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Obama Tackles the Abortion Divide

May 7, 2009

In a move that says a lot about the President’s approach to divisive issues, the Wall Street Journal is reporting that

[t]he White House has begun bringing together a diverse group of abortion-rights supporters and opponents to help craft policies both sides can embrace: preventing unwanted pregnancies and reducing demand for abortion.

President Barack Obama appears to be trying to make good on his pledge to defuse tensions around polarizing issues.

The effort could also be in his political interests. While he may not win over abortion opponents on the issue, if he is seen as having a genuine interest in finding common ground, that could persuade some to judge him on other policies where they may agree with him, such as economics.

Abortion is essentially sui generis in that there is no common ground between the two polarized sides of the debate: if you believe that abortion is murder, there can be no compromise allowing the continuation of the procedure; if you believe that a woman has the right to control her body and to choose what procedures are done to it, then there can be no exception granting the government the right to override her personal sovereignty. Too often, the debate over abortion bogs down over that philosophical impasse. I find it heartening then, that the Obama administration is making the effort to put inflexible and entrenched positions aside to concentrate on a new way of looking at the issue…one that focuses on the fact that almost everyone can agree that unwanted pregnancies can be avoided and abortions should be minimized.

His approach to an intractable problem like abortion gives some indication that the incremental, moderate rhetoric of the campaign–suspended in large part as a result of the sweeping changes mandated by the economic crisis–revealed Obama’s preferred means of dealing with large, complex challenges.

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