The divide that separates pro-life and pro-choice advocates seems to have gotten deeper and wider since the Supreme Court’s stunning reversal of 50 years of precedent and two key decisions legalizing abortion.
If folks thought that bouncing the issue back to the states would somehow turn down the temperature with regard to this mother of all culture war issues, they quickly have been disabused of that notion.
Nearly every state and federal election will be the battlefield for the abortion debate, now and for the foreseeable future. Both parties see it as to their advantage to harden their positions, egged on by saturation media coverage.
How voters will react remains to be seen, but appeals for their votes are not subtle. Pro-lifers are painted as sex- and women-hating fanatics, while pro-choicers are described as having a cavalier attitude toward the extinguishing of human life, selfish and ugly to boot.
But amid all this heat, there is a bit of light. There are growing pro-life voices asking for a political reset. Whether appeals — including by the U.S. bishops — for more aid to mothers and children will have bipartisan appeal and provide a bit of common ground remains to be seen.
The U.S. bishops Aug. 1 issued a statement calling on Congress to act on a series of proposals to help moms and families, including an expanded child tax credit that would also help pregnant women, federal paid family leave policy, protection for pregnant workers and assistance for low-income families.
Although some of these proposals have been advocated for years by liberals, conservatives are starting to climb on board. A Republican plan called the Family Security Act 2.0 is proposing a monthly cash benefit for children, starting four months prior to birth. While how it would be funded and who qualifies is likely to be debated, it is another hopeful sign.
Finding common ground isn’t a slam dunk. The New York Times July 28 reported that the states with the strictest anti-abortion laws often give the least aid to pregnant women and children and have higher maternal and infant mortality rates.
On the other hand, Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, a strong advocate of legal abortion, recently vetoed $20 million in funding to support adoption programs, pregnancy resource centers and grants to help struggling mothers.
Charles Camosy, a pro-life theologian who has long argued for finding ways to break out of the pro-anti impasse on abortion, is now calling for Pro-life 3.0 — a movement seeking common ground in support of pregnant women and families.
The very pregnancy resource centers that Gov. Whitmer is so unwilling to support — and which are vilified by pro-abortion groups like Jane’s Revenge — in fact, Camosy argues, provide an example of how women can be given more support, not less.
Despite what op-ed writers might believe, both pro-life and pro-choice women and men share a common concern for women. For the most part, both sides would agree that women should not be prosecuted for attempting an abortion. Both sides are concerned for maternal health and well-being. This shared concern may lead to legislation that protects both mother and baby.
For the U.S. bishops, this may be an opportunity to move beyond the impression that the church can only say no. Now is the time for the church to loudly say yes, taking its message to the pulpits, press and legislatures in support of expanded financial aid and health care for mothers and children.
The abortion battle has served the interests of both parties in polarizing their political bases. Perhaps the church can help bridge the divide, helping families and communities while saving lives.
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Erlandson, director and editor-in-chief of Catholic News Service, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.