Five years ago, I would've scoffed at the idea of finding "common ground" with anti-choicers. I couldn't have imagined that I would ever be able to sit at the same table with them, let alone have a constructive conversation about "common ground" with someone who opposed abortion.
To be fair to my younger self, I hadn't really met any reasonable, rational pro-lifers -- I'd only met radical anti-choicers who thought I was a babykiller. I had one friend who opposed abortion, and we'd had some discussions about it, but for the most part, we skirted the issue.
Five years ago, I wouldn't have thought that I'd be actively working to find common ground with pro-lifers. I'd only ever seen them as my uncompromising opposition...and I certainly wasn't about to compromise, either.
With the course my life has taken, though, I've softened my view of (most) pro-lifers substantially. I loathe those who advocate violence, subtly or overtly, and I still can't stand to be in the presence of those who consider me and my co-workers babykillers because of the organization we work for. But in working in South Dakota during the past two election cycles, in moving to the middle of the country, I've realized that the anti-choicers I knew weren't representative of the majority of the "Other Side." I do think that most pro-lifers are reasonable people who I can agree with on some issues around sex, education, and prevention.
Take, for example, the numbers.
Here in Missouri, 86% of the state's citizens support comprehensive sex education, not proven-ineffective abstinence-only education.
65% believe pharmacies should be required to dispense over-the-counter and prescription contraception to patients without discrimination or delay.
And almost 60% would rather see our state legislators focusing on real solutions -- i.e. preventing unintended pregnancies -- rather than adding on to our already enormous list of restrictions on abortion.
Missouri, a state represented in the state legislature by a majority of anti-choice Republicans, is actually pretty full of relatively reasonable people.
Going out to gather petition signatures from Missourians to support prevention policies (access to birth control, comprehensive sex education, access to STD treatments), most people agree. I've had reasonable conversations with people who oppose abortion...but end up signing our petition anyway, because they agree with me on the need to emphasize prevention policies.
Turns out, common ground among real people (politicians don't usually count in the "real people" category) does exist.
So when I see something like this, a Democratic US Congressman ousted from the advisory board of Democrats for Life because he supports contraception, it makes me worry for the future of this whole push to find "common ground."
The woman I talked to while gathering petition signatures, a member of Feminists For Life, is never going to agree with me on abortion. I don't kid myself about that. I can tell her everything I believe, she'll respond with everything she believes, and neither of us is going to convince the other to change our convictions.
But she wasn't unreasonable. We could talk about contraception, about emergency contraception/Plan B, about sex education, about real solutions to preventing unintended pregnancies, and...we could agree. (Of course, FFL refuses to take a stance supporting or not supporting contraception because it's somehow "beyond their mission," but I have yet to meet a FFL member who disagrees with the availability of contraception.)
Real people, it seems, are on board with common sense prevention policies.
I don't expect pro-life Missourians to all suddenly change their beliefs and become pro-choice. (I'd welcome it, of course, but I don't expect it.)
This common ground, this place where we can agree on how to prevent unintended pregnancies...it does exist. It's not a mythical place of rainbows and unicorns. Really. It's there.
We just need the bureaucratic organizations that are stuck in the ideological pits of everything they're against to lift their heads a little, look up just a little beyond the hole they've dug, and come along with the rest of us.
(h/t for DFL article to feministing.)
((further reading on common ground that's insightful and real and honest can be found at RH Reality Check.))