A pro-choice activist describes what it's like when a major pro-life protest occurs in her city: "I'm the one who calls in the army [of volunteer clinic escorts]....It's like a war. I don't like it. I'm tired. I want to see if there's another way to deal with this issue."
So on a brilliant spring day she joined 100 other people in Madison, Wisconsin, in the first national conference of the Common Ground Network for Life and Choice. For four days pro-choice activists, clergy, doctors, and women's clinic directors could be found with pro-life activists, clergy, lawyers, and crisis pregnancy center volunteers in workshops, strategy sessions on teen-age pregnancy and adoption, and—perhaps the biggest surprise—friendly conversation.
These people didn't ignore their very real differences on the core issue of abortion, but they also didn't allow those differences to distract them from seeking the "common ground" that exists even among adversaries.
The Common Ground Network came together in 1993 out of dialogue and joint action between pro-choice and pro-life supporters in Buffalo, St. Louis, and elsewhere. The network links such "common ground" groups around the country, providing resources, training, and facilitators.
Activists from both "sides" of the abortion issue sit down together for extended discussion under specified ground rules: respectful speech and behavior; a desire to understand; a pledge to refrain from attempts to convert and convince; and confidentiality. Discussion moves from issues directly related to abortion (What's the life experience that's led you to the position that you've taken?) to related topics suggested by group members (What are your beliefs about birth control? How do we best teach our children about sexuality?). A goal is to identify areas of agreement and possible cooperative work. Examples have included promoting adoption and developing a mutual "code of conduct" for public hearings concerning abortion.