Radically Decent Politics — A Progressive/Conservative Abortion Talk (Book Excerpt)

Suppose I’m in a conversation with an entrenched conservative who says: “How do you feel about abortion? Are you pro-choice or pro-life?” My initial instinct, reflecting my progressive tribal roots, might be to simply say, “pro-choice.” And this would be an honest answer, if our only choice is to either allow abortion or to ban it. But refusing the partisan bait, I might offer the following response:

“I really feel discouraged when the conversation is reduced to this either/or choice. A great majority of women who face this decision really want to do the right thing. They care about their own future, of course. But they are also deeply connected to the beginning of life so powerfully growing inside them. What we need are policies that attend to the needs of these good people, while also addressing the really complicated questions that inevitably come up: When does life begin? What does it mean to be compassionate to the born and unborn alike? When it comes to abortion, I think we can do a whole lot better than delivering a simple yes or no.”

Given where we are today, talking about politics in this less adversarial way is a big challenge, to say the least. This pretty little speech of mine might well be derailed mid-sentence by a partisan zinger. Moreover, even if I’m able to finish the thought, it will regularly be greeted with skepticism that, if not said out loud, will be palpable in my conversational partner’s tone: “Okay, I get it. You’re trying hard to sound different. But I’m not fooled. This is just another insincere attempt by an arrogant, self-righteous, card-carrying liberal to manipulate me.”

So that’s the bad news. Doing this work will often incur frustration and yield no apparent impact. But on the more hopeful side, there will be other conversations that go differently and better. So we need to persist.