RH Reality Check: Welcome to Common Ground


In so many ways, the election of President
Obama is viewed through a lens of its healing potential. No, racism
did not end with the election of our first President of Color, but many
people are looking at themselves and their beliefs about race differently.
No, his election did not automatically restore America as a beacon of
hope around the world after years of steady decline, but our global
neighbors are looking at us in a new light.  

President Obama is asking Americans to
seek common ground on one of the most controversial issues of our time,
abortion. Knowing we don’t all agree, Obama asks that we agree to
disagree, with civility, recognizing the dangerous place the extremism
surrounding this debate has taken our politics. 

For the entire political life of many
people around President Obama’s age, the politics of abortion has
seemed intractable, uncompromising, bitterly divisive. The first political
race I watched closely, at 11, ended with Sen. Bob Dole of Kansas using
pictures of aborted fetuses on door hangers in heavily Catholic precincts
to defeat Dr. Bill Roy, an obstetrician, Congressman and Catholic himself.
Dole won re-election by a handful of votes in 1974 on the politics of
insinuation. 

Thirty-five years later, Dr. George Tiller
was assassinated in his Lutheran church because he performed legal abortions,
also in Kansas, the site of many far-right battles in those intervening
years.  Tiller is the latest victim of extremism on the far-right
that has its roots in the political rhetoric started in that first post-Roe
election. 

Many people on the right distance themselves
from anything having to do with clinic violence, but still
have their picture taken with politicians whose rhetoric foments it.  

So why is RH Reality Check, a site founded
and dedicated to promoting progressive ideas about the full spectrum
of sexual and reproductive health, even engaging this discussion about
common ground?  

We believe by bringing voices from the
center and right of center, to mix with the leading voices of the progressive
movement promoting sexual and reproductive health, that our online community can play a small role in allowing a new way to look at these issues to emerge. It won’t
be easy.  

We are not defining, or buying into anyone’s
definition of common ground. We are facilitating a discussion that we
hope will allow all people to think differently about sexual and reproductive
health. 

Is it possible that in President Obama’s
election, Americans have a chance to heal the body politic from the
divisiveness the abortion issue has caused for a generation or more?
We don’t know, but one thing is certain: it won’t happen if we don’t
try.

We believe RH Reality Check is well positioned to expand this
dialog to be more inclusive while holding to our progressive roots and
respecting those who believe differently but genuinely seek common ground. In the wake of the Tiller assassination, there
may be no better time to ask people to think anew about how we all communicate
these issues. 

It is, afterall is said and done, simply a choice we have before us, to continue the old paradigm of well worn and bitter divide, or stop and take a deep breath or two, and choose differently.

We are asking people from all political
perspectives to remain open to the possibility that we can let go of
the acrimony that brought us to this moment and envision a time when
these most personal life decisions are no longer used for political
manipulation, or domestic terrorism. 

The truth is, most Americans have already
found common ground. 

The best and brightest minds working
in philanthropy, non-profits and NGO’s, advocacy, law, health care,
research, politics and media, have invested tens if not hundreds of
millions of dollars in the most sophisticated public opinion research.
Staggering sums that could be used to actually help women and children,
not just hypothesize about how demographic groups respond to framing
or word choice. 

Most legitimate surveys, right, left, and non-partisan,
indicate Americans are closer to consensus on many social issues than our politics indicates,
which doesn’t mean that everyone agrees. But it does mean we should move
beyond questions of legality versus prohibition, toward policies that promote safety,
health, responsibility, respect, and rights. Our energy should focus on making sure all Americans have access
to factual information and education, reliable prevention and reproductive health care with the recognition
that sexually healthy societies foster respect for everyone. Choices that are made from a place of respect and facts will naturally be better than those made from fear or misinformation.  Biology is easier than wisdom and we should focus on helping people understand how to make better choices, understanding not denying human nature.

In the middle, away from the passions of the right or left, most Americans are already building
common ground around shared understanding, compassion and empathy for
the journey their neighbors are on, hoping that when their family faces difficult
life decisions, others will be similarly supportive. By listening to
voices genuinely seeking common ground, RH Reality Check hopes to provide a platform for civil discussion.  We know the
bitterness will continue on some levels, we only seek to expand the potential for something
new to emerge, to remain open to the possibility that we can choose a healing path that could change the way we all dicuss these issues in a healthy, respectful way, thus allowing
us to see sexual and reproductive health in a new light.

We hope you too will choose a path that can lead to real change and give this discussion a chance. 

Be the change you seek.

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

  • invalid-0

    It is really great to see the launch of this new site – I especially like your proposal:

    “It is, after all is said and done, simply a choice we have before us, to continue the old paradigm of well worn and bitter divide, or stop and take a deep breath or two, and choose differently.”

    You are correct about the benefits of offering a new way to engage in this divisive issue. I hope that an open forum on common ground will not only encourage constructive collaboration and thoughtful dialogue, but will also demand respect for the views and beliefs of everyone willing to step up to the plate in this new arena of discussion… where hopefully we will see some real change as a consequence!

  • http://blog.billsamuel.net/ invalid-0

    This post seems to imply being that being “pro-choice” or for “reproductive rights” is left while being pro-life is right.

    If you are going to perpetuate stereotypes like this, it is not an auspicious beginning to find common ground.

  • scott-swenson

    Erica, thank you for taking time to write and adding your voice to the mix, I hope you will continue to do that. As you have likely already seen, we launched with quite a bit of content all at once, so chime in as you have thoughts on the pieces in the tabs from all the writers here taking a chance that we can be the change we seek.


    Be the change you seek,

    Scott Swenson, Editor

  • scott-swenson

    Thanks for writing Bill. That wasn’t my intent at all as there are many people on both sides that don’t fit that stereotype. There are, however, dominant forces in both extremes that have vested interests in squelching any effort at common ground. That was what I was attempting to speak to, as opposed to individuals who might be pro-choice and conservative, or liberal and opposed to abortion rights. I hope this clarification helps, I’ll be more careful in the future.


    Be the change you seek,

    Scott Swenson, Editor

  • http://blog.billsamuel.net/ invalid-0

    Looking around on the site I see a list of “far right” groups which is a clearly false list. The only thing these groups have in common politically is that they are pro-life. For example, Feminists for Life is certainly not far right, yet it is listed as such.

    I also see attacks on pregnancy centers.

    A site which is clearly on one side of the issue and provides a grossly distorted picture of the other side can not be considered to favor common ground. When you are distorting and condemning those who disagree with you, clearly you are not serious about being interested in common ground.

  • scott-swenson

    Bill, If you are here for the first time, welcome. This section of the site is new today, as I explain above, our roots are very clearly in the progressive movement to promote sexual and reproductive health policies based on facts. Many of the people writing with from progressive perspectives have their doubts about this common ground effort. Similarly, many of the more conservative common ground leaders are skeptical about writing with RH Reality Check because of our progressive roots. The effort to discuss common ground isn’t going to move forward only on one side or the other, so we’re working to create a space here, acknowledging who we are and “agreeing to disagree” but to engage the discussion to see what happens. We’re glad you are here looking around, and since you are concerned about stereotypes, perhaps hang out a while and see what happens. Lend your voice to the mix, that’s all any of us are doing, just taking a chance on respecting differing opinions.


    Be the change you seek,

    Scott Swenson, Co-Publisher

  • jodi-jacobson

    Respectfully, i have to disagree that there are "dominant forces in the pro-choice community" who want to squelch efforts at common ground. I think that in and of itself is a stereotype and one we should discuss openly.

     

    The pro-choice community, as I have known it for 25 years, has been working to provide women with access to basic contraceptive care, testing and treatment for sexually transmitted infections, cervical cancer, pre-natal and pregnancy care, referrals for birthing centers and hospitals, referrals for adoption, and abortion care when women choose to terminate a pregnancy.

     

    The pro-life movement writ large has been about twisting the debate about abortion using false language and false concepts that defy medical definitions and scientific evidence, about denying women information, about denying women’s rights to choose what happens with their bodies, about squelching any effort at funding programs that would expand and increase access to the programs outlined above.  It also is this community that has foisted federal funding of abstinence-only programs and crisis pregnancy centers on us for over 10 years now,the former of which has done nothing if not contributed to the recent increase in teen pregnancies.

     

    Some in the so-called pro-life community have suddenly discovered the interventions supported by the pro-choice health delivery system for years and seek to parcel these out as a solution to abortions.  But as many have pointed out, "abortion reduction" and a focus on "adopting away" abortions is not going to work.

     

    You say: there are "dominant forces in both extremes that have vested interests in squelching any effort at common ground."

    I don’t know who you are talking about.

     

    There is no "common ground as fact," no common agenda or proposal that has been put forth which speaks to full fledged support of comprehensive sex ed, full funding of Title X, universal access to contraception, a bottom line on the disinformation campaign against contraception, a promise to ensure that all women who want to terminate a pregnancy to do os, and a focus on unintended pregnancies.  we can not even agree to support "unintended pregnancy as a goal." 

     

    The things that the pro-choice community has been doing for its entire existence work—science and public health evidence proves this.  That there is a need to "change the conversation" for political purposes does not change those realities.  we know what needs to be done.  I would offer that if there are people who beleive in common ground in reducing unintended pregnancies and want to get results, then they ought to be promoting the Prevention First Act, demanding that Congress make up the $300 million shortfall in Title X, ensuring that all people have affordable access to STI screening and treatment, address the contribution of gender-based violence and coercion to unintended pregnancy, make sure every woman has affordable prenatal care and that every child born has affordable health care. 

     

    I see no bill or bills right now being supported with all the force of all these organizations that promotes dramatically increased funding for these proven interventions.  That is common ground, or it should be cause that is what the evidence says works unequivocally to where we say we want to go.  Because there are those who may object to a "common ground" rhetoric for a political purpose who won’t support these proven strategies and wish to change the subject with other strategies and then criticize those who feel they need to speak up for principal does not mean that those who object to it are the "dominant voices" and extremists….that is the kind of language that has gotten us here in the first place. 

     

    We may in fact not find common ground on facts and specific strategies.  In the end, what happens is up to the political system and those who create political momentum behind proven strategies.  There is nothing wrong with that.  It is called democracy.

     

    With all best wishes, Jodi

    • invalid-0

      Jodi,

      You’ve done a serious injustice to many who consider themselves prolife who work relatively quietly in their communities to support women, children and their families, thereby hoping to promote life and reduce the likelihood of abortion.

      The motto of this website should be “Demonizer, be gone!

  • invalid-0

    For example, Feminists for Life is certainly not far right, yet it is listed as such.

    Can you cite examples of Feminists for Life supporting politically left-of-center social policy, outside of their narrow prescriptions in support of women carrying pregnancies to term? (Considering that Sarah Palin is a member of that club, I’d doubt it.)

    If you speak out against offering the full range of reproductive-health options to women, then you are taking a socially conservative and thereby right-wing view. I recognize that “right-wing” is a one-dimensional term, and that there are actors in the abortion debate who are ill-served by that trite scale, but FFL is not one of them. You might be able to make a case for Nonviolent Choice (Marysia posts here from time to time), or Pro-Life Catholics for Choice (ditto Paul Bradford).

  • on-the-issues-magazine

    "Pro-life" groups, no matter how "progressive" they may claim to be, are all based in the belief that abortion is morally wrong, that a woman should not have the right to choose whether she wants to carry a baby to term or not. For those of us who believe that a woman’s essential role is not as a breeder but as a full and equal participant in all aspects of society, there can be no common ground with those who would deny her the ability to control her own reproduction.

     

    Accepting the common ground premise that "we all want to limit abortions" implies that there is something intrinsically and morally wrong with abortion. To the contrary! Access to abortion is absolutely necessary to ensure that women have this ability, and there is nothing wrong with women getting abortions or medical personnel providing them.
    In talking about reducing the need for abortions, we ignore the most basic right that it is the individual woman’s right to choose what she does with her body.

     

    By looking for common ground in the name of progressive values and civility we lose sight of the woman and her right to a personal choice, which is what reproductive freedom is all about.
    We are not arguing against common ground–but it has to include the higher ground of the respect for and belief in women’s civil, human and reproductive rights.

     

    Because this issue is so central to women’s lives, many writers have discussed it at On The Issues Magazine. We encourage you to take a look.

     

    See:
    Merle Hoffman: "Higher Ground, Not Common Ground"
    http://www.ontheissuesmagazine.com/2009spring/2009spring_publisher.php

    Loretta Ross: "Mobilizing for Reproductive Justice"
    http://www.ontheissuesmagazine.com/2009spring/2009spring_1.php

    Pam Chamberlain: "Common Enemies: LGBT, Abortion Share Foes"
    http://www.ontheissuesmagazine.com/2009spring/2009spring_2.php

  • invalid-0

    I am pro-life and I fully support sexual health, women’s health, reproductive rights and all related rights. There is quite a bit of common ground which both sides, even the extemes, can share. What is missing from the pro-choice position, however, is any recognition of what an abortion actually is. Until there is acceptance of the fact that an abortion is not removal of “pregnancy tissue” or “uterine contents” but termination of a living human being, we will never come together. A women certainly has a right to do whatever she wants with her own body but she doesn’t have a right to dispose of anyone else’s life.

    Many, if not all, of the groups you characterize as extreme right (I am not familiar with several on your list) are not opposed to sexual health and reproductive rights. They just don’t believe it is right to terminate life (including Dr. Tiller’s, btw).

    I have engaged in civil discourse on this issue with several of my pro-choice friends and have asked them to explain their position, but once I push them to go beyond “I believe in a woman’s right to choose” the discussion ends very quickly. They don’t seem able to back up their position rationally.

    So I ask: How do you justify terminating a baby’s life?

    I hope you are not going to dismiss the question by telling me it isn’t a life, or, if it is, it doesn’t have rights. If we can’t agree that a fetus is human life with rights then President Obama is correct. Our differences are irreconcilible. And the most important common ground is unattainable.

  • invalid-0

    What is missing from the pro-choice position, however, is any recognition of what an abortion actually is.

    “What an abortion actually is” is a question whose answer depends on one’s beliefs, values, and faith. It is up to the woman, and her family, to answer that for themselves.

    Until there is acceptance of the fact that an abortion is not removal of “pregnancy tissue” or “uterine contents” but termination of a living human being, we will never come together.

    Is a fetus in the early stages of pregnancy a human being? Good luck getting a consensus on that one. This is one of those points where we’re going to have to agree to disagree.

    And it’s just as well, because how you answer that question is not relevant to policy prescriptions that can be made to reduce the incidence of unwanted pregnancies, and thereby abortions.

    A women certainly has a right to do whatever she wants with her own body but she doesn’t have a right to dispose of anyone else’s life.

    Does she have the right to refuse a lifesaving kidney transplant to someone who needs it? Because she would then be “disposing” of that person’s life just the same.

    Many, if not all, of the groups you characterize as extreme right (I am not familiar with several on your list) are not opposed to sexual health and reproductive rights.

    Then why do they oppose greater access to contraception and comprehensive sex ed?

    So I ask: How do you justify terminating a baby’s life?

    “Baby?” Would you call a one-month-old fetus, with no functioning brain yet, a “baby?”

    I hope you are not going to dismiss the question by telling me it isn’t a life, or, if it is, it doesn’t have rights.

    Do these [hypothetical] rights of the fetus trump those of the mother? Does she have to forfeit her right to bodily integrity to the fetus? In what other context would a person have to forfeit this right?

    Why do you want to talk about the fetus having rights, and not the woman in whose body it resides? Why are you focusing exclusively on the fetus?

    If we can’t agree that a fetus is human life with rights then President Obama is correct. Our differences are irreconcilible. And the most important common ground is unattainable.

    So you care more about this abstract question of fetuses having rights or not, than taking concrete steps that would reduce the number of abortions. I guess you’re not all that concerned about this whole abortion issue, then.

  • invalid-0

    First, I am truly glad all these groups have gathered to try to reason together. I receive postings and support a number of the organizations that participate here, including both secular progressive and faith-based groups. What I hope will not happen is a descent into dismissing another person’s position because “their” ideology and “mine” are not a match.

    It is absurdly possible in our culture to live with, talk with, associate with, and work with only those people who are like us. It too often creates an “us vs. them” mindset.

    As if this weren’t dysfunctional enough, when sides are chosen, the group turns on its members and forces a litmus test of ideological purity. It’s a lot easier to nitpick and prod our own than to confront the other. It is always counterproductive.

    And in this case it misses the point by a mile: What causes unintended pregnancies?

    We do not need to talk endlessly about abstractions. We may never agree on those abstractions. But we might learn to respect each others’ viewpoints.

    Unintended pregnancies have many causes and contributing factors, but many of those can be identified and addressed. I don’t delude myself that there is any easy fix for any of this. But there have been programs that do work. There are policies that work and have proven their worth in other countries. A successful effort may require a hands on rather than an ideological approach.

    How much more useful to work together to set broad goals, come up with strategies to accomplish them, then roll up our sleeves and get to work. We would have little time to worry if “their” beliefs exactly matched “our” own.

    I wish this effort all the best!

  • invalid-0

    “Pro-life” groups, no matter how “progressive” they may claim to be, are all based in the belief that abortion is morally wrong, that a woman should not have the right to choose whether she wants to carry a baby to term or not.

    Not necessarily. Nonviolent Choice comes to mind as one “pro-life” group that, while viewing abortion as a moral wrong, does not pursue its legal prohibition. Which is not to say that the policy prescriptions of these groups are all fine and dandy under a pro-choice analysis, but at least it’s enough to warrant the use of the word “most” rather than “all” in these sorts of generalizations.

    Accepting the common ground premise that “we all want to limit abortions” implies that there is something intrinsically and morally wrong with abortion.

    Says who? The American Heart Association does what they can to reduce the incidence of heart-bypass surgeries, but that doesn’t imply that such surgery is “intrinsically and morally wrong.”

    At the end of the day, abortion is an invasive surgical procedure, and not unlike most kinds of invasive surgical procedures, people prefer to avoid them if possible. Forget all the alleged “moral complexity” and values questions people love to talk about; this comes down to plain old not wanting to see your doctor if you can help it.

    In talking about reducing the need for abortions, we ignore the most basic right that it is the individual woman’s right to choose what she does with her body.

    Uhh, pro-choicers certainly aren’t ignoring it around here. What do you think the point of “common ground without compromise” is all about?

    By looking for common ground in the name of progressive values and civility we lose sight of the woman and her right to a personal choice, which is what reproductive freedom is all about. We are not arguing against common ground–but it has to include the higher ground of the respect for and belief in women’s civil, human and reproductive rights.

    The pro-choice movement has been doing the “common ground” thing all along. Not because of civility or whatnot, but because it’s the right thing to do. Lately, this has come to the fore as a way of lowering the temperature of the abortion debate, and people are interested in it for that purpose. But it is all, in the end, a way to serve “the higher ground of the respect for and belief in women’s civil, human and reproductive rights.” I don’t see that the people in charge around here have lost sight of that.

  • invalid-0

    “What an abortion actually is” is a question whose answer depends on one’s beliefs, values, and faith. It is up to the woman, and her family, to answer that for themselves.

    You make my point. You refuse to recognize what an abortion is. Here is Miriam-Webster’s definition:

    1: the termination of a pregnancy after, accompanied by, resulting in, or closely followed by the death of the embryo or fetus.

    Is a fetus in the early stages of pregnancy a human being?

    Yes. Scientific fact. The fetus, indeed, the single-celled zygote resulting from conception, has a unique DNA, distinct from the mother or father. It is not a body part of the mother.

  • invalid-0

    Is a fetus in the early stages of pregnancy a human being? Yes. Scientific fact. The fetus, indeed, the single-celled zygote resulting from conception, has a unique DNA, distinct from the mother or father. It is not a body part of the mother.

    So you’re saying that this is a human being.

    What color is the sky in your world?

  • progo35

    Here are several examples of pro choice and pro life, liberal and conservative people coming together to work on issues:

    Liberals and Conservatives coming together to address environmental issues
    http://www.wecansolveit.org
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PIQensOtIzA

    Pro choice and pro life women coming together to address the health risks involved in egg donation and it’s relationship to the demand for human eggs needed in ESCR research:
    http://handsoffourovaries.com/mission.htm

    Liberals and Conservatives come together to address health care reform/issues:
    http://www.dividedwefail.org
    "Well behaved women seldom make history."-Laurel Thatcher Ulrich

  • invalid-0

    Here we meet the problem with “common ground”. Jim, with all due respect, the problem is deeper than terminology; it’s ontology. We don’t even agree on what a human being is… how will we ever agree on what is good for the human being?

    My understanding of the entire debate was changed when a professor pointed out that a kindergartener should be able to tell you that ‘life’ and ‘choice’ are not opposites. The issue is not ethics, it’s metaphysics. There is something seriously different about our ground, about (dare we call them) our first principles. We may be able to find common goals… but real common ground is going to require that one side or the other admit that their position was down right damnable… Is any one really willing to accept that possibility? That takes real soul searching… if there is such a thing as a soul (case in point). Some differences run so deep they can not simply be set aside and cannot be easily discussed. So we typically pretend that shouting about ethics will solve the problem or that agreeing on goals but not means and foundations will help and avoid the harder discussions.

    A side note: That dictionary def. isn’t even a very good one for the discussion. ‘Giving birth’ even prematurely is the normal way to ‘terminate’ a pregnancy and a Caesarean is an unnatural termination… both can accidentally be “closely followed by the death of the embryo or fetus” and yet are not really part of the abortion debate. A natural miscarriage could also fit the definition and is not part of the debate. There are also serious situations that should be explored and might be agreeable to all but the broad definition obscures them. We need a far better distinction.

  • invalid-0

    So you’re saying that this is a human being.

    What color is the sky in your world?
    ******

    You’re saying a person has to look like a human being to be a human being? That being a human being isn’t a biological thing, but a “you’re as human as you look’ thing?

  • invalid-0

    You’re saying a person has to look like a human being to be a human being? That being a human being isn’t a biological thing, but a “you’re as human as you look’ thing?

    What I’m saying is that you are beyond naive if you think you can walk into an abortion debate, string together some combination of the words “human,” “being,” “innocent,” “abortion,” “kill,” “murder,” and think that you’ve hit upon some incontrovertible truth.

    Look at where it’s gotten you—you’re making the ridiculous assertion that a blastocyst containing only a few cells is a human being. If you define being a “human being” with having human DNA, then yes, you would be right. But that’s not what most people consider being a “human being” to be about—even though that common understanding was what you were referencing when you stated “abortion kills a human being” as fact.

    If you were to say, “abortion kills tissue that has human DNA,” then yes, that would be accurate, and indeed undeniable. Of course, that would also put abortion on par with cancer treatment, which is why you don’t say that.

    Now, to answer your question, do you have to look like a human being in order to be a human being? Well, that’s certainly part of it. I mean, if you looked like a dog, chances would be that you aren’t a human being. But wax sculptures also look like human beings, even though they aren’t. So being able to interact in some way is important. Ah, but what about human-looking robots? (Do you really want to see how far down this rabbit hole goes?)

    The ambiguity of the English language can be turned against you just as readily as you wield it against abortion. If you want to participate in the debate, I suggest you leave the word games behind, because they’re a waste of everyone’s time.

    • http://art-architech.blogspot.com/ invalid-0

      We here speak about abortions. If the opponent of abortions starts to struggle not for actually life (i.e. an interdiction of abortions), and for something that was from area of subjective values, but itself as “the fighter for a life”, it the hypocrite using abortions, as a board from opponents that is rather cynical thus positions.

  • invalid-0

    “So you’re saying that this is a human being.”

    If that is a blastocyst that evolved from a zygote that resulted from the union of human egg and sperm, then yes, it is most definitely a human being. You may have looked quite like this at an early age.