way, a progressive Washington, DC-based think tank.