I am excited to be a congressman during this incredible period of change in U.S. politics. Americans are divided on so many fronts, but they also are engaged more now than any other time in my lifetime — demanding that elected officials find ways to work together.
Underlying some of that division and rancor is abortion — which has become a litmus test in much of our politics. Unfortunately, we can expect that division to grow deeper as Democrats fight against impending cuts to Planned Parenthood by a new Republican administration that continues to take root in Washington.
Despite the often unfair and unproductive caricatures of people on both sides of this issue, defenders of the anti-abortion-rights and abortion-rights viewpoints are usually intelligent, thoughtful, compassionate and religious people. People on both sides — and caught in the middle — have expended tremendous energy, money and emotion in this debate.
Despite the quality of the people engaged, whether at the dinner table or the halls of Congress, the abortion debate has generated more heat than light. We have “hardened our hearts” and failed to recognize that we can accomplish so much in pursuit of the common good by working together.
We can harness the public’s energy to develop a consensus and pass bipartisan legislation to reduce abortions. That’s why I am asking Republicans and Democrats in Congress to co-sponsor legislation to reduce abortions by funding efforts to help prevent unintended pregnancies and to support women who face unintended pregnancies.
As a Democrat, it’s difficult to talk with other Democrats about the need to affirm our commitment to the respect for life and to emphasize our party’s belief in the worth of every human.
As a Catholic, it’s hard to talk with other Catholics about the need for abortion to remain safe and legal, and that we should instead focus on creating circumstances that lead to fewer unplanned pregnancies, support for women who face unplanned pregnancies and more responsibility from men.
So, I ask Americans of different faiths, beliefs and politics to join my “Common Sense for the Common Good” plan, which calls for allocating $100 million in federal funds to achieve those goals. The money would be dedicated to three efforts: homes for single mothers, promotion of adoptions and preventing unintended pregnancies.
First, women who face an unintended pregnancies need a greater range of choices. We must support single mothers who find themselves alone. As a former mayor and county executive, I helped open several homes for single mothers. It’s a small step, but the homes make a difference. Anyone who wishes to reduce the number of abortions has an obligation to help women who choose not to have an abortion.
Second, pregnant women, health care and social workers must be know about available prenatal care, birth and adoption services. We also need to educate families who might be interested in adopting children in the United States. Federal tax credits are available for families who adopt, with some credits saving families more than $13,000, depending on income. Prospective parents must be made aware of the financial help so they aren’t discouraged by cost.
Third, we should help faith-based groups and other non-profits — from those that promote abstinence and natural family planning to those that provide birth-control options. We need to better educate young men and women — and adults — about the need to avoid unintended pregnancies.
The debate over abortion will remain passionate, but we should not let our positions blind us to our common obligation to help others. Women facing unintended pregnancies deserve support, not our judgment. People who want to adopt need our assistance, not expense or bureaucracy. And those immersed in a culture that hypes sex without consequences need guidance, not-invective-laced debate.
I believe far more unites us than divides us, not only on this issue, but on so many others.
Let’s use a little common sense to find some common ground for the common good. If we succeed, it will lead to even more consensus elsewhere. Let’s start now.
Thomas R. Suozzi represents the Third Congressional District.