Moving Beyond Words


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.”

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  • grayduck

    “Nowhere online or off was there a gathering space where people on opposite sides of the abortion issue could explore areas of possible agreement.”

     

    Such a space also exists at http://www.abortiondiscussion.com. That site is more suitable for dialogues and lacks a partisan host.

     

    If the pro-life co-moderator lacks credentials in the pro-life movement, the site will just be seen as a pro-choice site pretending to be a common ground site. Serrin Foster is the only person I can think of who fits the description.

  • prochoiceferret

    Such a space also exists at http://www.abortiondiscussion.com. That site is more suitable for dialogues and lacks a partisan host.

    Yes, a nonpartisan host who has argued that making fornication illegal will end rape once and for all. Next topic for discussion: “Why barrier methods don’t *really* reduce STDs”

  • debbierlus

     

    I don’t see how we are going to find common ground on abortion.

     

    I think it is possible to come together around legislation for increasing access to contraception and comprehensive sex education policies.  But, that is not the same thing at all as finding common ground on the issue of abortion.

    The anti-choice community has been very successful in dictating the terms of the debate, and if we are to move forward for the sake of women’s reproductive health and safety, we must change our language.

    The debate between pro-choice – anti-choice is not about the morality of abortion.  People can be pro-choice and not personally believe that abortion does not fit within their own moral code. 

     

    The central point of contention is over the legality of the procedure.  Pro-choice people accept the factually proven point that criminalization of abortion does not reduce abortion rates, but rather forces women into a dangerous abortion underground.  Those who are anti-choice believe that the procedure should be illegal without regard to the consequences to woman’s health and safety.  They go to elaborate lengths to deny this fact, but in advocating against legal abortion, they must own the dangerous situation which they are fostering for women and their reproductive health and safety.

     

    It boils down to this – you are either FOR safe, accessible, and affordable abortion services or you are against it.

     

    It is time for the anti-choice movement to own the dangerous consequences to women caused by their ‘pro-life’ activism. 

     

     

     

  • cristina-page

    I think it is possible to come together around legislation for increasing access to contraception and comprehensive sex education policies.  But, that is not the same thing at all as finding common ground on the issue of abortion.

     

    No one, not even the Obama administration, is suggesting that we find common ground on abortion. In fact, the main point of all efforts toward common ground between opposing sides of the abortion conflict is to consider everything but abortion as an issue where we can find agreement. We are looking for common ground areas outside of abortion on issues that are related: prevention, support, adoption, nonviolence. We all understand the central point of contention, thanks to the ad naseum debate over it, this conversation on common ground and the handful of people willing to engage in it respectfully are interested in exploring agreement on anything but abortion rights. Hope that clears up the confusion.

  • crowepps

    Aren’t you the moderator? Don’t you believe that abortion should be illegal? Isn’t that pretty clear in your posts here? Haven’t you pretty clearly expressed that you think sex should also be illegal, prosecuted and punished except when the couple is married and plans to have children?

     

    Maybe our definitions of ‘partisan’ differ. I use the standard definition:

    par·ti·san 1 (pärt-zn) n. A fervent, sometimes militant supporter or proponent of a party, cause, faction, person, or idea.

  • scott-swenson

    Cristina,

    Congratulations on getting the conversation started and thank you for wanting it to be housed at RH Reality Check initially. You are a writer who makes me strive to be better, a passionate thinker who makes me dive deeper, and a friend who makes me glad I attract quality people into my life.  I eagerly await the launch of the next level of your Common Ground Work — as we have seen recently, the conversation simply must shift so that literally every piece of legisation isn’t in danger of becoming another skirmish in this ongoing debate.  Best wishes!

  • debbierlus

     

    “The On Common Ground section of RH Reality Check provides interested readers with selected posts on the ongoing and often elusive search for common ground on abortion.”

    I understand the point.  You want to find common ground with anti-choice individuals on related issues.  You should change the title to reproductive issues or issues related to abortion.  I am all for increasing access to birth control and comprehensive sex education and certainly the more support we get on these issues the better.

    Again, this is not common ground on the issue of abortion.  And, the point of contention between the anti-choice and pro-choice community is the legality of the procedure. 

    Our other goal as pro-choice citizens is to ensure that we protect and expand legislation for women to access safe, affordable, and accessible abortion services.  The anti-choice movement gives us no concession on this issue.  Zero. Yet, Obama and the current dems are on the verge of allowing the Nelson language into the final health care reform legislation, language that will make it more difficult for women to obtain the needed insurance coverage for abortion services and writes discrimination and violation of privacy into law.  Our reaching out seems to be having the effect of reducing women’s rights.

    I don’t know how we are going to have an effective communication with a group of individuals who believe that their own moral position should dictate the law over all women.  The fact that anti-choice individuals continually ignore or deny the fact that their ultimate goal of criminalizing abortion will not reduce abortion (according to history and comparisons of abortion rates in countries with legal and criminalized abortion) results in my deep skepticism about what type of conversation will result from this effort.

    I sincerely wish you much luck in your efforts.  I am going to take the other road of calling out the constant fallacies asserted by the anti-choice community and perhaps, if we work on both ends, maybe this issue will heal.

     

    Thanks

     

     

     

  • cristina-page

    Thanks for your feedback. I don’t think the health care reform situation and the Nelson amendment is a result of “reaching out” to opponents on abortion; it’s the result of electing anti-abortion democrats to office. Yet, those who oppose common ground like to cast the potential set backs for women through health care reform as the result of common ground. Common ground is when both sides unite toward a common goal, camping out squarely on the very issue that divides us most is not common ground country.

     

    I think you’re mistaken by painting all pro-lifers with one brush. There are many who acknowledge that there are effective ways of being pro-life rather than simply working to outlaw abortion. Catholics United, Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good, Matthew 25, Democrats for Life, Feminists for Life and most, if not all, of the pro-lifers who contribute to this forum. The right wing, anti-abortion establishment has trained its cyclopic vision on the singular goal of criminalization. Most of the pro-life public sides with the pro-choice movement on nearly every approach to prevention and supports for struggling families–they simply have no representation on a national scale. By giving moderate, rational, pro-lifers the mic is probably one of the best ways to combat the right wing anti-abortion hyprocisy party. The pro-choice movement is no threat to groups like Family Research Council, American Life League, Concerned Women for America–a progressive pro-life establishment that champions prevention, social supports, healthy pregnancy, and non-violence most certainly is.

     

    Finally, I don’t think “calling out the constant fallacies by the anti-choice community” and working on common ground are mutually exclusive efforts. You’ll find many of the posts on the OnCommonGround forum do just that. (check out my piece Pro-Life Pretense as one example.)  In fact, I consider exposing the hyprocisies of the extreme right “pro-life” establishment while working toward common ground my day job. 

     

    Best of luck with your efforts, Cristina

     

  • cristina-page

    Thanks Scott. One word: unstoppable!

  • jodi-jacobson

    Catholics United, Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good, Matthew 25, Democrats for Life, Feminists for Life and most, if not all, of the pro-lifers who contribute to this forum.

    Several of these groups not only do seek to outlaw abortion (e.g. “Democrats for Life”) but also oppose access to basic contraceptive supplies and information and effective sexual health education, without which we can not either address maternal mortality, maternal morbitidy, sexually transmitted infections nor unplanned (and unwanted) pregnancies that underlie women’s choices around abortion.

    I’d have to disagree strongly that the “common ground” discussions (not here, but generally the term, like “bipartisanship”) has not contributed to current failures in health reform.  I think they are a direct product of a President who campaigned on a platform of choice and failed to support his platform from the first day they introduced the stimulus package and his own budget through today (speaking as someone who was once a strong supporter).

    And yes, Nelson is now being sold as the “common ground” compromise, even by some of these groups above, in their releases.

    I would like to think there is an easier way out of this dilemma and I do wish you success.  However, core beliefs in self-determination, public health, and human rights are to me paramount and can not be compromised in the same way we can find “common ground” on how much to spend on a new road.

    Sexual and reproductive health and rights are part of a continuum.  Women either have those rights or they don’t.  When they are unable to exercise those rights on their own according to their own and their family’s best interests, then we have high rates of illness, death, disease and poverty, as is true among some populations in this country, and is the norm in others.  We also get situations like that in Nicaragua and Utah.

    Moreover, we get the easy way out….you get a bill like Ryan-DeLauro bill which does not even begin to address causality and yet is a “door out” for legislators, who do not like controversy unless they are forced by constituents to confront it.

    It is very nice to think that some groups can come together to solve some issues, but they will never solve any issues having to do with sex and reproduction unless ideology takes a back seat to basic human rights, to religious and moral diversity, and to evidence.  To have common ground, you first have to have a common goal.  I don’t think these groups actually share any core goal coincident with women’s rights to decide whether, when and with whom to have children as they are also able to enjoy a safe, satisfying and consensual sexual life.

    We have the same problem with climate change and other transcending issues.  We need dramatic action and change.  But we can’t get there because we are seeking a middle ground that will not allow us to solve the actual problems that may in fact undermine our very ability to live on the planet.

     

    With best wishes, Jodi

     

  • cristina-page

    I don’t think these groups actually share any core goal coincident with women’s rights to decide whether, when and with whom to have children as they are also able to enjoy a safe, satisfying and consensual sexual life.

     

    Since when is common ground just being pro-choice? Yes, people who are opposed to abortion are opposed to abortion. That’s what makes them anti-abortion. But, because they are opposed to abortion doesn’t mean they can’t be in favor of prevention, supports for struggling families with wanted pregnancies, healthy pregnancy, nonviolence and many of the other priorities of the women’s rights, pro-choice movement. Sure, the traditional right wing anti-abortion establishment is opposed to contraception and everything that works but the American pro-life public is not. So what if Obama chooses to speak directly to them, circumventing the distortion of ALL and NRLC. That strategy is long overdue.

     

    As for Nelson amendment being pitched as “common ground,” well then I missed that and I even have “common ground” as one of my google alerts. But, if it is being suggested as such, by whom? I don’t need to tell you that terms, and ideas, are often coopted by those hoping to push an entirely different agenda, (ie: clear skies initiative, no child left behind, operation iraqi freedom, and my favorite, W stands for women.) The concept of common ground needs validators and those key common ground leaders in Congress and the White House have not referred to Nelson as common ground nor have any common ground groups (including Catholics United which took the occasion of passage of Nelson in the Senate to call the US Conference of Catholic Bishops’ bluff; calling for them to come out in full force in support if health care reform since they “got their way” showing that even if USCCB did get their way they weren’t going to come out in full force to pass health care reform because this whole “abortion disagreement” has always been a beard for a right wing movement against hcr.)

     

    Listen, I view this all very differently than you do. I think there are moderate voices that need to be encouraged. Obviously there are specific issues which we won’t get to agreement on but I believe there are more shared principles than at first apparent. There is a pro-contraception movement budding in pro-life circles, there is a pro-sex education voice emerging as well, many want to protect doctors and clinic staff from violence and I see it as most productive to encourage these voices. The danger in not differentiating is that we validate and only deal with the most radical and extreme opponents–and then it’s the national conversation that they want that we get.

     

    Okay, my fellow weekend work warrior, be well, Cristina

     

     

     

     

     

     

  • grayduck

    Cristina Page, Moderator, OnCommonGround on March 12, 2010 – 5:55pm: “No one, not even the Obama administration, is suggesting that we find common ground on abortion.”

     

    I think you are conceding too much with this statement. I think most pro-lifers would be quite happy to eradicate nearly all abortions by making contraception more available or by making adoption a more reliable option or by helping pregnant women. I also suspect that most pro-choicers would be quite content knowing that the legal right of a woman to obtain an abortion if she really needed one was strengthened because few abortions occurred. The fundamental goals of most of the adherents of each side is not diametrically opposed. Where we differ has to do with how we approach our goals. If we could find ways of achieving both goals simultaneously, I think the debate could be settled.

     

  • julie-watkins

    In the interest in finding close we might be, since I wonder when you say

    The fundamental goals of most of the adherents of each side is not diametrically opposed. Where we differ has to do with how we approach our goals.

    I wonder if there is the case that

    contraception more available or by making adoption a more reliable option or by helping pregnant women.

    and there was no barriers to effective contraception and no coercion in adoption and no barriers to effective (& inclusive) sex ed, and there are

    few abortions occurr[ing]

    would those few abortions that happen include abortions when birth control fails? I had an IUD. When it failed, we had to make a decision. We chose abortion. What would you envision, in an “achievable common ground”, for the cases of contraceptive failure?

  • crowepps

    Happened to run across this:

    Health care providers’ knowledge about contraceptive evidence: a barrier to quality family planning care?

     

    Received 5 August 2009; received in revised form 2 November 2009; accepted 10 November 2009. published online 11 December 2009.

     

    Abstract

     

     
     
    Background
     

    The underuse of effective contraceptive methods by women at risk for unintended pregnancy is a major factor contributing to the high rate of unintended pregnancy in the United States. As health care providers are important contributors to women’s contraceptive use, this study was conducted to assess provider knowledge about contraception.

     

    Study Design
     

    Bivariate and multivariate analyses were performed using data collected from a convenience sample of health care providers (physicians, nurse practitioners and physician assistants) at meetings of the professional societies of family medicine and obstetrics and gynecology.

     

    Results
     

    Younger providers were more knowledgeable, as were obstetrician/gynecologists, female providers and providers who provide intrauterine contraception in their practice.

     

    Conclusions
     

    The lack of consistent and accurate knowledge about contraception among providers has the potential to dramatically affect providers’ ability to provide quality contraceptive care for their patients, which could have an impact on their ability to prevent unintended pregnancies.

     

  • grayduck

    “What would you envision, in an “achievable common ground”, for the cases of contraceptive failure?”

     

    I am not quite sure I understand your question. Certainly most pro-lifers are opposed to abortion in cases of contraceptive failure and most pro-choicers want abortion to be legal regardless of whether contraception was used. Therefore, on a purely philosophical basis, contraceptive failure is not an area of any common ground.

     

    But common ground is not about philosophy; it is about implementing policies that will be assessed as beneficial by most people on both sides of the issue. If we educated women and medical providers about the benefits of long-acting contraceptive methods (like is being done in the UK) and women consequently adopted the methods in greater numbers with the inevitable result of fewer unintended pregnancies and abortions, I think both sides would be quite happy with the result.

     

    Another contraception-related policy that could be fertile ground for common ground action is ensuring that people have access to voluntary sterilization regardless of age, marital status, or number of children. Some women on both sides of the issue have complained about not being able to find a doctor willing to perform sterilization because those women were young, childless, and unmarried. In the years that I have been debating this issue, I have yet to find anyone on either side of the issue who would oppose such a measure. Pro-choicers like the idea because it would allow women more control over their bodies while right-to-lifers like the idea because it could lead to fewer abortions.

     

  • julie-watkins

    Since you say

    I am not quite sure I understand your question. Certainly most pro-lifers are opposed to abortion in cases of contraceptive failure and most pro-choicers want abortion to be legal regardless of whether contraception was used.

    I think Cristina Page was right to say

    No one, not even the Obama administration, is suggesting that we find common ground on abortion.

    And you shouldn’t have admonished her by saying

    I think you are conceding too much … The fundamental goals of most of the adherents of each side is not diametrically opposed.

    so I hope you will withdraw your admonishment.

    .

    You said

    I am not quite sure I understand your question.

    I questioned you because I couldn’t understand your original post! Of course we are diametrically opposed on the question of choice. I was confused when you confidantly said we have the same goals. You’re bottom line (as I understand it) relates to obligations. My bottom line is that (attempting to) give birth (give life) has to be a gift, not an obligation.

  • grayduck

    “…so I hope you will withdraw your admonishment.”

     

    I fail to see why I should do that. I would like to make a couple of clarifying points. First, I should have said “The fundamental goals of most of the adherents of each side are not diametrically opposed.” Second, my intent was to disagree with her about a semantic point rather than admonish her.

     

    “I was confused when you confidantly said we have the same goals.”

     

    I did not say that the two movements have the same goals. What I said was that the primary goals of each were not diametrically opposed to those of the other.

     

    “My bottom line is that (attempting to) give birth (give life) has to be a gift, not an obligation.

     

    If you just want to debate philosophy, a common ground movement probably does not suit your goals. Common ground is about identifying and adopting policies that will achieve the goals- or not hinder the goals- of people with many perspectives.

     

  • julie-watkins

    I was confused when you confidantly wrote that the primary goals of each movement were not diametrically opposed to those of the other. I don’t see how you can claim our primary goals are “not diametrically opposed” when you want to enforce oblications and I want to protect women’s bodily autonomy.

    If you just want to debate philosophy, a common ground movement probably does not suit your goals.

    My intention was not to debate philosophy, but to correct a misstatement. On the other hand, I am grateful to pro-lifers like Cristina Page who acknowledge there are differences and negotiate in good faith about those matters where common ground is possible, without attempting to negate the differences in primary goals.

  • cristina-page

    Thanks so much Julie. As a point of clarification, I am pro-choice.

  • julie-watkins

    Should have read more carefully. I tried to correct that to “common-grounders”, but wasn’t successful. :-( Sorry.

  • paul-bradford

    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.

     

    Cristina,

     

    I do commend you for providing me with the “chance to be heard”.  I have hoped, with little success, to demonstrate to people on this ‘site that there is diversity of opinion among those of us who wish to provide protections to the unborn.  I hope you will understand that, given my views, I am much more comfortable under your patronage than I am at most ‘sites dedicated to a Catholic or Pro-Life perspective.

     

    I’m motivated by a desire to save lives.  I’m heartened by the knowledge that in 1980 the abortion rate in the United States was 29.4 abortions per 1000 women of childbearing age.  Now that rate has dropped to 19.4.  That represents about 600,000 lives saved every year.  This is cause for gratitude, it is also cause for us to continue to hope that the rate can be brought down further still.

     

    I also applaud you for the kind things you say about Catholics United and Feminists for Life.  These organizations promote a Pro-Life vision that looks to reduce the pressures on women to abort rather than seeking to constrict a woman’s access to the procedure.  Our goal should always be that mothers, and the society in general, decide to choose life.  My detractors on this ‘site insist that I am ‘anti-choice’ and that I support ‘forced pregnancy’.  The real disagreement is that I view an abortion as the end result of many factors, some completely outside of the mother’s control, whereas others maintain that every abortion is the free expression of a woman’s choice.  It offends people when I suggest that there are a number of women who would choose life if the rest of us were better at keeping up our end of the job when it comes to valuing unborn children.  Every effort aimed at encouraging the society to support the mothers of the unborn is seen as manipulative.

     

    Your support of dialogue has been a great aid to me as I have learned a tremendous amount by participating in it.