This year marks the 40th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the Jan. 22, 1973, Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion.

At this time every year, thousands of anti-abortion demonstrators gather in Washington, D.C., for the annual March for Life. This year's rally is scheduled for Jan. 25.

This year marks a transition for the march. In the 40 years since the Roe v. Wade decision, Nellie Gray marshaled March for Life demonstrators. Now, after Gray's death in August, March for Life has a new leader: Jeanne Monahan, who finds hope in the youth that turn out for the event. 

As the date of the march approaches, momentum is building. One production company took President Barack Obama's tearful remarks after the Newtown, Conn., shooting and applied them to abortion in an advertisement for March for Life. The headline to a story about the advertisement reads, “President Obama challenges pro-lifers to join March for Life! (sort of).”

And 20 European countries have come together in the “One of Us” campaign, a petition initiative to ask the European Parliament to recognize that life begins at conception.

Yet according to a recent poll, 63 percent of Americans don't think Roe v. Wade should be completely overturned. (The same poll reports that 47 percent of Americans believe having an abortion is morally wrong.) One of our partner sites has its own poll, asking whether the decision should be overturned

But when it comes to talking about abortion, the conversations can quickly become polarized. As one article notes, “Abortion ranks as one of the most intractably divisive issues in America, and is likely to remain so as rival camps of true believers see little space for common ground.”

What do you think people need to keep in mind when having conversations about abortion? How can we have honest, respectful and productive dialogues with each other on this subject? What are some steps we can take to reach a resolution? (And is any of that even possible?)

8 Comments

  1. Sorry, but I don’t think that it’s possible to have honest, respectful, or productive dialogues on abortion. The issue has often been compared to the issue of slavery, which wasn’t settled until late in the Civil War. At one time it seemed as though there was a consensus developing on preventing the need for abortions, but the political climate (as evidenced by the “activists” protesting outside of Planned Parenthood in Columbia) is such that anti-abortion proponents seem to want to limit access to birth control and accurate public education that could reduce the number of abortions performed.

  2. It’s difficult to see a path that leads to a measured, respectful discussion on this topic. On one side you have people who find it offensive that other people would presume to tell women what to do with their bodies and on the other side you have people who believe very strongly that abortion is against God’s law and should be against man’s law. It’s hard to see a way that those two sides can be brought together.

  3. The single most important thing to remember when discussing topics like this one is that the United States is a secular country. One may hold the deepest of convictions based on your religious beliefs, but they must have no bearing on the law.

  4. A group of women in Boston, some years ago, got together to try to have such a discussion. They represented both sides and took a long time even to be able to talk comfortably with each other.

    What ultimately worked to develop a constructive relationship among them – though not necessarily to change anyone’s mind – was that they discovered each other as persons – not opinions or positions, but human beings with feelings, experiences, and pains.

    That’s precisely what we don’t often do. We shout at each other – lobbing verbal grenades from behind the barricades of our opinions, surrounded by the like-minded. We assume we have to “win” and that total destruction of the opposition is the only option.

    The experience of the women in Boston might suggest “a third way” – namely, that we somehow figure out how to differ with respect and compassion, even if we or they never change.

  5. Steve, I’ve read about the group you mentioned. I think the salient point is that these were women who got together. No man has ever, or will ever have an abortion yet they are allowed to vote on regulations which make it easier or harder (or more or less likely that it will be needed) to get an abortion in America.

  6. Ah, but is it helpful, Kris? So far, that approach hasn’t contributed anything to lessening societal tensions or increasing understanding.

    Betsy, I get your point. But if the only people ever allowed to vote on anything are those directly involved, we’ll have a real governance problem. What I get from the Boston experience is that we – men as well as women – need to understand and appreciate each other as people, not as “positions” or “issues.” Certainly in our present legislative bodies, that’s as much a problem as it is in a junior high school lunchroom.

  7. Kris Katarian

    Hey Steve, give me credit for not actually tossing my grenades on this comment board! I realize it isn’t appropriate here, so, I’m holding back (while gritting my teeth).

    But remember this is a forty year controversy, which includes violent and FATAL actions by people who call themselves “pro life.” The purposeful threatening, injuring, and killing by such persons negates their position. So my desire to lob metaphorical grenades is wholly justified.

    I agree with Betsy. We are well past respectful, productive discussions.

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