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As many pro-life and pro-choice advocates work together to push legislation designed to reduce abortions, Southern Baptist leaders are divided over whether to support such an initiative.

The “Preventing Unintended Pregnancies, Reducing the Need for Abortion and Supporting Parents Act” was recently introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives.

The bill is often called the Ryan-DeLauro bill because of its two primary sponsors, both Democratic U.S. representatives – Tim Ryan of Ohio, who is a pro-life Catholic, and Rosa DeLauro of Connecticut, who is pro-choice. The two first introduced such legislation in 2006 as a “common ground” approach to the abortion debate.

Among those supporting the bill is former Southern Baptist Convention President Frank Page, pastor of Taylors First Baptist Church in Taylors, S.C. He is joined by other pro-life advocates, including Joel Hunter, a conservative author and megachurch pastor; Sam Rodriguez, president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference; and William Shaw, president of the National Baptist Convention. Pro-choice groups like Planned Parenthood Federation of America and NARAL Pro-Choice America also support the legislation.

Hunter declared the legislation to be “a landmark bill for the culture wars” and “a prototype for how we can approach things in the future.”

Page, whose support has been more tentative than some of the other pro-life advocates supporting the bill, argued that the goal of reducing abortions fits within Obama’s agenda.

“As a sitting member of the President’s Council on Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships, I am well aware that our president has stated his desire to see the reduction in the number and in the need for abortions,” Page explained. “While he and I disagree totally about the language involved, as well as the way to see that goal achieved, I am hopeful that there will be some reduction in abortions in the days ahead.”

However, another Southern Baptist leader is sharply criticizing the bill and its sponsors. Barrett Duke, vice president for public policy and research for the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, argued that the bill is “woefully misguided” and “is only a compromise for the pro-life community.”

Duke attacked the bill for providing funding to teach teenagers about contraceptives. In particular, he claims it will fund the Plan B “morning-after pill,” which he argued “causes abortion of a young embryo.” He claimed that the support for “family planning services” will “include abortion services and contraception distribution.”

Duke thus argued that the legislation “is an abortion bill” and claimed “there is no doubt that [it] will result in more abortion.”

The liberal religious organization Faith in Public Life (FPL) has refuted the claims offered by Duke and other conservatives against the Ryan-DeLauro bill. FPL argued that it is a “false claim” to say the bill will mandate Plan B distribution. FPL argued that the bill will not fund abortion since “Title X regulations and the Hyde Amendment prevent federal funding from going to the provision of abortion services.” They also pointed to research showing that such family planning programs actually reduce the number of abortions.

FBL has also noted “the substantial support” the legislation gives toward adoption initiatives. In addition to providing more education about adoption, it would also “increase the adoption tax credit from $10,000 to $15,000 for all children.”

Ryan, the pro-life cosponsor of the bill, declared that the bill is an attempt to get “two sides of a very polarizing debate” to work together to reduce abortions instead of continuing “to have the 30-year debate we’ve been having, and that hasn’t worked.”

“It’s historic,” Ryan said about the press conference announcing this year’s version of the bill. “We had pro-life evangelical pastors from the South on the same stage as Planned Parenthood, all agreeing to reduce abortions. [Who’s] against that?”

Brian Kaylor is a contributing editor to EthicsDaily.com.

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