In so many ways, the election of President Obama is viewed through a lens of its healing potential. No, racism did not end with the election of our first President of Color, but many people are looking at themselves and their beliefs about race differently. No, his election did not automatically restore America as a beacon of hope around the world after years of steady decline, but our global neighbors are looking at us in a new light.
President Obama is asking Americans to seek common ground on one of the most controversial issues of our time, abortion. Knowing we don't all agree, Obama asks that we agree to disagree, with civility, recognizing the dangerous place the extremism surrounding this debate has taken our politics.
For the entire political life of many people around President Obama's age, the politics of abortion has seemed intractable, uncompromising, bitterly divisive. The first political race I watched closely, at 11, ended with Sen. Bob Dole of Kansas using pictures of aborted fetuses on door hangers in heavily Catholic precincts to defeat Dr. Bill Roy, an obstetrician, Congressman and Catholic himself. Dole won re-election by a handful of votes in 1974 on the politics of insinuation.
Thirty-five years later, Dr. George Tiller was assassinated in his Lutheran church because he performed legal abortions, also in Kansas, the site of many far-right battles in those intervening years. Tiller is the latest victim of extremism on the far-right that has its roots in the political rhetoric started in that first post-Roe election.
Many people on the right distance themselves from anything having to do with clinic violence, but still have their picture taken with politicians whose rhetoric foments it.
So why is RH Reality Check, a site founded and dedicated to promoting progressive ideas about the full spectrum of sexual and reproductive health, even engaging this discussion about common ground?
We believe that by bringing voices from the center and right of center to mix with the leading voices of the progressive movement promoting sexual and reproductive health, our online community can play a small role in allowing a new way to look at these issues to emerge. It won't be easy.
We are not defining, or buying into, anyone's definition of common ground. We are facilitating a discussion that we hope will allow all people to think differently about sexual and reproductive health.
Is it possible that in President Obama's election, Americans have a chance to heal the body politic from the divisiveness the abortion issue has caused for a generation or more? We don't know, but one thing is certain: it won't happen if we don't try.
We believe RH Reality Check is well positioned to expand this dialog to be more inclusive while holding to our progressive roots and respecting those who believe differently but genuinely seek common ground. In the wake of the Tiller assassination, there may be no better time to ask people to think anew about how we all communicate these issues.
It is, after all is said and done, simply a choice we have before us, to continue the old paradigm of well worn and bitter divide, or stop and take a deep breath or two, and choose differently.
We are asking people from all political perspectives to remain open to the possibility that we can let go of the acrimony that brought us to this moment and envision a time when these most personal life decisions are no longer used for political manipulation, or domestic terrorism.
The truth is, most Americans have already found common ground.
The best and brightest minds working in philanthropy, non-profits and NGO's, advocacy, law, health care, research, politics and media, have invested tens if not hundreds of millions of dollars in the most sophisticated public opinion research. Staggering sums that could be used to actually help women and children, not just hypothesize about how demographic groups respond to framing or word choice.
Most legitimate surveys, right, left, and non-partisan, indicate Americans are closer to consensus on many social issues than our politics indicate, which doesn't mean that everyone agrees. But it does mean we should move beyond questions of legality versus prohibition, toward policies that promote safety, health, responsibility, respect, and rights. Our energy should focus on making sure all Americans have access to factual information and education, reliable prevention and reproductive health care with the recognition that sexually healthy societies foster respect for everyone. Choices that are made from a place of respect and facts will naturally be better than those made from fear or misinformation. Biology is easier than wisdom and we should focus on helping people understand how to make better choices, understanding not denying human nature.
In the middle, away from the passions of the right or left, most Americans are already building common ground around shared understanding, compassion and empathy for the journey their neighbors are on, hoping that when their family faces difficult life decisions, others will be similarly supportive. By listening to voices genuinely seeking common ground, RH Reality Check hopes to provide a platform for civil discussion. We know the bitterness will continue on some levels, we only seek to expand the potential for something new to emerge, to remain open to the possibility that we can choose a healing path that could change the way we all discuss these issues in a healthy, respectful way, thus allowing us to see sexual and reproductive health in a new light.
We hope you too will choose a path that can lead to real change and give this discussion a chance.
Be the change you seek.
Originally posted at RHRealityCheck.org - News, commentary and community for reproductive health and justice.