I have a personal interest in conversation between the opposing sides: I myself have championed both positions. Back in my college days I was your basic bad-tempered, male-bashing, hairy-legged women’s libber, actively pro-abortion. Abortion, I believed, was essential to liberation. Women would not be able to enjoy the same success as their male counterparts unless they, too, could be unhampered by pregnancy and childrearing.
Then, in 1976, a few years after Roe, I read an essay in Esquire magazine titled “What I Saw at the Abortion Clinic.” In it surgeon and essayist Richard Selzer described watching a 19-week abortion by an injection procedure no longer in use. He described the abortionist sliding the needle of the syringe into the woman’s belly, and then, he writes, “I see something other than what I expected here … it is the hub of the needle that is in the woman’s belly that has jerked. First to one side. Then to the other side. Once more it wobbles, is tugged, like a fishing line nibbled by a sunfish.”
The image horrified him, as it did me. I had never considered that the being in the uterus was more than a blob of tissue, that it could be a human life that wanted to go on living. Selzer concludes his essay: “Whatever else is said in abortion’s defense, the vision of that other defense will not vanish from my eyes. And it has happened that you cannot reason with me now. For what can language do against the truth of what I saw?”
The truth of what he saw affected me deeply. I could no longer say that abortion was right—and yet, somehow, I couldn’t jump on the anti-abortion bandwagon. I knew that unplanned pregnancy could wreak havoc in a woman’s life. The dilemma seemed irresolvable.
I eventually worked my way out of this dilemma, but that is why we must *listen carefully* to pro-choicers in order to understand their reasoning and, we hope, break through the deadlock.
For several years I have participated in pro-life/pro-choice dialogues, and I now serve on the national steering committee of an umbrella organization that unites grassroots dialogues, the Common Ground Network for Life and Choice [ed. note: this group ran from 1993-2000]. A dialogue usually will begin when members of a community grow weary of miscommunication and hostility and want to get people together on neutral ground just to talk. More ambitious goals may emerge after trust has been built up, but in many cities, “just talking” is all that is accomplished. Thus, Common Ground (CG) is not for every temperament; many will find the lack of concrete action frustrating….
After we listen, then we persuade. Persuasion needs to become the main strategy for pursuing the pro-life cause. While CG serves to advance the discussion between warring camps, it does little to persuade advocates on either side to “cross over.” That is better suited for when you have coffee with a friend over your kitchen table.
The first step in adopting the persuasion model may sound surprising: Put the question of making abortion illegal on the back burner. I believe abortion should be illegal because it is violence against the smallest members of our human family. But one of the reasons we’re stuck in a deadlock is because political posturing has overwhelmed the moral discussion. The abortion issue has become something like a football game where yards gained by one side are by necessity yards lost by the other, and neither side is ever going to be willing to give up the fight. This polarization makes it less likely that we can arrive at a resolution; and without resolution, consensus, and peace on this issue, there will be no lasting protection for the unborn. Even a great victory, like an amendment to the Constitution explicitly protecting unborn life, would immediately be attacked by our opponents. They would not rest until they tore it down, just as we haven’t rested in combating Roe v. Wade for 25 years. A deeper agreement must be reached before legal justice can be permanently won….
Once we get people to recognize that abortion both kills babies and hurts women, we can then pose the practical question: How could we live without it?
Abortion is part of a complex machine of interlocking social realities, linked to expectations about women’s sexual availability, men’s freedom from responsibility, and women’s duty to be economically self-supporting. The pressure of these social forces cannot be minimized: they create a demand for 4,000 abortions every day, making it the most frequently performed medical procedure.
Pro-lifers need to think beyond the single goal of making abortion illegal. People “in the middle” on this issue imagine that, if all the clinics were padlocked tomorrow, we’d just see 4,000 women pounding on the doors and crying. What needs to change in order for this ravenous demand to be quelled?…