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Abortion: Have We Done Our Homework?

Alfred Sisley. The St. Martin Canal in Paris.
(Alfred Sisley. The St. Martin Canal in Paris. Source)

Abstract: This text describes a Common Ground Declaration project concerning abortion. Peaceful societies cannot exist without intelligent debates, and intelligent debates cannot occur if participants don't first seek out everything they agree on, before they actually discuss what separates them. After listing the motivations for this project, this text discusses the deliverables, the keys to success, and a draft list of statements that should be agreeable to pro-choicers and pro-lifers.

1) Introduction

I'm a newbie in the debate on abortion, so please forgive my naiveté. My question is simple: has there been an effort to produce some sort of "Common Ground Declaration"? In other words, have the pro-life people met or at least exchanged e-mails with the pro-choice people, to try to come up with a list of statements they both agreed on?

I'm not talking at this point about some "common ground" concerning abortion. That is what we disagree about! No, I'm talking about an effort to find everything we agree on, except that difficult topic.

I'll repeat myself: this project is not a debate on abortion, with the intention of finding a compromise (for example: "Abortion is an abominable crime on even days, but is a good thing on odd days and statutory holidays!", etc.). It's not a project for a debate, but for a pre-debate. (For a more philosophical explanation of the necessity of a "pre-debate", see Paragraph 4 of Concedo, Nego, Distinguo.)

2) Why should we do this?

It doesn't matter whether this project is starry-eyed or realistic, whether it is doomed to failure or not. We must at least make an honest effort to understand "the other side" (no negative connotation intended). Societies don't only exist because of laws, courts and jails. Societies exist because there is enough solidarity and understanding between its members to counteract the ever-threatening forces of disunion and misunderstanding.

If enough people stop making active efforts to strengthen social bonds, then that Society simply falls apart. It seems to me that thousands of years of History prove this. Even if we assumed things were perfect as we speak, we would still need to make efforts, since social bonds and solidarity are never acquired once and for all.

Such a project has many advantages:

2.1) We need good examples of dialog. The evening news gives us many examples of people who should get along but who don't. I would be a nice change and a good example for all to see a civilized dialog between representatives of two sides which have a huge potential for misunderstandings.

2.2) We need to define some critical terms. There can be no democratic debate without a common vocabulary. Heavily "loaded" words like "religion", "human person", "right", "abortion", need to be defined, otherwise no debate is even possible.

2.3) This declaration would be an excellent "Welcoming Word" on the web sites of both sides. Imagine a pro-choicer landing on the web site of a pro-lifer. Wouldn't it be nice if this person could say: "Well, look at that! They signed the Declaration also! At least we agree with them a bit!".

2.4) We need contacts with the "other side". Any text or speech defending right-to-life should be vetted by the other side, if only to help us detect unnecessary irritants, factual errors, misperceptions, etc. A "Common Ground Project" would be an excellent opportunity to find such people.

2.5) We must do this anyway. It is our "homework", something we must do simply because we happen to be in this situation. It's like pulling a old lady away from the trajectory of a car that's backing up without looking. You can see the lady will get crushed if she stays there, so you do your duty and you pull her out of the way.

3) Hasn't this been done already?

If you are aware of such a "Common Ground Declaration", please notify me! I've done a bit of research with Google. There has already been some "Common Ground" projects, but so far I haven't found any common declarations.

The links I found so far were either "Please pay here so you can read the article", or "This mediation consultant walked on water by getting pro-choicers and pro-lifers to talk, so hire her", or especially "Yeah, yeah, we found some common ground. Lots of it", but without a list of statements!

Moreover, I sent e-mails to all the pro-life and pro-choice organizations I could find in North America, and nobody mentioned the existence of such a project, on the contrary.

4) What are the deliverables?

This project would have a simple, down-to-earth objective: to produce a 8.5 x 11 sheet of paper filled with precise statements that all parties agree on, signed by associations representing both sides.

Of course, we could agree on more! But focussing on a simple, tangible goal is a good start.

5) What are the keys to success?

5.1) Topics we disagree on are "off limits". The object of the exercise is to find common ground, so the ground rule would be to carefully steer away from anything contentious. Of course, I'm all in the favor of having a good, intelligent, public and documented debate on this topic! In fact, as far as I know, such a debate has never occured! But now is not the time. Before the debate, the pre-debate!

5.2) No watering down of our position. Once again, this project aims at finding common ground, not at increasing the level of confusion! If some statement is not acceptable for us, we just refuse politely. Same thing for the other side.

5.3) Zero-cost process. There is no budget for this, so the whole project would be done with e-mails (free) and a tiny web site (already paid for). It seems we could do a lot, just by writing down a list of potentially agreeable statements, then sending it to many associations of the other side, getting their feedback, wordsmithing, re-sending, and after a few such "cycles", just declare whatever is commonly agreed on to be the successful result. If we can't make that work, there's no hope for World Peace!

5.4) No unfair tricks. Neither side must use this project to gain any kind of unfair advantage. Practically speaking, this means anybody can pull out anytime.

5.5) Seek the fullest representation possible, without requiring it. Of course, it will be better if this project includes many pro-life and pro-choice associations. So we should seek to include as many as possible. But realistically, it won't happen. So we should also be prepared to be satisfied with "Something is better than Nothing".

5.6) Attack the bad representatives on our side. No matter how carefully we proceed, some bad apples will turn up on our side. There unfortunately are such things as sexists and misogynists. We have to throw out those elements quickly and decisively.

6) What would be examples of statements accepted by all?

Warning! I'm just "throwing out in the open" a few suggestions:

6.1) Violence, intimidation and generally unlawful behavior are not acceptable. Problems must be resolved otherwise than by warfare (whether verbal or physical).

6.2) The religious beliefs of a few citizens should not be the basis of laws imposed on everybody. Civil laws should not be based on religious beliefs, but rather on things like common sense, reason, Science, etc. Of course, that doesn't mean there will never be any disagreements, but at least the problems can be discussed, as opposed to beliefs you either have or don't have.

6.3) "Pure democracy" is not acceptable. By this we mean that a majority of voters is not necessarily right. For example, if a majority of Canadians decide that Jews should be exterminated in concentration camps, or that rape is "legal", those things will still be horrible and illegal. An unjust "law" is not a law. There is something "above" the pure vote of a crowd.

6.4) Rights cannot be denied. For example, pro-lifers claim there is no such thing as a "right to abortion", but they don't claim that women's rights should be denied. In a way, it is only a small distinction, but in an other way, it is very important.

6.5) Unwanted pregnancies are bad. Of course, there would be a disagreement with what should be done with an unwanted pregnancy! But we can probably both agree that ideally they wouldn't exist in the first place.

6.6) Women must not let religious cult leaders control their ovaries. The world is sprinkled with superstitions and completely crazy religious cults. Women have the right and the duty not to let irrational groups control their bodies.

6.7) A woman isn't a piece of meat. Of course, a woman has a body, and a body composed of a specific arrangement of atoms (just like a piece of meat). But a woman is more than an arrangement of atoms. There is something which gives her intrinsic dignity, from which flow inalienable rights.

6.8) Our side must be willing to submit itself to the truth. If, after conducting careful reflexions and calm debates, our opinions turned out to be false, we would have to change them.

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