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Life decisions

Abortion | How far should pro-life advocates go in working with "abortion grays" to reduce the number of abortions?

Issue: "Saving Isaac," Nov. 10, 2007

WASHINGTON, D.C.- One favorite Capitol Hill worker of Sen. Sam Brownback (R-Kan.) is an elevator operator named Jimmy. The young man with Down syndrome wears ties given to him by Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) and often greets legislators with high-fives or hugs.

"He's a wonderful young man," Brownback recently told a pro-life audience in Washington, D.C. "And if you see a Down syndrome child or person in this country today, I hope you give them a hug, because 90 percent are killed in the womb."

Brownback referred to studies that estimate 80 to 90 percent of parents who learn their unborn children have Down syndrome choose abortion. The senator made a plea to those with unborn babies testing positive for the genetic disorder: "If it's too tough for the family, don't kill them. We'll put them up, and we'll get them adopted."

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Brownback is putting teeth to that promise with a bill that would establish a national registry of families willing to adopt a child with Down syndrome. The legislation would also provide more education about Down syndrome for expectant parents. (A study by Harvard Medical School found that doctors do not provide parents with enough accurate information about the positive potential of children with Down syndrome.)

The staunchly pro-life Brownback has a surprising ally in the legislation aimed at reducing the number of abortions: the staunchly pro-abortion Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-Mass.).

The unlikely pair are co-sponsors of the Prenatally Diagnosed Conditions Act, a bill they first introduced in 2005, but that remains in a Senate committee. Kennedy spokesman Laura Capps said the senator believes abortion should be rare: "If this legislation helps women make better decisions, he's all for that."

The Brownback-Kennedy bill is one example of a recent trend in bipartisan approaches to reducing abortions. But as divergent camps look for ways to work together on a difficult issue, thorny questions arise: How closely can opposite sides collaborate on combating abortion, and what are the limits to bipartisan compromise on moral absolutes?

Rachel Laser thinks about those questions often. Laser is the director of the culture program at Third Way, a progressive, left-leaning think tank in Washington, D.C., that aims at finding common ground among pro-life proponents and supporters of legalized abortion who want to reduce the number of abortions.

In Laser's downtown office, an open box of gray wristbands sits next to her desk. "Those symbolize the abortion grays," Laser told WORLD. Third Way coined the term "abortion grays" to refer to those who believe abortion is undesirable but should remain legal.

Laser counts herself among that group: "In my value system it is full-on consistent to be for the legality of abortion rights, but also to want to work hard toward the reduction of abortion in America." Ticking off her "pro-choice bona fides," Laser explains that she was once general counsel for Planned Parenthood of Washington Metro. She still advocates keeping abortion legal, but also admits she finds a "moral complexity" to abortion. "Abortion very much involves a woman, but it also involves a developing life," she said. "I think 1.3 million abortions in America each year is too many."

That belief has Laser reaching out to legislators and evangelicals to promote policies aimed at reducing the number of abortions in America. Third Way noted success this summer when the group lobbied for passage of the Reducing the Need for Abortions Initiative, a Democrat-sponsored package in the House of Representatives. An appropriations committee incorporated large portions of the legislation into a massive spending bill that the House passed in July.

The $647 million abortion-related package included funding for abstinence education, an adoption-awareness program, and support for low-income women who become pregnant.

The bill also included funding for sex education and contraception for teens. The appropriations committee did not include the bill's original provision for awarding grants to health clinics to purchase ultrasound machines.

The initiative didn't gain broad bipartisan support in the House, but it did find support in two evangelicals who joined Third Way in calling for the bill's passage: Randy Brinson, founder of Redeem the Vote, and Joel Hunter, senior pastor of the 12,000-member Northland Church in central Florida.

Hunter told WORLD he was enthusiastic about the legislation because it gives assistance to needy women facing pregnancies they might not be able to afford. He hopes such assistance will prevent some women from seeking abortions.

Hunter added that though Third Way supports legalized abortion, he is willing to work with the group because they also promote reducing abortions: "We can save babies here-that's the bottom line," he said. "The question isn't what's your ideology? It's are you saving babies?"

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