The Persistent Petitioner

Taylor Hirth

We all have our own convictions when it comes to the topic of abortion. And in a rush to declare our alliances and opinions to those we deem a threat, it seems we stop listening.

I
recently spent a few hours gathering petitions on behalf of Planned Parenthood
at a local Gay Pride Festival. Having never been to a pride festival in Kansas City, I’d have to
say it was a little less flamboyant than I had expected, or maybe even had
hoped. But I also have to point out that I’m totally cool with people
expressing themselves by more casual means than dancing through in minimalist
attire, if that’s what they want. I’m not picky. I love gay people no matter
how they dress, but leather makes things more fun. I’m just saying.

I
was there gathering petitions for the Prevention First Act, which asks
legislators to take a break from abortion and spend some time focusing on
preventative measures like increasing access to birth control, STI testing, and
comprehensive sex education. These are all things that can help reduce the
occurrence of unintended pregnancies, thereby significantly lowering the
instances of abortion. I would explain it like that to the people I approached,
and the reactions I received were somewhat surprising.

Occasionally,
I would approach somebody who turned out to be pro-choice and after I would
explain what the petition was about, they would look at me blankly and say,
"Sorry, I’m pro-choice" or, "I thought you said you were with
Planned Parenthood?" and I’d have to explain that our goals were to not to
make abortions illegal, but to reduce the number of unintended pregnancies,
which would curtail the need for abortion.

There
were other times I would approach a group of people who turned out to be very
strongly pro-life. I’d stand there with my little clipboard and watch their
smiles fade at the mention of Planned Parenthood. "We’re not interested," one
would say. "We don’t support killing babies."

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They
expected me to turn and walk away with my tail between my legs, but instead I
politely informed them that the petition I was asking them to sign would reduce
abortions. They were skeptical, as one might expect, and they read over the
petition carefully, making sure my claim was truthful. After finally hearing my
intentions, they were usually happy to sign.

In
general, the response was overwhelmingly positive as long as I could make it
seem like I was on their side. Many people even thanked me, citing occasions
when Planned Parenthood had provided them with cancer screenings or
contraceptives or even directions on how to put on a condom. What astounded me
most was, in the end, we all seemed to be very much on the same side without realizing
it.

I
feel like there is a valuable lesson to be learned from this. We all have our
own convictions when it comes to the topic of abortion. And in a rush to
declare our alliances and opinions to those we deem a threat, it seems we stop
listening. For a long time now, the arguments have remained the same. We enter
our dialogues with certain expectations of what will be said and new approaches
either get overlooked or approached with outright criticism.  By measuring the reactions from people after
they finally heard and understood the message of the petition, Prevention First
is a great piece of real common ground legislation. But had I not been
persistent in my attempt to break through the political palisade that went up
as soon as the word ‘abortion’ was spoken, people on both sides of this debate might
have dismissed the proposal without a second thought. For those who are
interested in finding common ground, I hope they find encouragement in my
experience petitioning. First we need to break away from the broken-record of
our dialogue so that people will start listening again; because this is a
message worth hearing, worth spreading. And it’s one that doesn’t require
taking sides.

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