Working together? Not something ideologues and fanatics on both sides of an issue are best at doing. But wherever you stand on abortion, you have to admit that reducing the number of or need for abortions is a worthwhile goal. That is the premise behind Mr. Obama’s initiative in calling both sides to the conference table.
Over the past four decades, the abortion argument has raged on, pitting members of families and communities as well as religious denominations against one another. There is no question that the harsh rhetoric and bitterness have helped to foster a division in this country that has not been seen since the Civil War.
During the last election Obama took what many regarded as a risky but courageous stand in proposing that pro-life and pro-choice advocates should try to find some “common ground.” It is an idea he continued to outline in his so-called “controversial” commencement speech at Notre Dame two weeks ago:
Maybe we won’t agree on abortion, but we can still agree that this is a heart-wrenching decision for any woman to make, with both moral and spiritual dimensions.
So let’s work together to reduce the number of women seeking abortions by reducing unintended pregnancies, and making adoption more available, and providing care and support for women who do carry their child to term. Let’s honor the conscience of those who disagree with abortion, and draft a sensible conscience clause, and make sure that all of our health care policies are grounded in clear ethics and sound science, as well as respect for the equality of women.
Understand – I do not suggest that the debate surrounding abortion can or should go away. No matter how much we may want to fudge it – indeed, while we know that the views of most Americans on the subject are complex and even contradictory – the fact is that at some level, the views of the two camps are irreconcilable. Each side will continue to make its case to the public with passion and conviction. But surely we can do so without reducing those with differing views to caricature.
Mr. Obama and I may be on opposite sides of the table when it comes to this basic issue, but I find his proposal enlightened and helpful. Sure, there are crazy people on both sides of the issue, but most people are not. Calling both parties to talk and try to work together seems very sane indeed. After all, we need one another. Hurling epithets at each other over a dividing wall has certainly accomplished little.
Now, let me speak as a pastor. As Christians we must resist the tendency to demonize the opposition. We must resist the temptation to remain obdurate, to dominate, and to exclude. These are the characteristics and mindset of fundamentalism, a form of extremism which destroys even the very thing it would build. We do not have to change our belief system in order to negotiate; we do not have to agree with someone to work hand in hand for the common good.
America is a nation growing in diversity. Therefore, we need all the more to listen to, to respect and work with one another if we are going to achieve anything. Instead of waiting zealously for some magic moment in the future when Roe v. Wade is overturned and all our ills are wiped away, let’s go to the table now and hammer out through active charity and compassion just how we can make abortion in this country as rare as possible.