A Civil Discourse | Sojourners

A Civil Discourse

Marilyn Cohen is director of the Emma Goldman Clinic, Iowa’s first outpatient abortion facility. The clinic has been the target of blockades, invasions, and firebombing. Karen Swallow Prior is a former spokesperson for Western New York Rescue in Buffalo, a regular "sidewalk counselor" at a clinic, and has been jailed for participating in clinic "rescue" blockades. To put it mildly, Cohen and Swallow Prior do not agree about abortion.

Yet not only have they managed to speak civilly to one another, they have done so concerning one of the most volatile and controversial engagement points between pro-choice and pro-life activists—demonstrations outside of clinics that perform abortions. One fruit of their dialogue is a working paper that they co-authored, "Common Ground on Abortion Clinic Activism." This paper not only gives each woman’s perspective on the values that determine and shape the position on abortion that each has taken, it outlines the principles related to demonstrations and activism that Cohen and Swallow Prior found they could agree on.

That shared territory includes a mutual commitment to nonviolence as a principle in both pro-choice and pro-life activism. They both "affirm and celebrate the role of the First Amendment in advancing all public debate, including debate over abortion." They agree that women’s ability and capacity as moral decision makers must be recognized and respected by all parties, and that ethical clinic activism must exclude methods that are meant, or likely, to produce fear or intimidation.

The women’s dialogue and resulting paper is the result of their involvement with the steering committee of the Common Ground Network for Life and Choice. The network supports local dialogue between pro-choice and pro-life activists around the country, and at the national level it has produced two other papers co-written by pro-life and pro-choice representatives—one on adoption and another on teen pregnancy.

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Sojourners Magazine May-June 1999
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