By David Gushee, Joel Hunter, and Ronald Snider
We are pro-life evangelical Christians with long records of ministry and scholarship in which we have stood up for the unborn and for a society in which every child is welcomed into life and provided the opportunity to flourish. But we also recognize the legal and cultural realities in our nation right now in relation to abortion law.
We believe it is appropriate for us as Christians to support practical strategies that can reduce the demand for abortion even as we continue to hope and work for broader legal and cultural changes. And we feel compelled by our faith in Christ to look for the best in other people, to seek common ground where we can, and to be open to the surprising winds of God’s Spirit that sometimes blow us into common effort with surprising partners.
Policies that support pregnant women and families, encourage adoption, and decrease unintended pregnancy embody compassionate pro-life values, and if enacted will ensure that fewer abortions occur and more children grow up in loving, healthy homes. A bill recently introduced in Congress, the Preventing Unintended Pregnancies, Reducing the Need for Abortion, and Supporting Parents Act (H.R. 3312, referred to as the Ryan-DeLauro Bill) advances this common-ground vision. Not surprisingly, it has gained support from numerous pro-life leaders, including the three of us.
We believe that this national effort to find common ground on abortion-reduction strategies fits with our commitments and hopes. We don’t expect everyone to agree with us on these strategies. But we do think it is legitimate to expect at least our fellow Christians to portray such efforts accurately. That is not too much to ask.
However, some commentators have made inaccurate claims about the Ryan-DeLauro bill, and it is essential to clarify the facts. A recent article from Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist Convention’s in-house news agency, included several statements about the bill that do not reflect its content. Similar inaccuracies have been repeated in other conservative religious publications.
The BP article, among other things, cited claims by unnamed “major pro-life leaders” that the Ryan-DeLauro bill will expand federal funding for abortion.
This is false. As pro-life advocates know, the Hyde Amendment, which has been federal law for over 30 years, prohibits federal funding of abortion, except in the rare cases of rape, incest, or where the life of the mother is in danger. The Ryan-DeLauro bill does not repeal, revise or bypass the Hyde Amendment. In fact, the bill intentionally does not even address the issue of abortion funding. The bill does expand access to family-planning services for low-income women, but it does so by increasing funding for programs that in turn prohibit federal funds from being used for abortion — namely, Title X and Medicaid. Under Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services policy, abortion “may not be claimed as a family-planning service” under any circumstances and the Department of Health and Human Services states that, “by law, Title X funds may not be used in programs where abortion is a method of family planning.”
The BP article also claims that the Ryan-DeLauro bill will broaden access to Plan B, the “morning-after pill.” As with abortion funding, this bill intentionally does not include any mandates one way or another with respect to Plan B. Under Medicaid, the decision to distribute or cover Plan B is left to states. Under Title X, the decision is left to individual clinics.
The BP story also alleges that the Ryan-DeLauro bill will result in more, not fewer, abortions. However, the bill contains a litany of policies that address key documented factors affecting the incidence of abortion — both through prevention of unintended pregnancy and support for pregnant women. According to the Guttmacher Institute, which pro-life and pro-choice leaders alike cite as a credible source, half of all pregnancies are unintended and four in 10 unintended pregnancies end in abortion. Thus, the many prevention policies in Ryan-DeLauro — including sex education with an abstinence emphasis, increasing access to contraception for low-income women and enlisting parents in communicating with their teens about their values concerning healthy relationships — are essential to decreasing unintended pregnancies and abortions in America.
In addition, three-fourths of women who obtain abortions say they cannot afford a child, and three-fourths say having a baby would interfere with work, school or the ability to care for dependents. The huge number of support policies for mothers in the Ryan-DeLauro bill — such as assistance for pregnant and parenting students, expanded health care for pregnant women and children and increased child care for low-income families — are also crucial for reducing abortions throughout our country.
Common-ground efforts to reduce abortion by addressing the circumstances that lead to it are consistent with the conviction that all life — the unborn, pregnant women, infants and children — is sacred. Honest dialogue about this innovative approach is imperative for those of us who aspire to protect life in concrete ways.
Plainly misrepresenting the content of the Ryan-DeLauro bill, and asserting in defiance of logic and evidence that it will increase rather than reduce abortion, does nothing to protect life. In fact, it does the opposite.
David Gushee is distinguished university professor of Christian ethics at Mercer University and president of Evangelicals for Human Rights. He also writes a regular column for Associated Baptist Press.
Joel Hunter is senior pastor of Northland, A Church Distributed, based in suburban Orlando and a former president-elect of the Christian Coalition.
Ronald Sider is a professor director of the Sider Center on Ministry and Public Policy at Palmer (formerly Eastern Baptist) Theological Seminary and President of Evangelicals for Social Action.