In my last blog, I wrote about my relationship with Mr. Guy Condon, an anti-abortion activist who ran a number of crisis pregnancy centers across the country. I noted that we had been brought together by an organization called “Common Ground,” which has since closed its doors.
The folks at Common Ground had a very ambitious and, yes, “sexy” agenda. Their goal was to bring together parties on both sides of controversial issues in an effort to find areas of possible agreement. So, for example, with the abortion issue, they tried to craft an agreement on how to reduce the number of abortions. I don’t think they ever succeeded in that particular quest but for a while, this group was much in vogue, they got tons of publicity and lots of money from certain foundations. Ultimately, however, they were forced to shut their doors. Honestly, I don’t know what happened and I don’t have the energy to try to research the rise and fall of Common Ground. Suffice it to say that they are gone.
What many people never realized, however, was that every day there were similar efforts taking place on a smaller scale at the abortion clinics. No, anti-abortion and pro-choice folks were not sitting down and hashing out peace agreements or crafting joint legislation. But activists on both sides of the abortion issue were talking and have been talking for years.
The dynamic at an abortion clinic is fascinating. Generally speaking, the clinic staff people will arrive at the same time and they always know when their local protestors will be out there. Saturday is usually the biggest day as more women are able to get away from work to have an abortion. Normally, you would think that the staffers would just walk in and exchange harsh glances or even harsh words with the protestors. And, yes, in some cases the two sides just didn’t talk and, indeed, there was great animosity. But there were so many other instances where the clinic staff developed some kind of relationship with their protestors.
Over the years, clinic staffers would tell me how they would bring coffee out to their protestors on cold, winter days or ice tea in the middle of the summer. Others would actually invite their protestors into the clinic for a tour of the facility. Several clinic administrators told me that on occasion they would have lunch with the lead protestor in an effort to develop a mutual understanding of their work. Some clinic staff told me that they would have conversations with the director of the local anti-abortion crisis pregnancy center and even refer women to them if they felt it would be helpful. It was as if there was a general truce at these clinics and even a curiosity about that person on the other side of the fence.
I’ve already talked about how my relationship with Paul Hill might have saved the lives of a number of abortion providers in Pensacola in 1994. Of course, no one can prove that talking to the other side might prevented some kind of tragedy but many of the clinic administrators (or doctors) who regularly engaged with “the enemy” told me that the conversations resulted in a less tense environment outside the clinic. They said that after the protestors got to understand a little more about what motivated the clinic workers and the mindset of the women, the protestors were inclined to be less “angry.”
The fact is that activists on this controversial issue, and that includes abortion clinic staff, are usually pretty myopic when it comes to listening to arguments from the other side. They usually just listen to their leaders of their own movements, cite their studies, and regurgitate their talking points. They think that the other side could not possibly have anything meaningful to say, that they are all just out to lunch. So, both sides stick their heads in the sand, become intractable and, as a consequence, the tensions increase.
But because of the bravery of some people on both sides of the issue, peace broke out years ago at some of the clinics that slowed abortion providers and protestors to continue their work in a less-than-hostile environment.
In that regard, I think “Common Ground” worked.