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Topics: Families, Gender, & Children

Pro-Life and Pro-Choice Groups Use Dialogue and Shared Concerns to Find Common Ground

The Common Ground Network for Life and Choice grew out of a series of workshops for pro-life and pro-choice people by Search for Common Ground, first in Buffalo and later in St. Louis, Cleveland, Denver, Cincinnati, Pensacola and the Washington, D.C. area. The Common Ground Network for Life and Choice believes that the abortion conflict provides an opportunity for dialogue and creative problem-solving through facilitated dialogues and addressing shared concerns. Fundamental is that no one is ever asked to change his or her belief about the core issue of abortion. Story.

Story: The Common Ground Network for Life and Choice Promotes Non-adversarial Dialogue on Abortion Story

by Andrea Walsh, Acting Director of Studies, Program on Degrees in Women's Studies, Harvard University. Andrea is also a member of the CPN Families, Gender, and Children editorial team.

In 1992, after an Operation Rescue campaign marked by violence, the Buffalo Council of Churches organized a one-day conference on nonviolent protest. Some continued these discussions on a weekly basis, focusing specifically on the abortion conflict, and then invited the Search for Common Ground in Washington, DC to develop organizing and conceptual support for what has since become the Buffalo Coalition for Common Ground.

In St. Louis, Andy Puzder, the prolife lawyer who helped to author Missouri's legislative restrictions on abortion, and Ms. B.J. Isaacson-Jones, the director of Reproductive Health Services, the largest abortion provider in the state, which sued to stop the legislation, sought a new approach after the Supreme Court ruling upheld the law. Andy had suggested in a newspaper article that it was time to put aside hostilities and find ways to cooperate to help the women and children whom both sides claimed to protect.

After a series of cordial discussions, they were joined by others prominent on each side of the debate, and for more than four years have focused common attention and resources on issues of mutual concern: assistance to crack-addicted pregnant women, preventing unwanted pregnancies, providing women support during pregnancy, teaching abstinence to teenagers, reducing infant mortality, and financing school breakfast programs.

In Wisconsin, Maggi Cage, a mediator, psychotherapist and former abortion clinic owner, and Harry Webne-Behrman, a professional mediator, convinced four Wisconsin legislators—two pro-life and two pro-choice—to convene a common ground meeting "to put a face on the abortion conflict." Through regular meetings over a period of 13 months, the group developed a set of principles for sex education in the public schools. And student dialogue groups have now been organized at a Wisconsin college.

In other cities the story is similar. In Cleveland, the director of communication of Feminists for Life, Marilyn Kopp, took the initiative; in San Francisco, it was pro-choice feminist and NOW member Peggy Green. In Cambridge, Massachusetts, a group of family therapists formed the Public Conversations Project.

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