Just like every other election cycle, candidates from both parties in 2020 are trying to rally their base on the issue of abortion. The more liberal candidates argue over who supports abortion the most while the conservatives nitpick on exceptions. It matters who is in the White House, the Senate, and the House. It matters who sits on the Supreme Court and in the office of the governors and statehouses.
Yet, as much as laws and elections have power over this volatile issue, the women making the decision to abort or not are at the very heart of the conversation – and it’s often the circumstances around their situation that force their decision. Do they have the correct facts about abortion? Are the policies of their workplace empowering or not? Are they supported by family or their partners?
The conversation on abortion needs to radically shift in order to talk about what matters the most, because it is completely being overlooked to the detriment of women in need.
At this year's March for Life on Friday, January 24, hundreds of thousands will gather on the National Mall around the theme that being pro-life is being pro-woman. That’s the direction the national conversation on abortion needs to slowly turn towards.
I’ve only been involved in the pro-life movement for 10 years. Before that, I worked at Planned Parenthood for eight years. I’ve seen both sides of the issues and the tactics each uses to try to persuade pregnant women one way or the other. The gap between the pro-life and pro-choice movements is enormous, the chasm deep. Yet I’ve seen what can happen when people of differing views stop yelling at each other and start listening.
Yelling and tearing down the other side, in any kind of divisive conversation, is never helpful. Women are dealing with difficult circumstances and crisis situations alone while the fight rages in a world they don’t live in. Pregnant women facing crisis pregnancies, abusive partners, or imminent homelessness need immediate help. They need resources and they need them quickly.
Can that national fight in Washington, D.C. move to these topics, to issues of removing the barriers of service and help to women in difficult situations during pregnancy? These women have stories that need to be heard by both sides of the abortion debate.
As a leader in the pro-life movement who helps abortion workers leave their jobs and find life-affirming ones and healing in the process, I get thousands of messages from people all over the country asking how they can help a woman they know in a difficult situation. How must it feel for a pregnant mom with additional children who needs to leave her abusive partner immediately, but who keeps hearing “No, I can’t help you,” from local and national organizations? Devastating.
After I created a ministry, LoveLine, to address these kinds of situations, people wanting to help have poured in. It was like a magical dividing line was erased. Women have been quickly removed from bad situations and found new places to live within a day or two. They have been gifted diapers, clothes and Christmas gifts within days of asking for help. And many have chosen to keep their babies instead of abortion because their needs were quickly met.
But how does filling this gap help close the chasm between the pro-life and pro-choice movements? Because both sides agree that helping women in need is a worthy endeavor. That bringing new ideas to solve old problems can change a woman’s life. That women’s rights include the right to adequate medical care, equal pay and a safe place to live.
Recently, a woman walked into an abortion clinic accompanied by a clinic escort. The woman told the clinic escort her story of needing assistance. The escort gave her the name of my ministry. The woman took that advice and reached out to us, and we helped her. That’s empowering on all sides – empowering to the woman who needed help, empowering to the escort who had a tangible answer to the woman’s plea, and to us, who were empowered by knowing we could immediately fill her need.
Passions run strong on abortion for good reason. It rightly involves life and death and an intimate decision by a woman who may be under intense pressure and stress. But by focusing on the barriers to needed services and goods and knocking down the obstacles to parenting, we are empowering women.
The conversation about abortion can – and should – shift to helping women, not just talking about how to help them or what rules they should be placed under or any number of other things that don’t meet their needs at a particular moment. Love and listening goes a lot further than arguing and fighting.