Abortion and the Call For Common Ground: Can We Do It?

It’s hard to put down the hate.

I really do hate you for trying to control my body. It’s true. I won’t lie.

We can talk circles around when life begins, who has “rights” and your beliefs over mine all day and get nowhere. You think I’m immoral and I think you’re naive. You call me a murderer and I call you ignorant of science.

That is never going away, and I accept it. You’re not changing my mind. I’m not changing yours, and I accept it.


Well, enough to try and look past it a bit.

This weekend President Obama and Notre Dame’s president Father Jenkins asked us to try and look past all this hate. They asked us, in no uncertain terms, to attempt dialogue.

Tough. I know. Believe me.

Today I attempted that dialogue on CNN.com with a panel of bloggers and by the end was ready to start yelling and screaming all over again at the conservatives and so-called “pro-lifers” on the panel. (refraining here from calling you anti-choice because you call me anti-life…but…bygones…)

This is probably the most thorn-ridden olive branch ever extended in the history of the world.

This is going to be hard..but if we both TRULY believe in our side of the debate we NEED to talk and see what we can accomplish.

I think there is easily room for common ground on adoption. The red-tape. The difficulties of the system here in the US.

I think there is room, maybe not as easily, for common ground on preventing the number and the need for abortions in the US. That means comprehensive sex education. It works, let’s talk about it.

I also think there is room for common ground on learning to just plain live with one another. You don’t have to like me and I don’t have to like you. We can argue until we are blue in the face but when all is said and done you still live next door. Our kids still go to school together and we may actually agree on many other issues.

We’ve gotten so mired down in this fight that we can’t even seem to agree if the President should be addressing a Catholic University like Notre Dame, because of the abortion issue. That in and of itself is sad.

As someone raised Catholic and still deeply conflicted over her faith, watching Notre Dame applaud the President actually gave me hope that we all really can live together. That the “other side” may not be so evil and that there is a shred of possibility we can co-exist without the constant war.

Notre Dame grad Lisa writes,

“As an institution of higher education if Notre Dame was to shield its students from the political debates of our time because they disagree with the church than in my opinion the university wouldn’t be doing its job to educate future members of society. If the clout of the university is such that the President will speak to its graduates as they head off into uncertain times, then I applaud them. Learning to find common ground in life, in jobs, in careers is essential. I am proud that Obama spoke at Notre Dame and that at least the majority of the university community welcomed him.”

Kim at LA Moms Blog, also an ND grad, says,

“…I do understand the protests. When you believe in something so wholeheartedly, it pisses you off when your idol – in this case The University of Notre Dame itself – seems to demonstrate a huge departure from your morals. On the other hand, I believe in respect. I have written that Barack Obama is not Jesus; well, he’s not Saddam Hussein either. He is the President of our country, a historical figure, the man in whom we’ve put our faith to lead us out of an ever-growing pit of despair. Whether or not he leads us out or just makes it worse, he deserves a little respect. Who better than our nation’s leader to provoke the minds of a few thousand young men and women who will be called upon to make change in our country, in the world?”

So you have to wonder, if we can’t even agree on the President’s appearance at Notre Dame, let alone his call for common ground discussion…how can we possibly move forward?

I’ll tell you how and it’s easier than you’d think…civility.

Civility takes work. Believe me, I know. Just writing this was an act in civility for me…someone who would rather tell you to #suckit and to get your laws off my uterus. It’s really easy to sink like that when the other side tweets “Obama at Notre Dame: Hey, let’s be open-minded about child murder.”

With that, let’s face it- I don’t want to do this just as much as you don’t want to do this. But if we truly care about our rights, about this country and about life (don’t faint, pro-choicers actually DO care about life) we need to heed the President’s call for common ground.

My heels have been dug in for so very long that I never expect them to budge on Roe or the rights surrounding this issue. But I can find ways to work with you.

I will leave my heel dug in, but pull a toe up from the mud if you will do the same. And if we truly can not find any common ground I will attempt to be respectful of your beliefs, while I fight them.

It can be done.

So what do you say? Care to meet me up here on this high road that our President has built? Or will you stay in your trench and continue to toss grenades?

BlogHer is non-partisan but our bloggers aren’t! Check out more coverage at News & Politics. Contributing Editor Erin Kotecki Vest also blogs at Queen of Spain blog.


  1. Good for you for trying to start a real dialogue on the issue. I’ll try to contribute by voicing my view which is, as with most of my beliefs, unpopular with both camps.

    I’d like to start by saying that none of my views are influenced by religion – I am an atheist. I’d also like to say that you may wish to discount my opinion since I am Canadian, not American – but I hope that you don’t. And if you can give me a good enough argument, I will certainly change my views.

    So. Here it is: abortion should be legal and universally available up until the point that the foetus displays structured and recognizably human cognitive processes in the brain. I’m not exactly sure at what point such thought processes begin, but I am reasonably sure that it is slightly past the midway point of the pregnancy.

    My reasoning is that we recognize the presence of these thought patterns in adults as meaning that there is a person in that pile of meat and bone that we call a body. If someone is brain dead, there is no need to keep them alive – they’re already dead. So if you abort a foetus before such brain activity even begins, you can in no way be said to be killing a person. But as soon as those patterns are developed, the foetus becomes a person, just as any adult with those patterns is also a person; and as in the case of the adult, the foetus has all the basic rights afforded a person – including the right to life.

    So, there it is. I’m sure you’ve heard the argument before. But you want to discuss, so let’s discuss.

  2. TSC I appreciate your comment. How do you feel about that fetus, and for the sake of argument let’s call it viable and human, when it is a threat to the mother’s life?

    I’m curious because while we may all become uncomfortable with late term procedures, sometimes there is a need and a real threat of life to the mother.

  3. If carrying the foetus to term becomes a risk to the mother, and there is a chance for the foetus to survive, the decision should be left to the mother. If she wishes that the foetus live, so be it. If she wishes otherwise, so be it. I wouldn’t ever make the choice for her.

    In cases where carrying the foetus to term will result in the death of both the mother and the foetus, it should be clear that abortion is really the only option. But, again, the mother should have the choice to refuse treatment (as unlikely as that is) if she chooses.

  4. Good post, Erin. Very good. My issue with the “common ground” thing is this: It still turns abortion into something shameful, undesired & taboo. And I, for one, don’t believe that it should be any of those things. When we focus on common ground efforts, we send the message that having an abortion is still a BAD thing, a thing women who choose it – or would choose it – should think twice about, live with guilt for, and regret forever. By focusing our efforts on reaching common ground through reducing the number of abortions, we send the message that women shouldn’t have abortions – and as a pro-choicer, that’s not a message I want to send. That message says, “I still respect your decision to make this choice, but my friends & I are admitting that we wish it were a choice no one made or had to make” – & that’s not fair. That’s not what I think; it’s not what a lot of us think, but by agreeing to focus on finding common ground, we neglect to notice the message that compromise sends, which I see as being in direct contradiction of the values many (most?) pro-choicers hold.

  5. That’s not what I think either SS but where else and how else do we start dialogue on this? I admit to NO wrongdoing and NO shamefulness here. But I will work for sex education and for all the things that keep abortion legal, safe, and rare.

    I’m not saying we give up anything. we only find common ground on those issues surrounding abortion. because we’re never budging on abortion itself.

  6. maybe i’ve had my head in the sand for 8 years, but i feel like the right-wing snark has shifted from “we’re better than you ’cause we’re in charge” to “you suck” since obama became president. i have a hard time reading, listening to, & watching any type of political banter because of the amount of vitriol being spit at the opposite side (and i think it comes more from the right.) it seems like no one wants to find common ground. they want to duke it out & i don’t think it does anybody any good. i, for one, believe that our president can usher in a new era of peace and compassion in our country. we so desperately need it.

  7. My main problem with the whole “abortion issue” is the fact that the Right wants to take away my choice to terminate a pregnancy without making substantial efforts to help curb the need for many abortions in the first place.

    Erin, I think you hit the nail on the head earlier when you mentioned adequate SexEd. This Abstinence Only crap isn’t cutting it. I grew up in a Southern Baptist Church that subjected the church’s youth to AO Education. Guess what–We had three teenage moms, one teenage dad, and I would venture to guess at least that many abortions.

    Parents are not teaching their kids about sex in the home. They are letting church/school/peers/TV/internet do the educating. That is completely unacceptable, in my opinion.

    After working at a Planned Parenthood center (one of the best jobs I’ve ever had), I have no doubt in my mind that we should be teaching SexEd in schools from a fairly early age. Our center didn’t preform abortions, but we referred patients to a clinic that did. Most, if not all of those pregnancies could have been prevented by adequate education and instruction.

    I love what you said in a previous comment about keeping abortion, “legal, safe, and rare.” SexEd is not going to stop people from getting abortions, but I feel that it would drastically reduce the number of abortions in this country.

    As far as my own beliefs…my husband and I have spent many hours talking about this topic. He approaches it from a scientific perspective while I bring my religious baggage along for the ride. It has taken me many, many years to come to a determination that allows me to embrace the scientific and political aspects as well as my own religious beliefs. But I have. And I’m better for it.

    I think talking about it in a calm, rational, yet passionatel fashion is the key to a successful dialogue. Kudos to you for trying to sort this out while attempting to do just that. The last thing we all need is another hothead entering the debate…I think there’s already enough of those on both sides.

  8. Christy great comment. I am, admittedly, one of those hotheads. But I can see where it gets us nowhere. And does no good.

  9. But are you a true “hothead” or are you just “passionate”? I do think there’s a difference between the two.

  10. lol both maybe!

  11. A lot of this all boils down (for me) a need for more separation between church and state. Are there any groups around that are not Catholic that have been protesting abortions? I don’t know. I feel that since it is the Catholic church that is against abortions (and I’m sure a lot of other organized religions) THEY should outlaw it within their own community. Why should someone else’s religion control everyone else’s rights? I am a hardcore pro-choice gal, and have a very hard time in general understanding why some people/groups feel such a strong drive to control other people’s lives. I don’t care how anyone else lives their lives or how/what they choose to worship, so the basic issue to me isn’t abortion, but the right to live my own live.

  12. What tends to get left out of this discussion is the simple fact that making abortion illegal just means more women will die as a result of botched back alley abortions. Outlawing the act does not prevent the so called murders, it just makes them more dangerous. Why not take the more sensible approach and try to prevent more unwanted pregnancies? Oh, that’s right, many of the extreme right wing are also against contraceptives and sex education. And they don’t understand why we pro-choicers are so interested in keeping them away from our reproductive rights.

  13. As someone who is very much against abortion, I still believe that we have to make our laws based on science and ethics instead of religion and morality.

    We cannot agree on when life begins…although I think it is from conception. So, I would say that viability is a reasonable point for the purposes of law (although it is a “moving target”).

    The point at which the baby could survive outside of the womb is the point at which I believe it acquires civil rights…even if I personally believe life truly begins earlier.

    That’s where I am on it.

  14. sigh, I wish we could see a real dialogue on the issue. Earlier today a political surveyor called my house and I was blown away at the way they asked the questions about abortion. They didn’t even bother to ask me if I was pro-life or pro-choice, they said something along the lines of, “Barack Obama wants to allow abortions at any facility just anywhere, not worrying about who’s performing them–are against the killing of defenseless fetuses?”

    uhhhhhhhh…. so this new Bill’s going to let people perform abortions like in the back of a shoe store or something? Come on!

  15. Forget about dialogue. Forget about civility. All the people who are weighing in on this issue made up their minds long ago. There is no debate. There are no Rodney Kings out there plaintively asking, “Can’t we all just get along?” Forget it.

    The Pro-Life stance is like the Abolitionist movement in the runup to the American Civil War. The Churches in the North were hotbeds of abolitionist agitation. To them, slavery was a great sin and the United States was cruisin’ for a bruisin’ from God if it wasn’t made illegal. They passed the collection plate to buy guns for killers (I’m sorry, freedom fighters) like John Brown. In like manner, there are people today who see abortion as a great sin for which America will be punished. And these people occasionally buy guns and bombs for activists. Hey, it happens.

    For those of you who don’t believe in sin (or don’t understand that there are actual people in this world who do), it’s a real communication breakdown. The only thing you can count on is this: no one is throwing in the towel.

    Not now. Not ever.

  16. I think that to allow a physician not to provide information related to the patient’s health is criminal. I don’t necessarily think that they should be required to provide referrals (but that may be because I’m European and that’s not usually expected), but they need to provide all the info pertaining to the condition, all the options, then they can say “we don’t do this here, but it is available to you elsewhere”. To not even let the patient know they have the possibility to approach the situation a different way is seriously, malpractice and criminal IMO.

    Everyone can choose what they want to do, but a doctor shoulnd’t be allowed to withhold information pertaining to the patient’s medical situation.

    Also, I find it funny that the pro-life guy seems to be the one who has the foggiest ideas about how the policies he would like to see applied to abortion actually would apply to other medical situations. He was just blabbering about what he thinks is wrong in accusatory tones as opposed to actually answering the questions in a way that stated his point of view without making everyone sound like babykillers. I respect everyone’s opinion, but that is NOT the way to present your position in a discussion – not unless you want it to snowball and get uncivilized very quickly.

  17. ShowMeTheLogic says:

    I’m all for civil discourse, and I’d like to hear you unpack your belief that abortion should be “safe, legal, and rare.”

    Side note: I agree that this shouldn’t be a “church law as civil law” issue, and though I’m a Christian, I am thankful for the separation of church and state in our country. I don’t think this is a “religious” issue, though. I think it is a “moral” issue. Many people decide their morals based on a particular faith, but faith is not a prerequisite for developing personal moral laws. Just because many of the people who speak out (admittedly, sometimes with very non-Christian behavior) against abortion are religious doesn’t mean that the abortion issue is a religious one. I think that people of all faiths and no faith at all would agree that we want the laws in our country to reflect a moral code, based on what we deem “right” or “wrong.”

    Back to the “safe, legal, and rare” thing:
    Based on your own moral code (either based on a particular faith or not), if abortion is morally permissible, why should it be rare?

    On the contrary, if you believe that abortion should be rare, is your basis for that belief based on the conviction that abortion is not “good?” When I hear friends of mine make this argument, I just can’t follow it out logically. I wonder how they might apply it to other issues that they are passionate about — like, for example, (even though it is totally out of left field) President Bush invading Iraq. If lying to the country and waging a preemptive war is “wrong” (morally impermissible), then I don’t believe it should be “safe, legal, and rare,” I believe it shouldn’t happen. And if it is morally permissible, then it shouldn’t matter how many countries someone like Bush might choose to invade. I think that when we base laws on what feels “right” or “wrong” for individual situations rather than what objective science or a consistent moral ethic tells us, we are on shaky ground, indeed.

    Going further, I find it problematic — again, from a logical perspective– what abortion laws say about a father’s rights. Simply put, I cannot understand how a fetus whose makeup is 50% the father’s and 50% the mother’s is relegated to only being the mother’s “choice” when it comes to having an abortion. A father who wanted to keep the baby would have absolutely no say, legally. However, if that same mother decides to keep the child, once it is born, the father (whether he wanted the baby to be born or not) is expected, by law, to pay child support for “his” child. How do we ethically condone this?

    It seems to me that while you can throw out as many “but what if…” cases to argue back and forth on this issue on both sides … what I’d be much more interested in hearing is an argument for “choice” that moves beyond “what feels like it should be true” and holds up to the light of logic and ethics.

  18. @ShowMeTheLogic Not all things I believe to be wrong qualify for legislation.

    Morality is a personal thing–between you and your God (or not). However, laws have to be based on more than that as you say. They need to be based on society’s best interest, science, ethics, our constitution, etc.

    So I see no contradiction with someone who dislikes the idea of abortion and hopes it will be rare but still believes it should be legal in order to prevent greater harm to society or because they believe it is a civil right.

    As to your question about the Dad…until the baby can survive outside of the womb, it is completely reliant on mom’s body. Therefore, although ideally they are on the same page about all things baby-related, her choices do trump his in this case.

    His choice came at conception. She gets to be more important in this decision for a slightly longer period (about 24 weeks) because the foetus is surviving off her body. Once the baby is born, both parents have legal, moral, and ethical obligations.

    Just to reiterate, I am anti-abortion on a personal level…but I do see the pro-choice point from a legal perspective.

  19. To ShowMetheLogic
    It should be rare because there needs to be in place adequate supports to prevent the need for abortions in the first place – ie. quality sex ed, access to contraceptives, access to adoption. If such supports are in place, then the need for abortions will be drastically reduced, and can therefore be safe legal yet rare.

  20. ShowMeTheLogic says:

    I understand all of the arguments for contraception and adoption, but I don’t think they are relevant to the question I asked. I’m still trying to find someone to examine the abortion issue and defend it based on logic and ethics.

    The position of being “pro-life on a personal level but pro-choice from a legal perspective” confounds me. Examine the root of your beliefs. Ravi Zacharias would ask it this way: Do you believe the fetus growing within a woman is a life — or do you not? That’s an either/or. If you believe that it is a life, then how can you allow it to be obliterated? If you believe that it is not a life, then why are you personally against it? And why would it matter if abortions are rare or not?

  21. Too easy.

    My beliefs are based on faith but I live in a secular society.

    I believe but cannot prove that life begins at conception.

    Therefore, I cannot legislate it.

    To legislate, I must have a logical, scientific basis for the start of life and civil rights.

    Morality is black and white. Legislation is not. Someone does not have to be 100% right or wrong in the law. Certainly a baby has rights and so does the mother. So, where does one begin and the other end? How do we balance these sometimes competing rights?

    What I can prove, is that there is a certain point at which life is sustainable outside of the womb. At that point, I am ethically comfortable and I believe on solid legal ground, saying that the mother’s rights if not exactly end, certainly become less prominent, and the fetus’s come to the fore.

    Rare was not my language, but you can certainly wish something were done less without believing it should be illegal, no?

  22. Stunned that there is not a flood of comments here. Hoping that this is a good sign. A lack of angry accusations and argument. Wel done for stepping up to a discussion on this issue. So pleased that you were given the last word in the interviews: a sane voice calling for reasonable dialogue. I know that is all very Canadian of me, but there can only be progress when we allow perspective, otherwise we are all groping our way through the dark.

    Today in Canada, a precedent was set in a Rwandan war crimes trial. I listened to the interview with the court reporter who had followed the case for 2 years, and what moved me most was listening to her speak of the judge’s call for healing.

    Abortion is an issue that calls for healing. For the women involved but also for the solutions lost and bridges burned by inflammatory religious and political language.

  23. ShowMeTheLogic says:

    @Candace … I totally agree with your distinction between personal faith and a secular society. I, too, though I am a Christian, respect the fact that our country is not a “Christian nation.” For this reason (and though many of my faith would disagree with me), I am against prayer in public schools. I think that the exercise of faith, when it is public, should never be mandated. I don’t expect others in a secular society to have my beliefs forced down their throats.

    Abortion is different, however.

    Because a life is at stake. And because my belief that taking an innocent life is wrong doesn’t come from my religious beliefs – indeed, I would have still believed it to be wrong in all of the years that I had no faith at all.

    And while legislation can never truly be “black and white,” I cannot understand why, with this issue, we would choose – in the face of not having definite, scientific proof for when life begins – to err on the side of taking life, rather than on the side of protecting it – just in case, until we know for sure.

    The problem with believing that life begins at any other point than conception is that your argument descends into being one of capacities. So human life becomes human life once it attains a certain capacity: lungs that will function, a certain amount of brain activity. But do we really believe this is all it means to be human? So people with severe disabilities are then “less” human? Try making that argument to my friend whose child is severely mentally retarded. The argument for capacities gets a little too close to eugenics for my liking.

    Most people aren’t really sure “at which point” they would argue for, and they don’t really want to seek out a place because it’s much easier to place the point of viability somewhere vague, that way you can have a view on the issue of abortion that seems nice and tolerant but also compassionate.

    And as to your argument that you believe legislation should begin “at the point at which life is sustainable outside of the womb?” Doesn’t work – for two reasons. First, a newborn is still just as dependent as a fetus. A mother who kills a dependent newborn (or dependent four year-old, for that matter), however, goes to jail. Secondly, I wonder if this argument would shift as technological advances in premature neo-natal care progress.

    I think it will be interesting to see how advances in science will ultimately complicate this discussion. For one, I think the scientists who are currently working to create artificial wombs (see here for full story: http://www.thenewatlantis.com/publications/why-not-artificial-wombs) will make it much more difficult to argue for a mother’s rights above the rights of a fetus with another avenue for viability.

    And so ultimately, while I would never want to say or do mean things to those who disagree with me on this issue, I cannot simply “wish” it would happen less often and think that that is enough. If I knew that my next door neighbor was abusing her children (which I would consider to be wrong – not because of my faith – but because of a deep-seated sense of morality that is present in most secularists I know), I wouldn’t just sit back and “hope that it happens less often.” I would do everything in my power to make it cease. Luckily, in that situation, I would have the law on my side. But even if I didn’t, I wouldn’t be able to “wish something were done less without believing it should be illegal” on any issue that involved harming innocent life.

    If you would honestly say that you believe that life begins at conception, but don’t believe the law should change, then you are admittedly choosing to do nothing in the face of infanticide. Not trying to be ugly, but please correct me if I haven’t traced that out to a logical conclusion.

    I love and respect my friends who feel differently than I do on a whole host of politically charged issues – and I am so grateful to live in a country where civil discourse is possible, much less being promoted by those in highest authority.

    But the real reason – if you can get past all of the blistering rhetoric of the right-wing and the left-wing, the religious zealots and the radical feminists – the real reason that this is such a tough issue to “find common ground” on is that it hits those who are pro-life in such a profoundly intimate place … a place sometimes guarded by religious beliefs and sometimes not … because it calls into question the very essence of what humanity is and how humans should treat other humans. It saddens me when this debate becomes merely fodder for talking heads, because I think that all of the political pandering and inflammatory rhetoric distract from the underlying moral truths that are called into question when this issue is raised.

  24. Yes. A life is at stake. Actually, more than one life.

    Therein lies a huge issue.

    Do you believe in exceptions when the mother’s life is at risk? If so, then you have already determined that one life has more value than another. That the born take precedence over the unborn.

    And how many doctors have to agree to what degree of certainty? Where is that black and white line?

    Because the moral issue is when does life begin, but the legal issue is at what point do civil rights begin.

    And a newborn is not just as dependent as a fetus. That defies both science and reason. Only one human, the mother, can support life in the womb. Outside of the womb, any adult could theoretically support the life. A fetus before the point of viability cannot breathe without its mother’s womb. A baby can.

    And yes, it would necessarily shift. As I said, it is not a moral argument, rather a legalistic one.

    To your last point, I am afraid I have gotten into the position of arguing another’s point (although I took this on willingly). I do not believe abortion were done less. I wish it were done not at all. However, you were saying you do not understand how *someone* who is pro-choice can say they wish it were done less. I was pointing out that you are looking at it from an all-or-nothing moral standpoint. Someone who does not believe an unborn life is equivalent to a born life can still wish that unborn life were taken less often, without saying they wish it was completely illegal.

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