Sunday, May 17, 2009

A Liberal Manifesto for Discouraging Abortion, but Keeping it Legal

There is an emerging liberal consensus in this country that we should emphasize alternatives to abortion while at the same time not embrace any new abortion prohibitions. Like many liberals, I have struggled with this issue for years. Admittedly, I have ethical concerns about abortion particularly when it is utilized for reasons other than saving the life or health of the mother, rape, and incest. Yet, I am opposed to re-criminalizing the procedure or using the power of the state to compel women to carry a fetus to term. I am unwilling to have the state incarcerate doctors or women who have undergone the procedure. Common sense dictates that women must make this highly personal decision for themselves in consultation with their doctor – without any fear of prosecution.

I would hope that liberals, moderates, and conservatives would come together to find measures to discourage abortion short of its re-criminalization. In other words, rather than being pro-life in a legal sense, I think it is time for a new agenda that presents birth as an ethical alternative to legal abortion. Here are steps I would recommend to make abortion rare while keeping it safe and legal:

1. It is time to end abstinence-only sex education in public schools and instead provide for comprehensive sex education. Studies have shown that young people undergoing abstinence-only programs delay sex a bit longer than their cohorts, but once they start having sex are much more likely to do so without protection. Thus, abstinence-only programs ultimately result in more teen pregnancies and abortion. If we really want to limit abortion, then we should have comprehensive sex education that emphasizes the importance of effective birth control measures.

2. It is time to streamline the adoption process for couples seeking children. Currently, the adoption process in many states is incredibly cumbersome and financially burdensome. Why should adoption be so difficult? Laws or regulations should be enacted that make adoption easier, quicker, and less expensive. Hopefully, as a result of such reforms, more pregnant women will embrace adoption over abortion and more couples will opt to adopt.

3. It is time to remove any legal barriers to single parent adoptions and gay parent adoptions. If we really want to present adoption as a viable choice for unwed or poverty-stricken mothers, then we must dramatically expand the pool of potential adopters.

4. It is time to provide universal health care that includes state-funded prenatal care for uninsured women. Pregnancy is often financially burdensome for impoverished and single moms. If we are really serious about reducing the incidence of abortion and infant mortality, then it only makes sense to involve the state in providing medical assistance for uninsured women and their children.

5. It is time to emphasize preventive care in medicine, with doctors providing comprehensive advice to women about pregnancy in a timely manner. With universal health care instituted, women who had been uninsured will no longer abstain from regular visits to their physician. This will provide more opportunities for doctors to advise women on the best ways to avoid pregnancy.

6. It is time to mandate that all abortion clinics and family planning centers provide all women inquiring about abortion with information on the issue of adoption, government assistance for prenatal care, and potential risks in abortion procedures. Such information must be strictly factual and not advocate any particular viewpoint or course of action. It seems only appropriate that women should be fully and completely informed about any and all of their legal choices prior to consenting to an abortion.

I realize that this agenda is controversial and may provoke some dissent on both the left and the right. But it is one way in which many pro-life and pro-choice supporters might be able to find some common ground.

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