Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Democrats in Congress are preparing a bill they say will reduce U.S. abortions by 95 percent over 10 years by preventing “unwanted pregnancies” and providing “social support” for pregnant women.

Supporters hope to soften their party’s abortion-on-demand image and attract evangelical Christian and pro-life Catholic voters who have been voting Republican in recent years.

“I would worry if I were the Republican leadership, because we are going to provide the true, long-term solution to reducing the number of abortions,” said Rep. Tim Ryan, a pro-life Democrat from Ohio.

Mr. Ryan is chief sponsor of the bill that is being fine-tuned and will be shown to Democrats in both houses after the Senate returns Dec. 12 from its Thanksgiving recess.

One supporter is former Rep. Tim Roemer, an Indiana Democrat whose pro-life views helped cost him election to the Democratic National Committee chairmanship earlier this year.

“This bill will put front and center the fact that there are too many abortions in the United States and what can we do through health care tax credits, adoption, contraception, abstinence, appropriate education of teenagers on how to reduce unwanted pregnancies,” said Mr. Roemer, president of the Center for National Policy and a distinguished scholar at George Mason University’s Mercatus Center.

The sponsors’ first hurdle is to attract sufficient support from fellow Democrats to make the case that the party is sensitive to the moral issues raised by abortion. It’s a big hurdle: Pro-choice Democrats in Congress far outnumber their pro-life colleagues.

Rep. James E. Clyburn of South Carolina, a pro-choice Democrat, said he is ready to climb aboard.

“We as Democrats have made it very clear that we do have a big tent and that people who are very pro-choice are welcome and those who are pro-life are welcome,” he said. “I have never spoken with single Democrat who is pro-abortion — they are pro-choice.”

Sen. Ben Nelson, Nebraska Democrat, supports Mr. Ryan’s proposal “because he is a pro-life Democrat who thinks there should be as many alternatives as possible to abortion,” said Nelson spokesman David DiMartino.

A spokesman for Sen. Mary L. Landrieu, Louisiana Democrat, said she agrees with Mr. Ryan that “the number of abortions can and should be reduced.”

Sen. Mark Pryor, Arkansas Democrat, will support a bill that “finds ways to reduce abortion, but he hasn’t seen the [Ryan] legislation yet,” a spokesman said.

Dr. Randy Brinson, an Alabama physician who describes himself as a conservative Republican and evangelical Christian, backs the Democrats’ proposal as a practical first step to reduce abortions.

“It seems the Democrats are now really ready to engage the evangelicals,” said Dr. Brinson, a co-founder of Redeem the Vote. “The Democratic National Committee called and asked for information about some of our evangelical radio outlets.”

About 1.3 million abortions are performed annually in the United States, according to the Alan Guttmacher Institute.

Although the Republican Party’s national platform calls for a constitutional amendment banning abortion, the Democrats’ proposal does not deal with the legality of abortion. Rather, it aims to use federal tax dollars to promote incentives to avoid unwanted pregnancies and, failing that, to take such pregnancies to term when they occur.

“Abortion numbers are still at a level unacceptable to most, probably all, Americans,” Mr. Ryan said. “Our bill broadens the debate in a couple of ways — by trying to prevent unwanted pregnancies and by providing support to a woman who is pregnant, but didn’t intend to be.

“We provide the social support she would need to bring the baby to full term, unlike Republicans who simply say you should not have an abortion, you should go to full term, but when you do, we won’t be there any more to help you,” Mr. Ryan said. “They offer no social safety net. We do.”

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