More than 40 years after the Supreme Court’s ruling in the case of Roe v. Wade that established a woman’s constitutional right to obtain an abortion, human reproduction obviously remains one of America’s most controversial and divisive issues.
What may be less obvious to a lot of people, however, is that the lines of debate on abortion and reproductive freedom have not always been fixed in their current positions. Indeed, when the Roe decision was first issued, it was met with acceptance and approval by a large percentage – maybe even a majority — of American Evangelicals.
And while sands have shifted dramatically over the last four decades, there’s reason to believe that new changes may be afoot today. Many conservatives and people of deep faith, for instance, are no longer satisfied with the rhetoric coming from either side. Many seek a way beyond the polarities of both “pro-life” and “pro-choice” positions. As the issue is an emotional one with strongly opinionated people on both fronts, a new conversation will have to be a sensitive one, taking into account the moral ambiguity of the issue.
Happily, two new and promising nonprofit organizations appear to be making some headway in helping to change the conversation to make it more respectful and of a more nonpartisan nature. Together they present a way beyond the impasses generated by the pro-life vs. pro-choice debate.
The first group, Exhale, has created a new, nonpartisan movement entitled “Pro-Voice,” (www.exhaleprovoice.org) committed to the open-minded exchange of the stories, feelings, and opinions of women who have had abortions. Such exchanges take place primarily in an online community, committed more to people and less to ideologies.
Exhale also offers after-abortion support including an After-Abortion “Talkline,” which is free and nationwide, providing “emotional support, resources, and information.” Those who operate the Talkline offer after-abortion support and counseling. The website offers further advice for the friends, family, and loved ones of women who have had abortions. Furthermore, the website offers a variety of resources for emotional support and self-care.
Through blogs and online community building, Exhale is creating a space where voices can be heard and people can directly engage in dialogue. Already active, their blog allows women to write on and share their personal experiences with abortion. In adopting a nonviolent posture reflected by the online community’s foundational values, Exhale/Pro-Voice encourages respect, wellbeing, collaboration, and confidentiality in dialogue and engagement.
Exhale is facilitating a national “Pro-Voice tour” so that others can hear about them and get involved. In 2015, Exhale will release a documentary for the big screen, following the personal journeys of several women while telling their stories, inviting viewers into critical thinking around a complex issue. In these ways, Exhale/Pro-Voice differs from ideologically-based advocacy groups by allowing the woman to truly choose what is right for herself.
The second group, Backline (www.yourbackline.org), seeks to provide “all-options pregnancy resource centers” that are nonpartisan, providing the entire range of services including peer counseling, free pregnancy tests, free birth control, resources for taking care of one’s baby, and referrals to every kind of provider including abortion clinics. Unlike so-called “crisis pregnancy centers,” which are usually driven by pro-life groups in order to prevent women from having abortions, Backline’s pregnancy resource centers will provide women with what they choose is best for them.
While Backline has yet to build its resource centers—a project for the near future while they continue to raise money—the group also offers Pregnancy Options Workshops to train counselors, educators, health care professionals, and others who have interest. This purpose is to provide professionals with tools and skills they can carry over into their own agencies and clinics. In this way, they seek to not only build their own resource centers but to spread their movement out into other agencies and organizations.
Of course, while sharing stories and providing resources is critically important, this new movement would also do well to provide scientific education on embryology and fetal development if it is to succeed effectively and holistically. A keen understanding of neurobiological development in early life will provide another necessary dimension to the dialogue surrounding a difficult issue.
The bottom line though is that both Exhale and Backline seek to create new ground beyond the worn-out rhetoric of old and tired debates, opening a new way forward into nonpartisan, nonjudgmental dialogue through story-telling and compassion. They are truly “pro-choice” in the sense that no one is being told what to think or what opinions to hold. Each woman is honored for her choice for or against abortion according to her own views and beliefs.
Let’s hope the effort takes flight.
Michael Dise is a graduate student at Wake Forest School of Divinity who worked as an intern this summer at the North Carolina Justice Center.