Yesterday, to escape this blasted heat, I went into Washington, D.C. to catch an exhibit of Norman Rockwell paintings that had been donated by Stephen Speilberg and George Lucas.  It was nice just taking my time walking around, examining every amazing detail in Rockwell’s works.

At one point I came across a piece entitled “Free Speech.”  The piece focuses on one man, standing in the middle of a crowd.  The caption next to the painting said this was a man who disagreed with the crowd on some issue, but his opponents were listening to him intently, respecting his right to say what was on his mind even though they ultimately would not support him.   I was almost brought to tears.

Today, of course, that person would have been shouted down, totally discounted as some nut ball by his opponents.  That’s just where we are as a society these days.  We just don’t listen anymore.  Worse, when someone tries to suggest something contrary to our beliefs, we try to silence him with harsh words, with guffaws, with rolling eyes, as if this person could never say anything that was remotely of some benefit.

Of course, we see this kind of behavior all the time in the abortion debate.  Indeed, the harsh back and forth is probably more pronounced when discussing the abortion issue than any other issue.  We are so locked into our beliefs, the battle lines are drawn oh-so-clearly and you cannot cross them lest you be accused of ceding some valuable territory to the opposition.  Just watch an abortion debate on television.  You know exactly what I mean.  It’s a constant screaming match.    “Abortion is murder!”   “A woman has the right to control her body!”   And on and on and on.

No one is communicating.  They’re just yelling over each other.  Actually, years ago I stopped watching these “debates.”

I’m pro-choice, I’ve worked for pro-choice organizations for years.  But, much to the chagrin of many of my colleagues, years ago I started reaching out to pro-life people in an attempt to try to get inside their head, to learn more about them and, hopefully, to allow them to learn more about me .  I actually started engaging the other side after I learned that a number of the abortion clinics that I represented engaged in the same discussions with their local anti-abortion activists.

At the same time, I challenged my pro-choice colleagues to address the tougher questions about abortion.  When I visited the clinics, I talked to the women and it became clear to me that they were not there to make a statement about their constitutional rights or to promote some feminist ideology.  They were there because they were in a difficult situation and they needed help.  They also had to deal with something that pro-choice organizations would rather not address – they were carrying a baby that they didn’t want.   I soon discovered that the bottom line was that abortion is all so complicated.

So, amidst the screaming and yelling, the women continue to seek abortion services.  I think that anti-abortion folks owe these women more respect and the pro-choice activists should not try to reduce this issue to a simple bumper sticker.  Both sides should listen more to the other side with the goal of having a civil debate about abortion – kinda like that group in the Normal Rockwell painting.