Shedding 'Pro-Choice' and 'Pro-Life' Labels

By Julie Polter 5-21-2009

In his commencement speech at Notre Dame, President Obama spoke of "the possibility of common ground" in the abortion debate.

In small but concrete ways, some pro-choice and pro-life activists in the 1990s made that possibility a reality. At one point 20 cities, under the umbrella of a project called the Common Ground Network for Life and Choice, had small groups of pro-choice and pro-life partisans meeting together to speak and listen respectfully to one another about what they believed and why. The purpose was not to convert the other side, but to understand and be understood in the midst of a larger debate that was contentious and chaotic. In some cases, these relationships provided a foundation for shared action on issues such as preventing teen pregnancy or promoting adoption.

Adrienne Kaufmann, a Benedictine sister with a doctorate in conflict resolution, was a co-director of the Common Ground Network. She is cautiously hopeful about the renewed interest in common ground.

"At the heart of the common ground experience is respectful speech and behavior and not demonizing," she told me in a recent interview. "He [President Obama] has certainly set a climate for that.

But the challenges begin at the level of the terminology of the abortion debate for Kaufmann. While she is committed to following a consistent life ethic, she refuses to label herself pro-life. "Those labels have been stripped of nuances," she said. "When I accept a 'pro-life' label, I accept all the stereotypes of both pro-life people and pro-choice people about pro-life people. The same with 'pro-choice.'" Those labels, she believes, are almost purely political now-diverting from the inherently moral content of the issues at hand.

For more of my interview with Kaufmann click here. For more about the Common Ground Network for Life and Choice, including the manual co-written by Kaufmann, click here.

Julie Polter is an associate editor at Sojourners. Read her article about abortion reduction in the latest issue of Sojourners Magazine, including an audio clip of her interview with Rep. Rosa DeLauro.

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