In Thursday’s Washington Post, E.J. Dionne Jr. had a fascinating piece,”Obama’s Cultural Diplomacy.” Dionne talks about how Obama is trying to”ease the nation’s divisions around religion and moral questions”by, among other things,”a promise to reduce the number of abortions.” Dionne notes, however, that Obama’s decisison to change the December Bush regulation on so-called conscience protections for health care providers (see the analysis of the National Women’s Law Center here and his nomination of Kathleen Sebelius to be secretary of Health of Human Services show the”ticklish challenges”with playing peacemaker. Dionne concludes that,”paradoxically,”perhaps Obama would rather have people focus on the economy than on moral values.
We don’t think it is”paradoxical”at all to prefer that people focus on something other than abortion. First, abortion is an intrinsically divisive issue, which remains constantly in the public eye precisely to distract people from other issues. As the last Republican Congressman from New England said after his defeat last fall, it is one thing to be pro-choice; it is another to have to vote on abortion eighty times a year. Second, for those who support women’s reproductive autonomy — and those who would genuinely like to reduce the number of abortions, the real issue should be the egregious class-based nature of access to effective contraception. When Congress passed federal funds for family planning in 1970, the Senate vote was unanimous and only 32 voted no in the House. Congress was moved by research showing that poor women were twice as likely as wealthier women to give birth to an unintended child. Today, that ratio is 5 to 1. Obscured in the brouhaha over Gov. Sebelius’s nomination is the fact that she reduced the number of abortions in Kansas much more effectively than so-called abortion opponents. How did she do it? By increasing access to contraception. It IS time to change the subject.
–Naomi Cahn and June Carbone