Magazine article U.S. Catholic

A Little Less Confrontation, a Little More Action: After More Than 30 Years of Stalemate, Some on Both Sides of the Abortion Debate Are Ready to Put Down Their Signs and Start Trying to Work Together

Magazine article U.S. Catholic

A Little Less Confrontation, a Little More Action: After More Than 30 Years of Stalemate, Some on Both Sides of the Abortion Debate Are Ready to Put Down Their Signs and Start Trying to Work Together

Article excerpt

Benedictine Sister Adrienne Kaufmann spent many years as a bridge between her profile and pro-choice friends.

"I always found myself caught in the middle, trying to explain pro-choice people to prolife people, and prolife people to pro-choice people," she recalls. "I would tell them, "That's not what they're about; that's not what they believe.' I didn't want to accept either label, even though I am 100 percent committed to a consistent life ethic.

Being a go-between for the two groups wore Kaufmann out. "All a bridge does is get walked on," she says.

So when she enrolled in a doctoral program, she chose abortion as her case study for her dissertation, focusing on how to bring together both sides of the polarized issue. Then she received an invitation to co-direct the Network for Life and Choice, a project founded in 1993 by the Search for Common Ground, an international conflict resolution organization. The network brought together prolife and pro-choice people in 20 cities across the country to work on issues such as reducing teen pregnancy or promoting adoption.

Although the network folded in 1999 due to lack of funding, Mary Jacksteit, a former co-director who still works with the Search for Common Ground, says she still gets calls once a month from people who have read about the network and want to continue similar work in their own cities.

"It definitely put forward the idea that it is possible," she says of the group's efforts to bridge such a polarized divide. "That has power."

Crossing the party line

After more than three decades of legal abortion in the United States, neither public opinion nor the rate of abortions has changed significantly, causing people in both movements to think about focusing on more universally accepted ways to build a culture of life in this country.

Hillary Clinton--a staunch supporter of abortion rights--spoke last year about working with the prolife movement to realize a common goal of fewer abortions. On the same day, President George W. Bush called for the same thing, "seeking common ground where possible."

Kaufmann believes that dialogue is not just a feel-good activity or political sound bite; it is the most productive outlet for the prolife movement.

"To reduce or end abortion, prolife people need to get into dialogue with pro-choice people about things in this society they both care about, and work together to change them," she says. "They have a lot more in common than they believe or imagine, but it's submerged below this pool of enemy rhetoric. Instead they need to drop the rhetoric, look at ways to pool their energies, and make progress that way."

The Search for Common Ground identified the following areas where prolife and pro-choice people have dipped below that rhetoric and joined forces: preventing teen pregnancy, making adoption more accessible, preventing violence at abortion clinics, and increasing options for women.

That the prolife and pro-choice movements could have anything in common, let alone work on anything together, might be unheard of, but Francis Pauc of St. Stephen's Parish in Milwaukee says he discovered some common views with the co-chair of the state's Green Party, with whom he has exchanged letters.

Despite the party's hardline pro-choice stance, "we had a lot more in common than we thought," says Pauc. "She wouldn't budge an inch on abortion. But the Green Party wants to provide enough alternatives to women so that abortion no longer becomes an attractive option for women--safe, legal, and rare, with an emphasis on rare."

Reducing the number of abortions is a common goal of many on both sides. While running for his first term as president, Bill Clinton said he wanted to make abortions "safe, legal, and rare."

If the Democrats could deliver on "rare," they would be in a good position to neutralize the debate, says Clyde Wilcox, professor at Georgetown University and co-author of Between Two Absolutes: Public Opinion and the Politics of Abortion (Westview). …

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