When I was the Executive Director of the National Coalition of Abortion Providers, one of the more controversial things that I did was have regular conversations with anti-abortion leaders. We would usually find a neutral location, some restaurant, and split the bill. My purpose was not to try to convert them – that would have been a waste of time. Instead, my hope was that if they really had a better idea of why women were seeking abortions, then maybe they would just be a little more understanding and less likely to go out and scream at the women as they entered abortion facilities.
One of the antis that I met with regularly was with a group called Priests for Life, one of the more aggressive anti-abortion groups in the country. He was a rather vocal advocate for his side and did spend a lot of time in front of clinics all across the country spewing his ugly stuff. One day during a lunch at a small café in Alexandria, I asked him if he had ever been in an abortion clinic. He almost choked on this peanut soup. “Of course not,” he said.
So, I asked the question: “Well, would be you interested in visiting a clinic and talking to the women and staff?” Much to my surprise, he did not hesitate and quickly accepted my offer.
A few weeks later, I arranged for him to privately visit an abortion facility in Pennsylvania. The clinic was a very special one in that the counselors really sought to delve into the hearts of the women who were seeking abortions. In fact, one wall in the waiting room was adorned with letters from the women, some of which were addressed to their “baby” that they could not have. I always choked up when I entered that room.
The priest went to the clinic and spent a lot of time with the staff and owner. I don’t know all of the details of the visit. In fact, I didn’t want to know too much because I wanted to keep it as quiet as possible to respect the priest’s delicate position. If his anti-abortion colleagues found out that he had visited an abortion clinic, it would have raised quite the ruckus.
Interestingly, after his visit he told me he was touched by the letters and the women and over the next few weeks, I may have imagined things but I thought I saw a decided toning down of his rhetoric. For a while, I did not hear him talk about “murder” and “baby killing.” He was clearly against abortion but I actually wondered if that visit had had an effect on him.
That was 14 years ago.
Then, a few weeks ago, I was channel surfing when saw him on some talk show, probably FOX or something of that ilk. And, much to my consternation, he was back to his old self, ranting and raving about the “abortionists” who were “killing babies.” I was a certainly disappointed but I guess I wasn’t that surprised. As I thought it through, most organizations cannot raise money by being moderate, by being open to ideas from the other side. They gotta get out there and pander to the extremes to raise big money. You need to get in the newspapers and on television and for that to happen, you have to be positioned on one the wings of your issue.
I’m reminded of an organization that was formed years ago called “Common Ground.” One of their goals was to bring the anti-abortion and pro-choice folks together at a table to try to find items of mutual agreement. They got a grant or two from some foundations but after just a few years, they quietly dropped the abortion portion of their portfolio. No one was interested.
So, I sit here and wonder what the visit to the abortion clinic was all about.