Courting Common Ground

When our three girls were little, I took a firm, good-feminist stand against having any Barbie dolls and their related paraphernalia in the house. 
But one day, a neighbor
whose daughter was well into her 20s arrived on our door step with a
refrigerator-size box of uninvited hand me downs — 27 Barbies, 12 Kens, a more
or less intact Barbie Pool and Patio Set
plus at least 50 outfits, a workable Barbie car and numerous other plastic items whose shape and size I no longer remember even though for years I could identify each and every one.  

Our family, of course, immediately sank into a haze of Barbies and as horrifying as it all was to me–a charter subscriber to Ms. Magazine–I found it very interesting to watch what my girls and their friends did with the piles of pink. 

In essence, they spent literally hours planning and negotiating a sort of scenario or playlet that was to occur between the plastic characters-that is, what shall Barbie and Ken do, as in, "let’s pretend that Barbie and Ken are on a date and then maybe they go to dinner…and then let’s pretend that he kisses her and then…"  Mind you, this was in a simpler time, before the era of random hook ups, sexting, and Twittering about, well, everything.  But I vividly recall that the actual acting out of the scene rarely happened.  Rather, all the energy went to setting the stage and, of course, dressing the leading lady.  When it was time to put the pedal to the metal–for Ken and Barbie to actually get in the Barbie car and head out–the enchantment faded and the game ended.

I think of those days when I observe current efforts to build common ground in the midst of the abortion wars.  As in Barbie-land, the major players seem to be stuck in the start-up phase.  Long-standing positions are re-articulated, old wounds are revisited; words are parsed and scrutinized, and mutual distrust reigns.  To its credit, the White House has been asking the two sides to sit together and talk, just talk, although even that seems a stretch for some of the warriors.  The unconscionable murder of Dr. Tiller on May 31 is likely to make even this modest step more difficult.     

But I have yet to see a serious attempt to act on the possibility or promise of common ground-to even try a first date.  My suggestion for the inauguration of this common ground forum, therefore, is that we move quite quickly to a concrete step, having stipulated that the abortion disagreements are intense and long-standing and that minds are not going to change in the near term.  

Proposal: Contraception should always be used carefully and consistently by sexually active couples unless they are seeking pregnancy —  and, further, couples should seek pregnancy only when they are fully committed to each other and to the decades of devotion needed to raise the child they hope to create. I sometimes refer to this as "old-fashioned" family planning.  It is not abortion; it is going upstream from that most difficult step.  It is the poster child for prevention.  More than 95 percent of Americans have used some means to reduce their chances of pregnancy; family planning is practiced by people of all religions, income levels and race/ethnicities in the U.S. and around the world; and polls show that strong support for it is widespread.  Even so, there is a certain timidity about supporting family planning, even in the current push for health care reform which is really quite remarkable given all the lip service to prevention by leaders who often seem to have, surprise surprise, only two or three children at most.    

My tentative explanation for this queasiness is that we have lost our common understanding of this oldest of interventions, whose roots go back to Cleopatra if not earlier.  In the struggle over abortion and, more recently, abstinence-only education, attention has strayed away from what the CDC recognizes as one of the 10 greatest public health advances of the 20th century, modern methods of family planning, which they place on a par with immunizations and sanitation.  They note, too, that the ability to control when to become pregnant may well be one of the most important contributions to the advancement of women worldwide. Family planning benefits future generations by increasing the chances that babies are born to couples who are up to the demanding task of raising children, which is perhaps the most important thing any of us do, except blog and Twitter, I suppose (just kidding).

So how about we take back the night?  Prevention (modern contraception) is not the same as intervention (abortion).  The inevitable testiness over "what about minors" or "what about Method X that I don’t like or approve of" remain side issues.  Our goal must be to work on a common, central cultural narrative that addresses the bulk of the population and the vast majority of situations.  Getting pregnant and/or causing pregnancy are momentous events and we need to take them far more seriously.  Women in America report that a full half of their pregnancies are unplanned and often deeply unwanted at the time of conception.  How about we reduce that number by 50% through a combination of responsible policies and responsible behavior?  Not such a scary thought, is it?  

Wow.  What a first date.     

Like this story? Your $10 tax-deductible contribution helps support our research, reporting, and analysis.

For more information or to schedule an interview with contact

  • invalid-0

    All great points, thanks for highlighting them Sarah. Hopefully our leaders can stop being timid about supporting family planning!

  • invalid-0

    Great article!

  • invalid-0

    I believe that common ground is definitely a realistic goal that both pro-choice and anti-choice groups can work to achieve. Politics aside, it is undeniable that both the pro-choice and anti-choice movements wish to lower the number of abortions obtained each year. As a member of the Republican Majority for Choice, I am proud to be part of an organization that advocates for comprehensive sex-education and prevention as the best weapon in the fight to lower the number of unintended and unwanted pregnancies and the abortion rate in the U.S. Violence and hatred are not lowering the abortion rate, but if we look beyond the politics, I am positive that our goals will seem attainable and no longer lofty.

  • invalid-0

    The question should be asked: if abortion is not murder and thus not wrong, then why does it need to be reduced? If it is just a blob of tissue, then there is no need to reduce it. I think it shows a discomfort even among prochoicers that deep down they know abortion is wrong and does trample the rights of other human beings.

    Sarah Brown, meet another Sarah Brown:

    The story of Sarah Brown
    California Right to Life
    Baby girl Sarah was born on July 15, 1993, in Wichita, Kansas. She had survived a late term abortion attempt on her 15 year old mother. The infant’s mother had been brought nine hundred miles by her parents, to the office of George Tiller, infamous late term abortionist of Wichita, Kansas. This is the same clinic and the same abortionist who recently was contacted by Arizona authorities to commit a late term abortion on a 14 year old Arizona ward of the courts who was 26 weeks pregnant.

    The partial-birth abortion procedure was not yet in vogue. Sarah, as she was later named by her adoptive parents, was already positioned in the womb to be born. The abortionist injected the baby’s head, in two places, the left side of her forehead above the eyebrow and at the base of the skull, with potassium Chloride, leaving permanent burn marks and needle track scars. The pregnant 15 year old left the office with the admonition to return the next day for the completion of the abortion.

    Much to everyone’s dismay, the baby had not died in the intervening hours, but was still alive. The 15 year old was sent to the local hospital where the baby was eventually born. The delivery room staff, familiar with handling Tiller’s mistakes, wrapped up the baby, set her in a bassinet and left her without attendance. The 15 year old girl and her parents went home.

    Twenty-four hours later though she had not been cleaned up, the umbilical cord had been improperly severed and she had had no nourishment, Sarah continued to live. A nurse in the newborn unit of the hospital finally took pity on the child. She called an attorney with whom she was familiar and explained the situation. The attorney called Bill and Mary Kay Brown and asked them to come to the hospital and rescue this remarkable child.

    Though hospital staff predicted that the baby would not survive more than 8 weeks,Bill and Mary Kay and their seven children took Sarah home, adopted her and loved her till the day she died of kidney failure, at age five. If she had received attention during that 24 hour period, some of the effects of the brain damage might have been lessened. Only when the Brown’s filed for adoption was the child issued a birth certificate.

    The potassium Chloride destroyed the left portion of Sarah’s brain leaving her blind, unable to walk and totally dependent upon the love and care of others. She required 15 different types of medication, two and three times a day, to synthetically replace what had been destroyed. Bill and Mary Kay took turns, even through the night, repositioning Sarah in her bed so that she never got bed sores. She required an apnea monitor and a heart and lung machine recording her oxygen levels. Because of the damage to her brain her physical growth was impaired. At age five she weighed 25 lbs and was the size of a two year old.

    The Browns insurance company refused to include Sarah in the family’s coverge. She was provided with health care coverage by Bill Brown’s company, but at age 4, removed from coverage when her medical expenses became to costly. Mary Kay claims that it was, once again, the pro life community and local, private agencies who provided the most financial and compassionate support.
    Sarah had two funeral services, one in the Southern Baptist church of her father, Bill Brown, and the second in the Catholic church of her mother, Mary Kay, presided over by Wichita Bishop, Eugene Gerber. Between the two services eight hundred people attended Sarah’s funeral.
    Mary Kay claims that the hardest part of caring for Sarah was the verbal abuse the family endured from strangers. From, as she put it, other pro death people. The Browns moved from Wichita to Valleycenter, a rural farming community, because of a particularly ugly encounter with someone claiming that the Browns had done Sarah an injustice allowing her to live.

    According to Mary Kay, Sarah was never viewed as a burden by any member of her family. What with seven other children and help from members of the local and pro life community, there was always someone around to hold, talk to or touch Sarah. During the adoption procedures it was necessary to subpoena the birth mother’s medical records. There was nothing in the record to indicate that any of the medical problems faced by Sarah were genetic or inherited in any way. She would have been a normal, blue eyed, reddish blonde haired little girl.

    Mary Kay’s brother summed up everbody’s feelings at the funeral when he declared that George Tiller had succeeded in killing Sarah, it just took him five years to do it.

    Sarah was buried at Resurrection Cemetery in Wichita. Her grave site is within ten feet of another grave where twins are buried. These two little girls died as a result of the effects of previous abortions on their mother.

    The state of Kansas has nothing to say about the activities of George Tiller. According to a judge, Tiller did nothing wrong. Sarah Ministries, begun by Mary Kay and Bill, during Sarah’s life time, grew out of a conviction that they had to try to prevent this happening to any other child. Mary Kay has opened her home to pregnant women, providing them with love, parenting classes, medical attention, jobs, housing, whatever the woman needs. Sarah Ministry has provided services to about 25 women age 12 years to 35 years. Many of the women helped had been scheduled at Tiller’s clinic.

    Mary Kay is a regular sidewalk counselor outside Tiller’s clinic. The day that the Arizona girl arrived at the clinic 175 were there, standing in the rain, praying and witnessing to the value of life. Unfortunately that baby was not spared.

    Sarah Ministries is a legally created non profit organization able and eager to receive tax deductible contributions to continue its services to pregnant women.Mary kay states that none of the funds is used for salaries. It is all used for the pregnant women.

  • invalid-0

    The question should be asked: if abortion is not murder and thus not wrong, then why does it need to be reduced?

    Because abortion is expensive, invasive surgery. Open-heart surgery isn’t wrong either, but do you think people don’t want to reduce the number of those procedures?

  • invalid-0

    “Because abortion is expensive, invasive surgery. Open-heart surgery isn’t wrong either, but do you think people don’t want to reduce the number of those procedures?”

    Open heart surgery also did not involve a fetus that may or may not be a person, but at the very least what those born once were.

    I do in fact think. The fact is I know that what you claim is precisely so not true as to why folks on both sides want to reduce abortion. Pro-choicers who often argue to make it rare are also many times the ones who say abortion is wrong but they don’t want to decide what is right and wrong for others.

    If abortion is not wrong, why still see the need to make it rare? It may be expensive, but still according to your view, it is the choice of the woman and the doctor involved, right? If we try to make it rare, that would be by your own worldview, forcing your brand of morality to keep abortion rare.

  • invalid-0

    I don’t say “rare”, I hope for abortion being “Safe, Legal & Accessible”. Because “rare” invites strangers to make judgment which should be a private decision [it’s a grey area, but the effects of interference are discriminatory]. I don’t support unlimited “abortion on demand”, … but I believe it should be a matter for medical standards, not laws. (That’s the way it is in Canada & they have less culture war stuff happening there than here.)

  • invalid-0

    If abortion is not wrong to you, why even oppose abortion on demand? You claim it is issue of privacy and not murder. Then why make a claim there should be limit on abortion on demand? Saying it costs too much does not cut it, since if it is matter of privacy, why should you care?

  • invalid-0

    How exactly does Ms. Brown’s view represent common ground, or common sense? Respectfully, the starting point for any discussion of abortion and/or contraception should be sexual freedom. Contrary to popular interpretation, sexual freedom is NOT advanced by either abortion or contraception. Rather, each enables us to be enslaved by our sexual desires by attempting to remove the NATURAL consequence of pregnancy from sexual activity. REAL sexual freedom is the mastery of our sexual desires so we can fully employ reason and intellect in determining how we express ourselves sexually, preferably within the context of a loving and committed natural marital relationship. When we all stop treating sexual activity as a form of entertainment and start treating it as a means to fulfillment, as the deepest expression of true love, then we will have a foundation from which to build, a starting point from which to find common ground. Until then, our hyper-sexualized culture will continue to encourage us objectify ourselves by viewing each other as instruments of pleasure, thus denying each of us our inherent dignity.