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The Real Pro-Life Candidate

It's pro-choice policies that result in dramatic declines in the need for abortion, and it's the pro-choice candidates who truly value life.
 
 
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Obama has a huge opportunity to win over an unlikely voting bloc: Pro-life voters. The debate over reproductive rights has for decades existed in the abstract; it's been a back and forth volley over "values" that's heavy on emotion and light on fact. But the facts reveal surprising truths and they ought to be hammered home by Obama. The data show that the pro-choice approach is more effective at achieving what the American public views as "pro-life" goals -- i.e. reducing the number of abortions, preventing late term abortion -- than the so-called "pro-life" approach.

McCain may campaign on the "immorality" of abortion but the policies he supports seem to lead to lots more of them. Isn't it time to turn the tables? Obama should hold McCain and and other anti-choice leaders accountable for their failure to find solutions to the high rates of unintended pregnancy and abortion. He has the opportunity to change the debate. It's not about abortion; it's about preventing unwanted pregnancy.

And it is the pro-choice movement that is finding effective ways to do that. This is the unacknowledged fact that should be broadcast loud and clear during this election campaign. Here's the message: It's pro-choice policies that result in dramatic declines in the need for abortion. That's a truth both pro-choice and pro-life voters would be interested to know.

The pro-choice movement, and pro-choice politicians, alone champion wider access to birth control, and birth control is the only proven way to reduce unintended pregnancy and abortion. Obama shouldn't get sucked into the silly debate about whether the Pill is an abortifacient since even the anti-abortion movement's most respected physicians agree there's no scientific evidence that it is. He should ask why McCain hasn't championed campaigns to reduce unwanted pregnancies. The electorate should be reminded that it's the pro-choice movement and pro-choice elected officials that have fought for health insurance coverage for contraception as well as to bring new and more effective contraceptives to market. (Emergency contraception, for instance.) Also, let's not forget that the birth control pill itself is available to Americans entirely because of the efforts of the pro-choice movement.

Check out any NARAL affiliate's agenda and you'll see that most pro-choice work is devoted to increasing access to prevention. Up until Bush ordered it removed, the Centers for Disease Control's website had a "Programs that Work" area for sex education programs that quantitative data showed resulted in reductions in the teem pregnancy and STD rates. Every program was comprehensive sex-ed, the kind promoted by the pro-choice movement. Not one was abstinence-only, the program that preaches that teens simply shouldn't have sex, which "pro-life" forces favor. Obama supports the comprehensive sex-ed programs that have been proven to work, McCain supports no-sex-until-marriage programs which have been proven to fail.

Obama could remind the voter that only 11% of sexually active women don't use contraception and from this 11% comes 50% of the nation's abortions. Ninety-one percent of the American public strongly favors contraception because of this very reason. Very few voters are aware, however, that not one pro-life organization in the United States supports contraception. Or that instead, pro-life groups have been spearheading campaigns to prevent Americans from accessing birth control. No less than 80% of self-described pro-life voters strongly support contraception. Few know that McCain has a long legislative resume devoted to voting against access to contraception and prevention.

McCain and the right to life movement may have sanctimony on their side but, so far, sanctimony has proven ineffective in preventing abortion. Study after study suggests the right to life approach, which McCain has helped execute for decades, is actually the root of the problem: leading to more abortions and later ones too.

Obama should pose this question to McCain: Do you support couples having access to safe and effective birth control options, including emergency contraception? When questioned about his position last year McCain told a reporter: "I have to find out what my position was. Brian (a campaign staffer), would you find out what my position is on contraception...I'm sure I support the president's policies on it." (No president has led more attacks on the right to use contraception than Bush has.) Birthcontrolwatch.org, a group that alerts the public to attacks on the right to contraception, offers more questions Obama could ask McCain--many would be devastating bombs to lob during, say, a televised debate.

Not only would it be refreshing to see Obama go on the offensive, it would be wise. Scanning the globe we discover the countries where abortion is most rare have the strongest pro-choice policies. The countries with the strongest "pro-life" policies are the ones with the highest abortion rates, often twice our national average. These are the nations that have implemented what our "pro-life" movement strives to: banning abortion, making contraception hard to come by, and preaching abstinence-only to teens.

The "pro-life" paradox appears everywhere its policies are in place. School districts in the conservative South are almost five times more likely than in the liberal Northeast to teach abstinence-only. Southern states also have the highest rate of new HIV/AIDS infections, the highest rate of STDs, as well as the highest rate of teen births. Whereas new cases of AIDS decreased or remained constant in the Northeast, Midwest, and West, the South alone experienced an increase.

Results should matter. The electorate, bamboozled and misled by the Bush administration on so many issues for so long, is hungry for fact, proof, and truth. Obama should not skulk and apologize for agreeing with the majority of the American public on reproductive rights. Allowing Americans to make their own important life decisions is a core conservative ideal. Not only is McCain mucking around with Americans' most important decisions, he's imposed policies that result in outcomes that, even by his own measures, should be considered disastrous.

If Obama takes the gloves off he will discover a much larger cheering section. When the discussion is about prevention, contraception and results, the pro-choice candidate wins big. Obama should reveal to the American public that the pro-choice approach, his approach, is effective, safe and working wherever it's been tried.

Cristina Page is the author of 'How the Pro-Choice Movement Saved America' (Perseus Books, 2006).