A few months ago, a colleague told me a story about a man she met in Nigeria who said he was against abortion under any circumstances. Instead of writing him off as “the opposition” to her pro-choice efforts or labeling him as “unreasonable,” she sat with him and asked why he felt the way he did. The story she heard was heartbreaking. His sister had died a painful death after undergoing an unsafe and illegal abortion. There was nothing he could do. He had lost his best friend and blamed abortion. My colleague listened to what he had to say and acknowledged the horrific risks of unsafe abortion and her own sadness over the scores of women who die each year while seeking to end their pregnancy that way. But, looking for common ground, she also explained how access to safe and legal abortions acknowledges the realities women face each day and actually saves lives. That conversation changed one man’s mind, and opened my friend’s eyes to the very human reasons that one might mistakenly demonize the practice of abortion.
This story sticks with me because it’s one of very few respectful conversations I’ve heard of between pro-choice and pro-life advocates. Although it can be hard to stay calm when discussing issues we feel strongly about, dialogue is the only way we’re going to create a common understanding and achieve a safer world for women. That’s why I was so heartened by the Conference on Life and Choice in the Abortion Debate held at Princeton University last month. A friend of mine took time out of her weekend to sit in on a few sessions, and said it was really interesting. “There were pro-choice people and pro-life people, sitting and talking,” she said, “without being impolite, without yelling, without being rude! We only usually talk to one another within the same field,” she continued. “This was different. This was respectful.”
Salon has been writing about outcomes from the conference this week. I don’t agree with all the takeaways, but think these conversations are perhaps a first step toward progress. Take a look here and here.
For more information on IWHC’s work to ensure universal access to safe abortion, click here.