10/09/2008 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Abortion Explosive; Clinton and Palin Should Find Common Ground

The latest viral rumor has it the Obama camp has asked Hillary Clinton to push back against Sarah Palin, the governor from Alaska. A word of caution: pitting a long-time liberal who has fought hard for a woman's right to choose against a pro-life conservative is guaranteed to bring front and center the explosive abortion issue that has effectively hamstrung the Democratic Party since the Roe v. Wade decision in 1973.

Given the media are noted more for fueling the flames of controversy than brokering peace accords, we might be in for an all out culture war in the remaining weeks of the 2008 presidential campaign.

The alternative is for local leaders to ignore the media and instead assist their communities in finding common ground where they might at least have a chance to resolve their differences.

I speak from experience.

The trouble began at the opening of Planned Parenthood's Express Care clinic in my suburban neighborhood in Woodbury, Minnesota, a couple of years ago. Nancy Kiolbasa, executive director of the St. Croix Valley Life Care Center in nearby Stillwater helped organize protests against the clinic.

By the time I entered the fray, news accounts had already highlighted some pretty inflammatory rhetoric. The May 28, 2006, online edition of the St. Paul Pioneer Press reported that unidentified protest organizers had labeled Planned Parenthood's Woodbury venture "an obscene sex clinic."

The same article quoted Darrel Kloeckner, a member of the board of the St. Croix Valley Life Care Center: "When Planned Parenthood slithers out into the suburban areas, we have to stop it."

Checking out the St. Croix Valley Life Care Center's website (no longer available), I found an item called, "The Spin," by It compared support for the reproductive rights of women to advocating "pro-choice for graffiti, kiddie porn, and prostitution."

Having recently read Jim Wallis'book, God's Politics: Why the Right Gets it Wrong and the Left Doesn't Get It, I was inspired to make separate calls that afternoon to pro-lifer Nancy Kiolbasa and Sarah Stoesz, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood of Minnesota, North Dakota, and South Dakota.

I began by explaining to each of these women that I had no interest in pouring gasoline on the flames of the conflict between Planned Parenthood and the pro-life coalition opposing the opening of the Woodbury clinic. My purpose, I said, was to focus on the needs of women in crisis situations and look for ways in which service providers, despite opposing views on women's reproductive rights, could collaborate in helping their clients.

I asked Kiolbasa to imagine a Planned Parenthood counselor telling a client at the Woodbury clinic, "This is what we have to offer, but other services are available to you through the St. Croix Life Care Center in Stillwater. You are free to choose."

Kiolbasa responded more than once during our conversation by saying she appreciated my vision. I explained my vision also included concern for thousands of children dying every day from disease and poverty.

"There are a lot of tragedies in the world," Kiolbasa agreed.

"More to the point," I said, "Those of us who passively allow such things to happen are complicit in the deaths of these children."

A short time later, I spoke to Planned Parenthood's Sarah Stoesz. She didn't miss a beat in response to my challenge to look for common ground with the pro-life coalition protesting in Woodbury and find ways to collaborate with them in support of a consistent ethic of life.
Stoesz said Planned Parenthood would welcome collaboration with pro-life organizations in two key efforts in Minnesota:

1. Decreasing the number of abortions by making birth control information available to all adults in the state over the age of 18.

2. Promoting state legislation to expand access to nutrition and health care for children. (The 2003 census reports 119,298 children under the age of 17 live in poverty in Minnesota.)

At the conclusion of my conversation with Stoesz, I suggested she call Kiolbasa and talk to her in person; at her request, I gave her Kiolbasa's number.

Today, I'm wondering what would happen if Sen. Hillary Clinton and Gov. Sarah Palin were given the opportunity to speak to each other privately about abortion and other hot-button issues. It's conceivable that these two obviously strong, passionate, and intelligent women could find common ground. And as we all know, sisterhood is powerful.