White House Conference Call Seeks Common Ground on Abortion

In a brief White House Conference call on Friday, Melody Barnes, head of the White House Domestic Policy Council launched a White House effort to bring together NGOs with differing perspectives on abortion to find areas of common ground. Barnes was joined by Christina Tchen, Director of the White House Office of Public Liaison and Executive Director of the White Council on Women and Girls. The final administration spokesperson was Josh DuBois, Director of the Faith Based and Neighborhood Partnership initiative.

The 15 minute one-way call was essentially a backgrounder, with the three administration representatives describing the initiative. No question or comments were solicited and a list of participants was not made available. Media reports suggested that both abortion rights supporters and religious proponents of common ground based on reducing the number of abortions were invited. Representatives from HHS, OMB, and White House Congressional Affairs will also be involved.

The administration representatives indicated that the call was a precursor to a series of smaller dialogues that will take place over the next four months. The meetings, which will also include NGOs, members of Congress, HHS and OMB, are expected to be conducted along the lines of the health Care and Fiscal Policy summits. According to participants in the call, speakers expressed specific interest in finding common ground on pregnancy prevention—especially for adolescents—reducing the need for abortion, increasing maternal and child health care and assisting those who want to adopt children.

Concrete proposals for legislation, budget allocations for 2011 and examples of best practices—successful programs that can be replicated—are a top priority.

This is an ambitious effort on the part of the White House. Dialogue aimed at finding real common ground on reproductive health is almost as explosive as the efforts of the administration to broker peace between the Israelis and Palestinians and the various factions in Northern Ireland. It is unrealistic to expect that a positive outcome can be achieved in four months. It would be more productive to begin an open ended dialogue with expert facilitation. One hopes the White House at least plans for a careful process and focuses not just on outcomes but values.