By Scott Alessi
Amid continuing concern over the strong pro-abortion positions of many political leaders in Washington, pro-lifers are rallying behind a bill that some hope could bring about a drastic reduction in the number of abortions in the United States.
The Pregnant Women Support Act, a bill designed to provide practical resources to pregnant women who may otherwise consider abortion, is gaining support among both pro-life and pro-choice representatives in Congress. The legislation has also received the backing of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in the form of a recent letter to Congress from Cardinal Justin Rigali, chairman of the U.S. bishops' Committee for Pro-Life Activities.
Cardinal Rigali urged members of the House of Representatives to support the proposed legislation, which was reintroduced in Congress April 22. Citing the fact that many abortions are caused by women feeling that they have "no other choice," the cardinal said the provisions called for in the bill would empower women to make more informed choices.
"The Pregnant Women Support Act reaches out to women with a helping hand when they are most vulnerable, and most engaged in making a decision about life or death for their unborn child," Cardinal Rigali wrote.
"Discussion of pregnancy prevention and related issues will surely continue inside and outside Congress," he added. "In the meantime, pregnant women need our assistance now so that abortion is not promoted to them as their only choice."
The bill, first introduced by Rep. Lincoln Davis (D-Tenn.) to the House of Representatives in 2006, grew out of the Democrats for Life of America's "95-10 Initiative," a plan to reduce the number of abortions in the U.S. by 95 percent over the course of 10 years. The goal, according to Democrats for Life executive director Kristen Day, was to tackle the abortion issue by building a bridge between politicians on both sides of the debate.
"We were really looking for a way to work together with both pro-life and pro-choice people to take this issue that has been such a political football with both sides fighting over it and to try to find where the common ground was," Day told Our Sunday Visitor. "We wanted to get people on all sides of the issue -- no matter what party, no matter what their position on abortion -- to work together."
Although the 95-10 Initiative looked to address the need for both pregnancy prevention and assistance to pregnant women, the focus of the Pregnant Women Support Act is on ensuring that women who find themselves in unwanted or crisis pregnancies will have somewhere to turn for help.
"We don't want this to be a situation where we're only talking about putting out more preventative efforts as a way of reducing the abortion rate," Day said. "Part of this is really providing women with support.
"One of the sections of the bill," she explained, "talks about life support centers and making sure that women are put in a direction where if they need cribs or clothing or job training or just somebody to talk to, that these centers can really provide everything a woman needs to carry their child to term."
Day said that the most likely opposition to the bill may come in the form of skepticism from pro-choice supporters who feel that it is a veiled attempt to limit abortion rights. But the language of legislation is careful to avoid the issue of whether abortion should or should not be legal.
"Whether you are pro-choice or pro-life, when you talk to somebody on the other side the guard automatically goes up," Day said. "But when you look at this bill, it is not something where the guard should go up. It is really a clear effort to get past the debate over who is wrong and who is right and solve the problem."
Even in a Congress that heavily supports abortion rights, it may be difficult for lawmakers to find fault with the bill. Deirdre McQuade, assistant director for policy and communications for the U.S. bishops' Secretariat of Pro-Life Activities, said that she sees little room for argument with such a sensible piece of legislation that seeks to solve commonly agreed upon problems.
"Really, the burden of proof is on those who oppose it in some way," McQuade told OSV. "What good reason would there be in the current context to oppose a constructive bill like this? I have yet to hear one."
Since its reintroduction in the House, the bill has acquired 29 co-sponsors. A companion bill has also been introduced in the Senate by pro-life Democrat Robert P. Casey Jr. (D-Pa.), but thus far it has not garnered wide support.
Day is optimistic that the legislation could move quickly through Congress, especially with President Barack Obama's administration's recent creation of a task force to reduce abortion under the White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships. But McQuade said that while the bill is off to a strong start, it may take some time for it to reach the forefront of the legislature's crowded agenda.
"It has not been a priority of Congress to address this question yet," she said. "They've been rather preoccupied with the economy and the budget and passing appropriations bills. But our hope is that once they are through this season of attending to the urgent that they will turn to this matter, which is also urgent and important."
McQuade added that the U.S. bishops are encouraging Catholics to echo the sentiments of Cardinal Rigali in writing letters to their representatives to help the bill gain momentum. She explained that although the bishops' conference is optimistic about the legislation's passage, it will take a strong showing of support from the public to ensure that Congress gives the issue the attention that it deserves.
And even though the bill's passage would not achieve the ultimate goal of putting an end to all abortion, McQuade said that it could certainly turn the tide.
"It is a step in the right direction," she said. "It doesn't in any way impinge on the legal status of abortion currently, but it allows women and their families other options such that they don't feel they need to make that tragic choice."
"And the less demand there is for abortion in our culture, the less need there would ever be for it to be legal," she said. "So we need to be working on multiple fronts to make abortion not only illegal but also unthinkable."
The Pregnant Women Support Act includes a number of provisions to help women faced with an unplanned or crisis pregnancy to feel that abortion is not the only alternative. It would:
Scott Alessi writes from New Jersey.
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