Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton told religious leaders this week she agrees with setting a goal of “zero” abortions by bringing pro-life and pro-choice groups together, but those groups say there is little consensus upon which to build.
At a forum this week sponsored by the evangelical social-justice group Sojourners, the Rev. Joel C. Hunter of Florida asked the New York Democrat about abortion.
“I know you’re pro-choice, but you have indicated that you would like to reduce the number of abortions,” he said. “Could you see yourself, with millions of voters in a pro-life camp, creating a common ground, with the goal ultimately in mind of reducing the decisions for abortion to zero?”
Mrs. Clinton nodded, telling attendees of the nationally televised event: “Yes, yes.”
She repeated a line she has been using for nearly two decades that she wants abortions to be “safe, legal and rare.”
“And, by rare, I mean rare,” she said, to applause. “The pro-life and the pro-choice communities have not really been willing to find much common ground. … That is a great failing on all of our parts. … There are many opportunities to assist young people to make responsible decisions.”
The former first lady said there is “a great opportunity” that requires both groups to cast aside the “suspicion and the baggage that comes with people who have very strong, heartfelt feelings.”
She said she worries there has been a “real reluctance for anyone to make a move toward the other side, for fear of being labeled as turning one’s back on the moral dimensions of the issue from either direction,” and offered to work to bridge the two sides as president.
The exchange generated little press coverage because Mrs. Clinton discussed how her religion, Methodism, helped her cope with her husband’s infidelity when he was in the White House.
Both sides have weighed in since with a more skeptical take.
“That’s a beautiful idea to aspire to. However, we have to ensure quality of life rather than quantity of life. We need a humane society,” said Peggy Seats, a D.C. resident attending a Clinton campaign event Wednesday.
“There really isn’t anywhere that there is common ground,” agreed Ann Scheidler, executive director of the Chicago-based Pro-Life Action League. “We are poles apart. It’s nice, but there is nothing they would support that would bring us together.”
The Democrats running for president are all pro-choice, as is the Republican front-runner, former New York Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani.
Sen. Barack Obama was asked about abortion at the Democratic debate in April and evoked a unity message similar to what Mrs. Clinton proposed, saying the debate should be about “the things we do agree on.”
“Reducing teen pregnancy; making it less likely for women to find themselves in the circumstances where they’ve got to anguish over these decisions … are areas where I think we can all start mobilizing and move forward rather than look backwards,” the Illinois Democrat said.
In a testament to the difficulty of seeing eye-to-eye on the issue, NARAL, the National Organization for Women and the National Right-to-Life Committee failed to provide someone for a brief phone interview after several requests over 48 hours.
Mrs. Clinton said both groups can do more outreach through churches and schools to strive for the “zero” goal.
“We have so many young people who are tremendously influenced by the media culture and by the celebrity culture, and who have a very difficult time trying to sort out the right decisions to make,” Mrs. Clinton said. “The adult society has failed those people. … We have left too many children to sort of fend for themselves morally.”