NOW THEY TELL US…. For several years now, leading Democrats — some of whom support abortion rights, some of whom don’t — have made a good-faith effort to find some common ground with conservatives on preventing unwanted pregnancies and reducing the number of abortions. Democrats, through efforts endorsed by NARAL, have proposed a combination of family-planning programs, access to contraception, and teen-pregnancy education and prevention programs. There was, Dems said, nothing inconsistent about being pro-choice and working to reduce the number of abortions.

Republicans and the conservative base balked. Dobson famously said “there is no middle ground” on abortion, and congressional Republicans refused to even consider prevention-focused legislation.

Apparently, though, some conservatives are reconsidering.

Frustrated by the failure to overturn Roe v. Wade, a growing number of antiabortion pastors, conservative academics and activists are setting aside efforts to outlaw abortion and instead are focusing on building social programs and developing other assistance for pregnant women to reduce the number of abortions.

Some of the activists are actually working with abortion rights advocates to push for legislation in Congress that would provide pregnant women with health care, child care and money for education — services that could encourage them to continue their pregnancies.

Their efforts, they said, reflect the political reality that legal challenges to abortion rights will not be successful, especially after Barack Obama’s victory this month in the presidential election and the defeat of several ballot measures that would have restricted access to abortions. Although the activists insist that they are not retreating from their belief that abortion is immoral and should be outlawed, they argue that a more practical alternative is to try to reduce abortions through other means.

The far-right isn’t happy. “It’s a sellout, as far as we are concerned,” said Joe Scheidler, founder of the Pro-Life Action League. “We don’t think it’s really genuine. You don’t have to have a lot of social programs to cut down on abortions.”

And while it’s tempting to think that if extremists in the Republican base are unhappy than this must be an encouraging development, the devil will be in the details.

If Republicans are willing to work with Democrats on programs involving family-planning, health care, and access to contraception, there’s room for real progress. But that won’t be easy. For one thing, Republicans tend to hate family-planning, health care, and access to contraception. For another, as Scott Lemieux reminded us the other day, the right can use the debate to create “justifications that can pretty quickly end up in arguments for burdensome abortion regulations.”

Something to keep an eye on.

Steve Benen

Follow Steve on Twitter @stevebenen. Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.