Earlier this week, RH Reality Check published an article by Francis Kissling about the idea of dialogue between the pro-choice and anti-choice communities. This article was a response to one published last week by Amanda Marcotte, in which Marcotte stated that she did not believe the dialogue with anti-choicers was ever useful because “it’s impossible to have a dialogue with someone who refuses to speak honestly about their positions.”
Both Kissling and Marcotte made reference to a conference that Kissling helped organize earlier this fall. The event, held at Princeton University, was to facilitate dialogue between the anti-choice and pro-choice communities. Whether or not the conference met its goals is an open question; at the very least, it led William Saletan, a columnist for Slate, to propose a rather provocative “compromise.”
Kissling makes as strong a case in favor of dialogue as Marcotte makes against it, but I’m more inclined to agree with Kissling’s interpretation – not because I agree with everything she says, but because I think it’s time for a new approach to protecting the right to choose. Over the past three decades, the pro-choice side has won many important victories, but in too many parts of this country, abortion is legal in name only and barely accessible; the Hyde Amendment is going nowhere; and the very word “abortion” is so stigmatized. Maybe actually talking to those who disagree with us about why they feel the way they do, and looking for that common ground, isn’t the worst approach to try.
Of course, I think discussing a woman’s right to choose with Randall Terry, or any other extremist, would be a colossal waste of time. But there are a lot of people in the anti-choice community who are a lot more moderate, and with whom I think that honest communication would be useful. And here I have to take issue with Marcotte’s assertion that no dialogue with someone that holds a different position can be honest. There’s nothing dishonest about saying we disagree, but we can still talk. When I speak with someone who’s anti-choice, I’m not accepting or condoning their views. In fact, I’m having the conversation with them to try and change their minds; sometimes I succeed, and sometimes I don’t. But simply having these conversations doesn’t mean that I agree with them, or that I’m somehow being less than truthful. Maybe I’m missing Marcotte’s point, but I don’t see how dishonesty automatically enters a conversation between someone who is pro-choice and someone who isn’t.
This is my opinion, based on a combination of optimism and personal experience. I’d be interested to hear from others in the community about what they think – is dialogue with the anti-choice side a necessity? A long-overdue approach, or a horrible idea? Has it ever worked for you?