It appears abortion and a woman's right to control her own body will again be hot topics during the run-up to the mid-term elections this year. Both on the state and federal level, candidates and incumbents are ratcheting up the rhetoric, but none more than the members of the GOP.
"Republicans, through state ballot initiatives and legislation in Congress, are using (abortion) to stoke enthusiasm among core supporters," wrote Jeremy Peters for the New York Times.
Rep. Steve Israel, D-N.Y., told the Times Republicans have turned the House of Representatives into "the battleground for their relentless war on women's health care and freedoms."
In the House of Representatives in the coming weeks, Republicans will make passage of the No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act one of their top priorities this year.
States such as Colorado have "personhood" measures on the ballot, which would enshrine legal protections for fetuses. And Republican women who oppose abortion rights are running for Senate in several states and can carry the party's position more authentically, GOP spokeswoman Kirsten Kukowski said.
But contended Israel, in the long run, that tactic is bound to backfire
"Every time they launch another extreme attack against women's rights, they lose more ground with women voters."
Peters noted that Democrats are not sitting idly by this year.
"Democrats, mindful of how potent the subject has been in recent campaigns, like last year's governor's race in Virginia, are looking to rally female voters by portraying their conservative opponents as callous on women's issues."
We're not going to deny that both sides present powerful arguments to support their positions. Pro-lifers emphasize preserving human life since conception at any cost, to the point of giving absolute priority to the life of the unborn fetus over the life of the mother. Women's rights groups believe a woman should have a right to control her body, absolutely, to include decisions about a fetus in their wombs.
Abortion is a topic that sunders relationships, divides families and turns otherwise respectful debates into shouting matches. But lost in all the sound and fury is the fact that there is common ground to stand on. Unfortunately, it seems that strip of land gets smaller and smaller the louder the voices get.
Nonetheless, if people in the middle, those of us who believe a woman has the right to choose what is best for her body but are also stricken by our unease over what the process of abortion entails, can have their voices heard, perhaps we can bring the debate back to where it needs to be: How do we prevent unintended pregnancies?
There has been a lot of discussion on this topic, and a lot of study, and most of it comes back to a handful of suggestions: Publicly financed mass media campaigns, comprehensive teen pregnancy prevention programs, and expansions in government subsidized family planning services.
For those who are concerned about spending more government money on these programs, research shows that each dollar spent on these policies would produce taxpayer savings of between two and six dollars, according to the Brookings Institute.
"Over the last few years, prudent investments have been made in several proven pregnancy prevention policies," wrote Adam Thomas for Brookings. "Some of these investments, however, have recently come under attack at the state and federal levels. The findings ... suggest that policymakers would be wise to expand these programs rather than pare them back."
Most notably, he writes, are state and federal efforts to cut funding to Planned Parenthood.
"The leaders of these efforts argue that taxpayer dollars should not be used to subsidize an organization that provides abortions," wrote Thomas. "However, federal funding for abortion is prohibited under nearly all circumstances. The public support that Planned Parenthood receives instead pays for its other activities -- most importantly, its contraceptive services. A handful of states have already succeeded in eliminating part or all of their funding for family planning services. The irony is that these efforts will likely lead to increases in the number of unintended pregnancies and therefore in the number of abortions."
Thomas concludes evidence-based pregnancy prevention interventions "are public policy trifectas: they generate taxpayer savings, they improve the lives of children and families, and they reduce the incidence of abortion."
So if we can turn the debate away from the ideological divide and focus on proven methods of preventing unintended pregnancies, we can reduce the number of abortions in America. It seems like a win-win for all of us -- we turn down the heat on an issue that is ready to explode, cut down on abortions and make life better for children in general. How can you argue with that?