When Pro-Life and Pro-Choice became good buddies

Oct
14
2016
by
Lynne McTaggart
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Imagine the following happening in America today: a group of women meeting regularly, half of the group pro-life and Trump supporters, and the other half pro-choice and Clinton supporters, each group respecting the other’s point of view and speaking together with compassion and understanding.

Impossible? That’s exactly what happened nearly 26 years ago.

Imagine the following happening in America today: a group of women meeting regularly, half of the group pro-life and Trump supporters, and the other half pro-choice and Clinton supporters, each group respecting the other’s point of view and speaking together with compassion and understanding.

Impossible? That’s exactly what happened nearly 26 years ago.

An argument in need of therapy
In December 1989, Laura Chasin, a family therapist in Cambridge, Massachusetts, was watching a rancorous debate on abortion between pro-choice and pro-life representatives.

The argument reminded Chasin of some of the same kind of behavior patterns she regularly dealt with in her practice with dysfunctional families. She wondered if some of the techniques that proved effective in therapy could also be applied to people whose political or social views were polarized.

Chasin created The Public Conversation Project by enlisting friends and acquaintances on both sides of the abortion issue to meet in order to deepen their understanding of each other by changing the way they communicate. She began holding meetings over buffet dinners, where the women could get to know each other before they disclosed on which side of the fence they stood.

In subsequent meetings, the women sat in a circle and took turns in a dialogue revealing their personal stories about abortion — the events in their lives that helped to shape their beliefs, the aspects of the issue they still wrestled with. In total Chasin hosted eighteen sessions with more than one-hundred different women.

Abortion clinic shooting
Then in December 30, 1994, when pro-life advocate John Salvi shot dead two and wounded four others at the Brookline Massachusetts Planned Parenthood and nearby Pre-term Health Services, six leading figures from the Massachusetts Pro-life and Pro-choice movements, including the director of the Pro-life Office of the Archdiocese of Boston and Nicki Nichols Gamble, the director of the Planned Parenthood League of Massachusetts, decided that it was vital that the two sides continue the dialogue.

The six women carried on meeting in secret for nearly six years.

Over time they learned to tone down inflammatory language like ‘murder” and learned to “speak in love, speak in respect, and speak in peace,” no matter how wide the differences.

Both sides joined forces to announce that the head of ProLife Virginia, who had sanctioned Salvi’s action as a “righteous deed,” was not welcome in Massachusetts; the pro-life leaders created a hotline system to alert the pro-choice leaders of the possibility of violence or physical danger.

At a service to honor the memory of the two who had been killed in the Salvi shootings, Gamble expressed gratitude of the “prayers of those who agree with us and the prayers of those who disagree.”

Who won the debate?
At the end of the six years, the group held a press conference. Members of the press wanted to know who had “won” the debate. Each of the six announced that the process of the dialogue had helped them to become firmer in their own views about abortion.

“So, it was a failure then?” asked a reporter.

“Oh, no,” replied one of the women. Although they had struggled with profound philosophical differences over the years, they had found the Bond between them and discovered how to treat each other with dignity and respect.
Now, you see, we party together. We watch each other’s children. We love each other.

Bishop and the Cambridge Dialogues all focus on communication that reveals the deeper narrative of each person’s life — how we come to believe what we believe and who we really are — and the connection that always exists at that deeper level of being.

The Cambridge women deliberately avoided sitting across the table in a confrontational manner, as is usually the case in negotiating or decision-making, but sat companionably side by side, in a circle. They sought higher ground — creative ways in which to work together — to offer better sex education to teenagers, greater help for teenage pregnancy, improved adoption programs.

However, the most important aspect of the dialogue is seeking out the “pool of common meaning.” By walking into the space between, you discover the common ground that is always there, even when worldviews collide.

As we go forward in this last leg of the American election, remember to listen harder when ‘the other’ tells you who they’re voting for and why they believe what they believe.

And when you respond, speak to them in love, speak in respect and speak in peace.

Lynne McTaggart

Lynne McTaggart is an award-winning journalist and the author of seven books, including the worldwide international bestsellers The Power of Eight, The Field, The Intention Experiment and The Bond, all considered seminal books of the New Science and now translated into some 30 languages.

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