Working Toward Common Ground in the Abortion Debate


Sarah Stoesz writes in her reader diary that a recent Gallup Poll appears to find more Americans than ever identifying as “pro-life.” But experience shows that such labels as “pro-life” and “pro-choice” are dated and drive wedges.

by Sarah Stoesz


Planned Parenthood Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota Action Fund

recent Gallup Poll appears to show a shift in public opinion on
abortion, with more Americans than ever identifying as “pro-life.” But
experience shows that such labels as “pro-life” and “pro-choice” are
hopelessly dated and serve to drive wedges between us, and that the
poll itself might be asking the wrong questions altogether.

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deeper into the results of this and other recent polls and you will
find that, no matter what the label, most Americans want to keep
abortion legal.

We know from our work in Minnesota, North Dakota
and South Dakota, that the more we engage in substantive discussion
about the issues that affect the health and safety of women, the more
people understand and honor the complexity of the abortion issue and
recognize the need to leave these personal decisions to women and

The truth is that many people have some level of
moral ambivalence about abortion. Most South Dakotans, for example,
self-identify as "pro-life" and are opposed to abortion, but they have
defeated statewide measures to ban abortion in two elections. Even the
most conservative Americans want to keep abortion safe, legal and rare.
Why? Because abortion is a morally complicated issue, which is
precisely why woman are entitled to think it through and come to their
own conclusions.

It’s high time that the rest of the country
follow South Dakota’s lead and stop using the divisive language of the
past and start acknowledging and respecting the internal conflict felt
by many voters on this issue. Acknowledging moral conflict is not
something to fear, but rather, a measure of respect for an individual’s
capacity to make the best decision for themselves and their families,
rather than being left at the whim of government decision makers.

Dakota voters didn’t reject abortion bans because they are suddenly
“pro-choice.” Rather, they said “no” because they understood the
consequences of banning abortion and did not want government intruding
on personal family decisions.

The key to expanding the
conversation and creating the common ground that President Obama so
eloquently called for in his address at Notre Dame is to acknowledge
differing views and concerns about abortion while also reinforcing the
idea that abortion is a personal matter in which government and others
should not interfere.

President Obama’s speech mirrored the
sentiments of most Americans and underscored the importance of the work
Planned Parenthood does every day to provide family planning services
and reduce unintended pregnancy.

Roe v. Wade has been settled
law for decades. Those who try to rekindle that debate with heated
rhetoric are taking the focus off the common goals most of us share of
reducing unintended consequences and the need for abortion.

These are goals we can all agree on. Let’s move beyond labels and toward meeting these goals.

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