WASHINGTON-Barack Obama said in 2007 that his first executive order if elected president would be to sign the Freedom of Choice Act, which would deny the government any "interference" with a woman's decision to have an abortion, essentially overturning all restrictions on the practice. The bill has never made it through Congress.
Obama himself, while supporting no government restrictions on abortions-even partial-birth abortions, has obliquely said he wants to see the number of abortions decline.
"We can certainly agree on the fact that we should be doing everything we can to avoid unwanted pregnancies that might even lead somebody to consider having an abortion," the president-elect said in April of this year.
The Guttmacher Institute, an organization focused on researching reproductive health that its work before Roe v. Wade in 1968, shares Obama's goal, at least vocally.
"We want to reduce the felt need for abortions," said Sharon Camp, the institute's chief executive officer. "We're not doing something right if we're not driving those numbers down."
Some pro-life Christian groups, like Sojourners and Catholics United, are jumping on board with this agenda to reduce the number of abortions. They find that working with pro-abortion groups could result in fewer children being killed, instead of remaining in an all-or-nothing deadlock on the issue.
But other pro-lifers say these groups are compromising their values, and that pro-abortion organizations are doing little to discourage the practice of abortion.
"These kinds of proposals always end up supporting the abortion side, and don't end up reducing the number of abortions," said Wendy Wright, president of Concerned Women for America, an organization that promotes biblical principles in public policy. "[Abortion advocates] have no incentive in reducing the number of pregnancies or abortions. They have no incentive to reduce sexual activity."
Abortions are at a 30-year low. Guttmacher hopes to see them go lower, but the root problems the institute identified in recent research are economic and racial barriers. Minority and low-income women have the highest rates of abortion, and Guttmacher attributes that to a lack of access to contraceptives.
That argument, that low-income women did not have enough access to contraceptives, was the reasoning behind Congress passing Title X in 1970, which provided federal funding to family-planning organizations.
Guttmacher's Camp points to former Republican Sen. Mark Hatfield, who was outspokenly pro-life in his time on Capitol Hill but sponsored Title X.
"The partisanship on the Hill has become so intense on these issues, there's no room for a Mark Hatfield," Camp said.
Also lost in the abortion debate, she says, is the underlying need for social equity.
"We were not set up to advocate for abortion, [but] to study the need for contraceptive services," said Camp. "For us the availability of abortion, while far from being the first choice, does seem to be a necessary backup."
Restricting access to abortion, she says, won't reduce the number of abortions according to the institute's research. But the pro-life Wright argued that contraceptives won't reduce abortions, either.
"If the message is, 'It's fine to be promiscuous,' the result is more young people are sexually active," she said, which results in more unwanted pregnancies.
The debate will continue in Washington, even though Democrats with pro-choice agendas enjoy broad power. Already, the U.S. Catholic Church promised last week to fight President-elect Obama on the Freedom of Choice Act.