Is there a way we can actually talk about abortion & find a way forward together? Try this exercise

The recent Women’s March on Washington was about a whole lot more than reproductive rights. Still, that issue was certainly a major theme throughout, and one that seemed to attract the most ire certain from female pro-life counterparts on the right. Though it’s not been widely reported, there actually were pro-life marchers in attendance at the post-inaugural Women’s March events. There were also spades of women who felt left out of the Women’s March, and who held their own “March for Life” on Friday.

It’s an issue that creates a deep, passionate divide in America and there never seems to be any end or resolution in sight.

Regardless of your views, before you get offended, humor me here: To some degree, while it’s absolutely meaningful, it can all begin to feel a bit like theater. Why? Because of how little we with uterus's seem to be doing collectively to find common ground. Are both sides so focused on being right that they’re missing out on how to connect and create saner collective culture around the issue?

It seems like whether or not abortion is legal in the United States, the fight for alternative legislation will wage on without end.

Picture this: Tomorrow, those on the pro-life side of the issue get their ultimate policy dream. Abortion is outlawed across the country. Then what? Well, I’ll tell you exactly what happens. Liberals dig in their heels. They refuse to go away. They continue to rage on until the decision is flipped. And back and forth goes the battle forever. The marches go on. The picketing. The screaming. The shaming. And politicians get to use it unrelentingly as a wildly powerful and convenient wedge issue forever and ever, amen.

Aren’t you tired? I’m tired.

What if, as women, we could start connecting in a real way and decide a path forward that gets us closer to the future both sides actually want? Americans put a man on the moon but we can’t come up with a common sense approach to appeasing both sides on abortion? I don’t believe it.

What if we pulled it off? Or at least really began to try? What big things could we do together around the issues where we definitely agree? Imagine how much more energy we’d have to do big things around improving schools, for example, or making our country safer. Heck. We might have more time to do little things. Like run for office (wink).

The following guide for one-on-one communication with “the other side” is imperfect. But it’s a start. Please. Don’t mess with it if you’re too focused on vilifying the other side to really engage and listen. Just move right along. This exercise cannot and will not take you on a moral conversation about right and wrong. That conversation’s been had. How many times have you had that conversation already? Do you really need to have it again right now? And you’ve got to admit, no matter how passionate you are about your side of the right/wrong debate — it never gets us anywhere. Does it? So let’s take a break from that, just for fun! The aim of this little guide is to help you engage with your friends, aunts, mothers, and grandmothers, to do actual and critical communicative work TOGETHER for our collective benefit. Up for giving it a shot? (Bonus: You can feel safe getting started, because the following exercise is non-partisan. No one is shamed for their values here. We all get enough of that every day. And fun fact: We can listen to each other and still disagree. Really.)

So, if you’re ready to launch, please grab a buddy who views this issue differently from you for a cup of coffee or tea. Feel the need to insert some wine? Sounds fine. Now. Agree you’re not going to soapbox each other. She’s a person, you’re a person. You’re just talking.

1.) Without assigning value judgments, or discussing right/wrong, can you come to an agreed-upon answer to the following True/False question? If necessary, take your time. And remember, no shaming or blaming.

One of three things has now occurred:

Want to read about the research-based Lancet study on whether abortion bans work?

Now that you’ve arrived at the second step of the exercise, please decide whether you can also agree with the following statement:

Chances are, you’re doing such seriously challenging mental and emotional work here. Kudos. Now, you’ve arrived at one of two outcomes:

OR:

We’re about to dive in on what powerful, proven tactics reduce rates of abortion that we can work on together. But first, can we take a moment to humanize each other just a little bit more? Introducing, Lindsay and Zoe. Are they caricatures? Absolutely. Are they cliche’ and non-comprehensive? Completely. But do they have something to teach us? Yes.

All right. So if we all agree that the goal is reducing the rate of abortion together, what do we do? Well, we’re in luck. There are a myriad of ways we can bring rates down. Not everyone will feel comfortable engaging with each approach. That’s okay. There’s something everyone can do within their own comfort zone.

Comprehensive sex education is effective.

While the appeal of abstinence education is understandable, it’s just not what truly gives us all the results we’re looking for. According to study after study, including the facts presented by AdvocatesForYouth.org: “…These programs can help youth delay onset of sexual activity, reduce the frequency of sexual activity, reduce number of sexual partners, and increase condom and contraceptive use.” There are multiple organizations that you can work with to support comprehensive sex education nation wide. And if working with any of these existing organizations makes you feel like you’re compromising your pro-life philosophy, you can always start something new, or begin on the education front by aligning with your own pro-life allies and educating them on how comprehensive sex-ed works.

It’s okay to get new information and bring it into your existing work or approach. Additionally, if you don’t want to dive into that kind of thing at all, remember, good sex education starts at home. And if you’re already schooling the kids in your life and/or already a supporter of organizations like Planned Parenthood? Keep in mind that, while you may find it unfortunate that these organizations you value have too much stigma for your conservative allies, that doesn’t have to define your relationship. The end goal isn’t to sell folks on existing organizations, per say, even if that seems ideal, but to get to work together on a common goal, thereby also reducing the likelihood that we continue a cycle of division that allows us to be separated as a political tool to divide us. Remember: By admitting that sex education works as a preventative tool, your pro-life friend or family member has already made a compromise to his or her previous school of thought. That takes guts.

Free-contraceptives work.

According to multiple studies, including one conducted by researchers at the Washington University School of Medicine and published in the journal Obstetrics & Gynecology, participants given access to free contraceptives: “Experienced far fewer unintended pregnancies than expected: there were 4.4 to 7.5 abortions per 1,000 women in the study, after adjusting for age and race — much fewer than the national rate of 19.6 abortions per 1,000 women…” If you’re serious about lowering the rate of unwanted pregnancies in the U.S., you have to take this seriously, even if it isn’t your ideal solution. And promoting free contraception and maintaining your pro-life outlook, are not mutually exclusive. Here’s a great guide on Contraception Access, Efficacy, and Use.

Connection matters.

The further we all dive into our own social media echo chambers, the harder it somehow gets to really connect. You can dare to burst the Facebook bubble by doing your own experiments in swapping newsfeeds with someone else if you’re brave and have someone you can trust. Or you can just start really face-to-face engaging in real, active listening. We’re all people, we all want to be heard, and we’re all somehow seemingly starving for connection more than ever. American democracy is a grand social experiment — no one said it was going to be easy.

Pro-life and pro-choice advocates can “seek to bridge the great divide.” At the end of the day, it all boils down to this — we can keep arguing indefinitely, and losing sleep, and burning bridges, while being manipulated into viewing each other as the enemy, or we can take a breath and connect. We can dust off, and roll up our sleeves to build bridges to one another. There’s only one way we’re absolutely guaranteed to lose, and it’s staying on the same exact same path.