We launched On Common Ground on RH Reality Check as an experiment. Nowhere online or off was there a gathering space where people on opposite sides of the abortion issue could explore areas of possible agreement. The President’s efforts to unite both sides around a common agenda has, for the most part, happened behind closed doors. Through this forum, we attempted to throw open the doors and welcome anyone who has an interest in exploring agreement.
The forum met with some resistance, from our pro-choice colleagues who are fans of RH Reality Check as well as those on the pro-life side. It pushed people beyond their comfort zone and their areas of trust. Cynicism surfaced. They doubted each others’ intentions and wondered if we were compromising our missions by even considering areas of agreement. The comment area became a place to pursue this rollicking debate though, sometimes posters stuck to the well-worn lines of disagreement, even if it meant ignoring obvious areas of agreement.
We took the criticism seriously. Can we really trust the good faith of someone on the other side, someone not only ideologically opposed, but in some cases, actively opposed? It remains an unanswered question, but we feel encouraged. Among our accomplishments we nurtured a moderate voice, particularly on the pro-life side, a voice that hasn’t always had a chance to be heard.
Caricatures abound, and thoughtful, provocative commentary often gets shoved into one bin or another, without examination. We were a forum for some of those emerging voices.
One source of conflict was that, over the last eight months, I have selected only posts by those seeking a common ground path. It was a desire to prune and direct the discussion and, clearly, some felt left out. Yet the goal was advanced: many constructive ideas and proposals emerged and, I believe, may well have a profound affect on the debate and, perhaps, on the very issues of faith and trust. I believe that in our forum we stumbled upon the outlines of a path to an alternate national dialogue on abortion.
For example, we heard from many pro-lifers in favor of contraception and willing to break with the right wing anti-abortion, anti-contraception establishment in favor of a sensible approach to prevention. The forum has also shown that there are prominent advocates on both sides who believe we can work together to make possible more choices for struggling families, including the choice to keep a wanted pregnancy. We’ve identified barriers to adoption and discovered ways to make that infrequently considered choice more accessible too.
We all want healthy pregnancies, another common ground goal, and many pro-lifers in this forum questioned the Republican grip on the pro-life establishment and it’s opposition to progressive policies, like universal health insurance. They, it was pointed out, could lead to more pro-life outcomes, like healthy pregnancies. We found widespread agreement about the need for civil discussion and the need for concrete ideas on how to end the violence the invective often stirs.
Particularly encouraging to us was that many of those interested in finding common ground took to this forum to offer their proposals on finding a mutually acceptable way to pass health care reform and prevent abortion from derailing it.
With the help of this forum, we believe a substantive common ground agenda can materialize. As the White House prepares to release its own common ground plan in the next few months, this forum will be transforming itself; moving beyond words to action. On Common Ground is becoming CommonGroundwork.com and, in doing so, it will leave it’s incubator, RHRealityCheck, and venture out on its own. CommonGroundwork.com will be co-moderated by a pro-lifer who will be announced at the relaunch. The new site will still host an ongoing discussion about common ground ideas, but it will also be the headquarters for the budding common ground movement and home to new common ground groups, like Prolifers for Prevention, as well as the destination for information about common ground proposals and actions. CommonGroundwork.com will go live this Spring, a fitting time for its rebirth. We plan to bring the many contributors who have helped shaped this dialogue along with us and look forward to welcoming more.
Making progress will not be easy; it never is. But uniting even a small portion of the considerable forces on either side could have a powerful influence on the national debate and, possibly more interesting, discoveries about each other, our society, and ourselves along the way.
Finally, I wish to thank RH Reality Check, for taking on the risk of hosting this discussion, particularly those who provoked thoughtful discussion and who, overcoming initial doubts, helped overcome the hurdles put in our path: Scott Swenson, Jodi Jacobson, David Harwood, Amie Newman and Brady Swenson. They each keenly understand what George Bernard Shaw meant when he said, “Peace is not only better than war, but infinitely more arduous.”