I am anti-abortion. In fact, the first date I asked my now-wife to go on was the 1985 March for Life. I am also pro-life. One of the issues I invested in while working on Capitol Hill for 16 years was the fight against the AIDS virus, notably funding to address mother-child transmission of the disease.
When I was active in the pro-life movement during the 1980’s in Pittsburgh, Republicans were the minority. The party leadership, led by national committee woman Elsie Hillman and Senators John Heinz and Arlen Specter, was overwhelmingly pro-choice, whereas the Democrat leadership, mostly Roman Catholic, was largely pro-life. In fact, the Congressional pro-life caucus at that time was strongly bi-partisan.
When Operation Rescue came to town, I didn’t get on the train, even though I understood the motivation. As the local chapter president of the National Organization of Episcopalians for Life, I knew if we believed life begins at conception, silence was not an option. At the time, I was also involved with the local Birthright pregnancy center. Every week, piles of clothes, formula, and diapers were donated by friends and dropped at my house for pregnant and new mothers.
The recent New York and Virginia debates, over late-term abortion, remind us of the deep divide between pro-abortion and anti-abortion camps over its legality. Sadly, it also widens the gap between finding ways we can work together to all be pro-life.
During my time on the Hill as Senator Rick Santorum’s Chief of Staff, I was active on issues ranging from the passage of the Born-Alive Infants Protection Act of 2002 and the partial birth abortion debate culminating in the passage of the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act of 2003. Senator Santorum and I also dedicated energy towards the passage of the U.S. Leadership Against HIV/AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria Act of 2003, otherwise known as PEPFAR.
I remember sitting with a group of conservative religious leaders who were in town for one of the key floor debates on the partial birth ban, and encouraging them to support PEPFAR. Several looked at me confused, even suspiciously, and questioned both my motives and what they perceived as “muddying” the clarity of what it meant to be “pro-life”. Eventually, and thankfully, Evangelical leadership from people like Michael W. Smith became visible and pivotal to the passage of PEPFAR. Today, Evangelical community leaders are stalwarts in their support for funding in the fight against global and domestic AIDS.
As the potential of a Supreme Court reversal of Roe v. Wade increases, so does the partisan divide over abortion (the pro-life caucus is now almost entirely Republican). Sadly, the deepened divide between red and blue makes finding ways to work together to address the needs of life before and after birth all the more difficult, but all the more necessary. Let me suggest that concern and love for the mother and child can actually be a way to bridge the divide.
In addition to continued funding to fight global AIDS, I believe there is a pro-life agenda that anti- and pro-abortion forces can work together on:
First, we can support policies that provide Paid Family Leave as well as tax relief for families with newborns, especially in the case of low income families for whom carrying a child to term is a financial burden. Child development is proving what we know intuitively to be true: parents’ presence in the first months after a child is born are critical for early stage cognitive development. Therefore, time with them early on is irreplaceable.
Second, we can support making health care affordable and available for pregnant women and their children in the first 1000 days of life, which begins at conception. Organizations like https://thousanddays.org/ have championed the importance of good nutrition in the 1,000 days between the start of a woman’s pregnancy and her child’s second birthday, a ripe area of collaboration across ideological lines.
Third, even if we disagree on funding for Planned Parenthood, we should agree that funding for non-abortive family spacing policies and post-birth support programs are worth exploring together. When Leanne and I were in Egypt earlier this year, both Muslim and Christian leaders acknowledged the need for family planning programs compatible with their legal and cultural opposition to abortion. Surely, if they can find a way to work together on these concerns, we can as well.
The Clapham Group is named after a community of abolitionists from the late 18c. / early 19 c. who practiced what we call “co-belligerency.” We believe it’s possible to work together on a common cause or concern with people whose ideas we might be opposed to on other issues. As our cultural divide deepens, the way to navigate through, and out of, the divide is by pursuing co-belligerent projects that allow us to rebuild social and relational capital.
Orthopraxy, not just orthodoxy, may be the best path to restore a culture to be fully pro-life.