David P. Gushee and Frances Kissling —
Pro-Life, Pro-Choice, Pro-Dialogue

No issue is more intractable than abortion. Or is it? Most Americans fall somewhere between the absolute poles of “pro-life” and “pro-choice.” A Christian ethicist who advocates a "consistent ethic of life" and an abortion-rights activist reveal what they admire in the other side and discuss what’s really at stake in this debate.

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Guests

is Distinguished University Professor of Christian Ethics and Director of the Center for Theology and Public Life at Mercer University in Macon, Georgia. His books include A New Evangelical Manifesto and The Sacredness of Human Life.

is president of the Center for Health and Social Policy. She was President of Catholics for Choice from 1982 until 2007.

Selected Video

In the Room with David Gushee and Frances Kissling

Watch the entire public discussion between Krista and her two guests at the Humphrey School of Public Affairs on the campus of the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis, Minnesota. And see what people were seeing in our interactive chat as the event unfolded.

Selected Shows

The Civil Conversations Project (CCP) ~ Season 2

This show is part of The Civil Conversations Project, a series of four public discussions offering ideas and tools for healing our fractured civic spaces. Listen to our other CCP dialogues:

» The Future of Marriage
» Pro-Life, Pro-Choice, Pro-Dialogue
» The Next Christians
» Political Bridge People

About the Image

David Gushee and Frances Kissling in dialogue at the Hubert H. Humphrey School of Public Affairs at the University of Minnesota.

Episode Sponsor

The Civil Conversations Project is sponsored by the John C. Danforth Center on Religion and Politics, and the Lilly Endowment.

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71Reflections

Reflections

I appreciate when Francis Kissling said, "People don't read what you write, they read what they think what you are saying". I agree, but this has more to do with the current static method of authorship. It doesn't have to be that way and I have a prototype of a website to prove it. I've applied this On Being episode as an association to my essay on abortion.

The Do Good Gauge use association to keep a thought moving. Instead of misunderstanding an author intent the Do Good Gauge allows the intent to be explained or even changed.

After reading my polarizing essay on the abortion topic, please click "View" to understand how Association can revolutionize multi-media.

The Collateral Damage of the Anti-Choice Agenda -- Association to the Essay.

I intend to use Krista's questions about exploring what makes you uncomfortable on your own side, what you admire in the other, to proble more deeply into areas in which I'm so sure I'm right. The answers were wonderfully open, vulnerable and honest. I hope I can be use the openness as a model and find others who want to dialogue in this way. They're not easy to find. Great program as usual. Thanks.

I agree that different points of views, but this is basicly a moral dilemma. A zygote most likely will not have the same rights unfortunately.

Thank you, Krista and your crew, for crafting a different kind of exploration of truth and understanding. It seems to me to be desperately needed and profoundly important. Could you possibly do something with the Senate and the House of Representatives (mostly joking but wishing someone could move them to ways to work together for a common good)?

2 Extreme absolute positions? Position #1: a person exists at conception and therefore there should absolutley be no abortion allowed whatsoever. #2: there should absolutely be no absolute ban. Hmmm... What's wrong with this? Am I missing something? It reminds me of 2nd amendment "absolute" positions.

If our presidential debates were as intelligent, reasonable, thoughtful, and thought provoking as this discussion was, I would watch them. I long for political discussions to get back to this kind of dialogue. This program, this series of discussions, this type of work which brings true dialogue to the public, this is why ON BEING received and truly deserves its Peabody Award.

I love the spirit of the CCP. We have been trying to do a similar thing at the high school level with Socratic Seminar. I was trying to track down "Talking to the Enemy" that was referenced this morning. I'd like to share some parts of that with my students I think I may also play the last few minutes of this conversation with my students. Models for real civil discourse (vs. screaming talking heads) are so hard to find in the media-sphere today, so thank you.

Trent Gilliss's picture

James, here's the link to the article: http://www.publicconversations.org/resources/talking-enemy. Sounds like a great project!

In 1972 I told my priest that I was no longer confessing birth control as a sin-that when the Catholic church paid for me and my child(ren) from conception to college graduation, I would have as many babies as my body would bear but until then I will take care of and enjoy the two children we have. I feel we need to positively emphasize contraception to avoid abortions. Young people today are no more promiscuous than my grandparents who married at age 15 and had their first of seventeen children at 16. Females marrying before 16 was natural because that is when females are sexually heightened. If you were 18 and unmarried, you were an "old maid". What has changed is our expectation of females. We are now expected to graduate from high school and go on to higher education before we start reproducing. To expect females to restrain from the pleasures of physically consentual sex is as preposterous as it is to expect males to restrain their sexualilty. Promoting safe and proper techniques for contraception will drastically reduce the need for abortion. Developing male contraceptives that will allow males to control their ability to fertilize will give males control of their own reproductive responsibilities. We need to advertise widely (like we do for cars, fast food, etc.) the value of contraception. Creating another human being is an awesome responsibilty that we should only take on when we are mentally and physically prepared-we need to teach this too all at all ages.

Unfortunately it seems to bear out that as we increase the availability of contraception, the number of abortions increase, not decrease. The same holds for condoms as a solution to the AIDS problem in Africa. As Pope John Paul II wrote, the problem is not with the body, it's with the heart. You might consider looking in NFP, it's endorsed by the Church, and, when pregnancy is not a good idea for serious reasons, is, with today's knowledge, the most reliable form of birth control.

"For there is one God, and one mediator also between God and men, the man Christ Jesus," - 2 Timothy 2:5

Confessing to a priest does nothing for you anyway, they can not absolve your sin. Only faith and trust in Jesus Christ ALONE can save you.

Contraception is a band aid for the real issue and that issue is we are forcing our young people to remain 'children' for far to long. And besides who are you to tell God 'no' to more children.

Who are you or I to say when a girl or boy are ready to become a woman or man?

In this Godless society of course young people are rebellious as well as having people who are also older and wicked who take advantage of them.

Parents aren't doing their jobs right and raising their children to be God fearing. Thus this huge societal break down.

What a thought-provoking conversation! I really enjoyed this show. I appreciate how each guest was asked to find something admirable in the other side. Some years ago, I worked as a counselor in an outpatient surgical facility that provided abortions. I saw women from all walks of life. I do think that talking about the medical/scientific side of abortion can add value to the conversation. It's not until 16-25 weeks of life that a fetus develops a central nervous system, and this, I believe is important. I agree with Ms. Kissling that being pro-choice can be nuanced. While it was rare to see a woman seeking a late term abortion, those occasions gave me pause. I also think it's helpful to trace the history of the abortion debate in this country from its roots as a service provided midwives until doctors passed a law to corner the market. Also, at that time in history, there was a xenophobic component to the anti-abortion movement. Understanding all facets of this complex issue will further increase meaningful dialogue. Thanks for a great show!

Thank you so very much for a nuanced conversation on this important topic. I have been fed up with both sides of this debate on the surface, knee-jerk level of my consciousness for years, finding myself consequently paralyzed mentally and unable to think more deeply about it. The points David and Frances make are self-evident and wonderfully helpful, once the time and self-confidence emerges to allow them into thought.l

It’s difficult to see how our country will ever resolve this issue, but reasonable dialogue and respect for the positions of others sure helps.

I am currently rehearsing a play (called a “generous and compassionate comedy”) that Gadfly Theatre Productions hopes will lead to further thought and discourse. In Mitzi’s Abortion: A Saint’s Guide to Late-Term Politics and Medicine in America by Elizabeth Heffron, the main character faces the possibility of a late-term abortion after discovering that the baby she is carrying is anencephalic and would not be able to survive long after birth. Those around her with a variety of opinions include St. Thomas Aquinas (who, among other things, laments that the Church has dropped the idea of “delayed ensoulment” – that is, that a fetus does not get a soul at conception) and my character, a 17th-century Scottish midwife who was burnt at the stake.

I’ll be interested to see how the Friday night post-play discussions go later this month.
http://minnesotaplaylist.com/performance/audience/mitzis-abortion

I hope people will be as respectful and thoughtful as your guests on today’s program.

One note is that the Church has always condemned abortion (and artificial contraception), from the beginning of the Church. See the Didache around the year 100. St. Thomas' idea of delayed ensoulment is, even in his view, a theologian's speculation on the subject, and does not weaken the Church's teaching, which is based on the revelation of God and the interpretation of the Church's Magisterium, but is an attempt to understand it better.

I think one reason people don't often discuss what happens after an abortion is that it's uncomfortable to admit that many women's primary emotion is not regret, but relief. If a woman has an abortion, she should at least have the decency to feel terrible about it for the rest of her life, right? Yet this is not the case for the vast majority of women I know who have been through this complex, emotional, and exquisitely private experience. Regret that circumstances led to the need to make a decision – yes. Regret for doing what was right for her at the time – no. I do agree that more talking about it would be a good thing, regardless of how each person feels. The experience of abortion can evoke a huge range of possible emotions, including regret, anger, grief, relief, gratitude, hope, happiness, and many others – none of them mutually exclusive. Podcasts like this may help make those conversations easier. I hope so!

This is the first time I've tuned into APM On Being. Listening to civil discussion about issues that have become poloarized gives me hope that we as thinking, feeling, spiritual, and physical human beings can actually learn to listen and understand one another. My other hope is that a constructive response can be cratfed both personally and publically. As a Christian and a mother I value both a respect for life and the weighty responsibility of raising children, espeically when there can be so many negatives of an unplanned or unwanted pregnancy with or without the option of abortion.

I never thought that there can be civil conversation about abortion in this country. I am really glad that there are people like Dr. Gushee and Dr. Kissling. I enjoyed every word of it. IIf all our politiciamns both Republicans and Democrats would start thinking like this, we can move this country way beyond the full potential.. Great program Krista.

I have been waiting for years to hear a dialogue on this issue of abortion. Thank you! Thank you! Krista handled the interview of these two amazing guests with sensitivity and grace. This program needs to be broadcast over and over- picked up by other media so folks all over the world finally hear some intelligent discourse instead of all the yelling and screaming that surrounds this deep issue that has become political fodder.
I hope this program ignites the hearts of millions - moves people to dialogue, authentic listening and asking the questions concerning all issues sacred. Blessings to David, Frances and Krista et al.

My sentiments as well. Krista continues to amaze me with her masterful interview skills. I was so intrigued with the title that my wife and I went to the live presentation on this. It truly was a conversation where you could see some movement. I wouldn't call it dialogue, since I didn't see either party completely lay down their belief systems, but it sure was a lot better than the monologue we usually hear on this topic. I've studied 'dialogue' for forty years and have watched it wither in our society as we polarize. This program is such big work. I used to believe things could be fixed, that static beliefs were healthy and that someday I'd have the answers. I now know that nothing's fixed, every thing is moving. It's what makes the world go round and why circles don't have sides. I know that the more rigid I become in my beliefs and answers the harder I break when deeper mystery shatters them. Thanks to all for the courage to open to the mystery, to that which is bigger than us. As Fances said, to 'common grapple', to let down our advocacy and ask more questions, to help one another go deeper. I would suggest a period of silent meditation next time, before words are spoken. There we can meet before the separating influences of language and thought could arise. It really seems to help the listening/dialogue process, beyond our notions of 'right knowing' and 'wrong knowing'.

This is all very postmodern of you Randy. It is great to dialogue instead of shouting at each other, which is becoming a big part of our culture especially in online forums. Great. But are you seriously suggesting that knowing right or wrong is a waste of time merely because we have an infinite number of opinions in this world? Things ARE right or wrong or neutral, irrespective of our opinions. For facts that are morally inconsequential like ‘does China exist?’ we don’t dispute them. I can easily go to China & find that out for myself. Knowledge is the key to right or wrong opinions. Can we be deceived? Of course, and we unfortunately usually are. But to act like it’s more important to discuss than get it right is sloppy thinking that does have consequences. If the legislators who turned the tide on slavery had spent 100 years talking about it, that would have been 100 years of people being enslaved when they should not have been. And to argue that moral issues are all relative is false. That would mean that before slavery was abolished it was moral. There IS right and wrong in an absolute sense even though that concept is increasingly unfashionable.

One brief positive insight: Frances Kissling explained how generally women have an abortion not because they feel they have the right of choice, but because they feel they have *no other choice* due to their social or economic situation. Though I do not support the outcome, we should understand and address those other real challenges.

And a disagreement: while David Gushee said that abortion let's men "off the hook" and Frances Kissling says that men are off the hook either way - implying that men are socially enabled to not be responsible for sexual decisions, conception, pregnancy, birth, or children... on the contrary, men are "ON the hook" and responsible for every child born - to fully embrace fathering that child (if the mother allows) - and he is "on the hook" and responsible for the outcome of every abortion. because regardless of how it occurs, he is as much a partner in that outcome as he was in the cause. If only all men took this responsibility. Unfortunately, Mr. Gushee nodded as Ms. Kissling made her point. They were disagreeing about grades of an erroneous point. I'm personally tired of men being portrayed and excused as being not responsible. In fact, according to Jesus' teaching, God will hold men *more* responsible.

The picture of the two people above look like Jesus being tempted in the desert. And for good reason. Ms. Kissling has for years confused Catholics about the teaching of the Church, a real dis-service.

The idea of a nuance on this issue can be overstated. It's like the slavery issue in the 1800s, either you thought a white man could own a black man, or you didn't. There's not much of a nuanced position available. So here, one can civilly state one's views, and identify geniune concerns of the other side, but I don't see much room for a nuanced position.

Not much to say here, but thank you for a refreshing (and civil!) conversation on such a divisive issue. I loved Ms. Kissling's reference to Thich Nhat Hanh: "In true dialogue, both sides are willing to change." So true, and a rare sentiment in our political climate.

Murder is wrong, end of story. There should be no dialog for this.

Could you elaborate on this?

The wealthy will always have access to safe abortion. Making it illegal, pushes it underground, putting the less advantaged at high risk.

Wow I am so grateful for Frances' insights about how this pivots on sexual behavior, how this isn't simply about a woman's right to choose, and yet we choose, I chose, not to be a mother (until I became in middle age an adoptive mom) and that is a legitimate decision that deserves protection.. The conversation opens up new space and illustrates how hard it will be to move forward.

"People don't read what you write, they read what they think what you are saying".

"We don't see the world as it is, we see it as we are"

I am not what I think I am
I am not what you think I am
I am what I think you think I am

Well, I made you take time to look at what I saw and when you took time to really notice my flower you hung all your own associations with flowers as if I think and see what you think and see of the flower - and I don't. ~Georgia O'Keefe 1960

An artist cannot and does not prepare for a certain response. He does not consider the response but simply follows his inspiration. Works of art are not purposely conceived. The response depends on the condition of the observer. ~Agnes Martin

Conversation at its best is an art. You guys were trying to get Apollo and Dionysus to dance together...and that ain't easy. I admire the effort.

What I find missing in conversations like this is the reptilian factor. The conversations are carried on as if the prefrontal cortex (the conscious self) rules the unconscious self. And so I am sure many people listen to such conversations thinking we can think our way out of this situation. Sex falls right after food and just before plunder on the habit scale. The elephant in the room is the population explosion.

That tirade behind me - I deeply respect the attitude of your conversation. Ms Kissling, I loved your quotes and hope the others make a connection. We all live an illusion. That is a humbling statement and we all need humility.

Thanks

...and you can watch all of Francis Kissling's credibility as a moderate evaporate precisely 30 minutes into the interview:
"Men are off the hook. Men are off the hook if you have a baby, and they are off the hook if you have an abortion."
Sweep aside the millions of men who are suffering under unfair child support laws. Ignore all those who cannot have a relationship with their children because visitation laws are not enforced. Forget about the approximately 25% who are not even the father of the child they are supporting.
Avert your eyes from all the men who wanted to be a father but were denied the opportunity because they have no choice in whether to carry their child to term. Try not to think about all the men who's children are adopted away by the mothers secretly and/or against their will.
Do these things, live in willful ignorance, and you can continue to claim that men are "off the hook". But its shameful that Ms. Kissling made that statement. It's shameful that she was not challenged on it. And it is shameful that she is put forth as representing a moderate opinion.

I'm woefully ignorant of your point of view. Be assured I did read your comments and respect there are perspectives such as yours worthy of consideration. I get that you are seeking a middle ground and hope others will consider you worthy of reaching that destination. Good luck my friend and for all those with an intent of fair compromise. I suggest Michael Sandel's Harvard University public course called Justice if you have not already examined it.

I am extremely grateful for the Civil Conversations project (and On Being in general). Dr. Gushee was my ethics professor at seminary and the man you heard in this conversation is the man I know and respect. I don't always agree with his positions, but I always respect his way of arriving at them and of presenting them. After all these years, I learned new things about his "whole life" perspective. Bravo, On Being - keep up the good work.

After listening to the show, I was concerned by the holes in this nonetheless admirable conversation, that I listened to the unedited version. That was a bit more reassuring. Ms. Kissling's discussion about the pain of abortion (before, after and during), her mention of the broader issues of killing including capital punishments, etc. I would strongly urge a second show with some of the cut sections which are hugely important and respond to some of the comments people have posted. I did note that Mr. Gushee did not include abolishment of the death penalty in his discussion of the absolute sanctity of life nor a discussion of war. His position does not hold much water without these. Ms. Kissling acknowledged these tensions and I was grateful for that.
It is also very difficult to divorce the subject of abortion from political and economic discussions. Who is going to provide healthcare, education, and life-long care and support for those disabled fetuses that according to Mr Gushee have an absolute right to life?
Thanks to all for this compelling conversation- one I hope is just the first but not the last.

It is a mark of how civilized a society is in how it takes care of it's vulnerable members. Economics can hardly be a prerequisite to the right to live. Where are you going to draw the line on that one?

For ten thousand years, humans have acted like predators after learning by watching other animals, to be carnivorous. FOr ten thousand years, since the shift to "domesticating" (neat euphamism for enslave for human purpose, anthropocentrism) wild animals and learning the use of force, subjugation, and turning living beings into human property, our species has been plagued by it's own superiority complex. This very superiority complex, what we in animal rights call "speciesism," has paved the way into human culture and manifested into diseases of the heart. One symptom of this heart disease is a tragic lack of nurturing our young to live in harmony with nature and animals. We actually teach and nurture a DEVALUATION of LIFE. When the ideologies of a species contain accepted use of force over others, as we see everywhere in animal abuse and exploitation, (see all the web sights with pictures and video's of current animal torture in labs, farming, fur, medical research)it is also plagued by the same behaviors in its own midst. With years of abortion rhetoric, we NEVER quite get to the bottom of human sexual desire, and how it is affected by so many things.
Beyond abortion, if humans are ready to grapple with the history of our devaluation of LIFE, even fetal life, we MUST be willing to look at our own cultural failures to raise children who DO Value life, all life. When children grow up with no value of their own bodies,( which our food system does NOT allow or we'd be vegan and healthy inside and out) and sense of responsibility to protect nature( themselves as part of the connected ecology)everything becomes about self satisfaction and external gratification. YES, sex IS USED to fill a void that was created very young. Sex IS USED for validation, where there was a hole from early on. Why would we grapple with our failures? Why would we admit that "health care" has NOTHING to do with diagnostics or treatment but IS everything about nourishment that keeps organs healthy? These issues cause us to look in the societal mirror and understand how retarded human hearts have become in a selfish, me oritented, consumer cult. Want fewer or no abortions, teach that life is sacred, our bodies are sacred, nature is sacred, and we are to protect all aspects, not just economic interests. So frustrating to hear the same discussions. Teach reverence for life, all life. Teach children to love themselves and the natural world, NOT that it is a commodity for consumption. Read The World Peace Diet, as it explains WHY we have these issues instead of skirting them with thousands of words that go nowhere...

Reflection By: Ali Gustafson
12/13/12

This was a discussion between David Gushee, a Christian ethicist and Frances Kissling, a lifetime reproductive rights activist. It covered the things that people usually avoid talking about when abortion is the topic.
Abortion is a topic that we will never arrive at a universal set of convictions. Many people (60 %, both democrats and republicans) do not feel completely for or against this topic and have mixed opinions, others have their mind made up completely in one direction. This topic is a human problem that deals with relationships, sexuality, relationships, economics, etc.. It is seen as a culture war because people are taking an impoverished approach to an intimate civilizational question.
The conversation starts with David. He was raised Catholic and is now a Baptist minister. He became pro-life when he entered into the evangelical world, where there is a holistic ethic of life. Christians at taught to believe that every life matters and should be protected, and a fetus is a life from the time of conception.
Frances, was also raised catholic, and actually became a nun, but then left the convent. Her position as pro-choice is due to her own life experiences. Her mother was 17 years old and unmarried when Frances was conceived. Her mother was bitter and damaged from parenthood and this carried over into her children's lives.
This is a topic I usually choose to avoid, because I agree that this is an unsolvable problem, because there are too many factors that lead people to make drastic decisions when it comes to abortions. I am apart of the 60% that fall in the middle ground on this topic. I really enjoyed this discussion, as they were able to have it civilly and both admitted to seeing certain parts of the others point of view.
They approached this discussion with the thought that, you “need to be vulnerable in front of those whom you passionately disagree with.” David and Frances both agreed that procreation is sacred, and that both men and women needed to be more responsible. Frances stated that, “making babies is a serious business and sex is a pleasurable and meaningful activity with social consequences.” They felt that is society focused more on increasing health care and contraceptive use, if more attention was focused on caring for women during their 9-months of pregnancy, adoption rates may increase while abortion numbers would probably decrease.
I was able to relate to both participants during this discussion, and thoroughly enjoyed the entire thing. The question remains, what is the best thing to do in difficult situations? It is a question that will never have a definite answer, but as long as people are able to open their minds and see the other side, worthwhile answers can be found, and certain decisions might be made a bit easier.

On Being
Transcript for Pro-Life, Pro-Choice, Pro-Dialog with David Gushee and Frances Kissling
Reflection By: Ali Gustafson
12/13/12

This was a discussion between David Gushee, a Christian ethicist and Frances Kissling, a lifetime reproductive rights activist. It covered the things that people usually avoid talking about when abortion is the topic.
Abortion is a topic that we will never arrive at a universal set of convictions. Many people (60 %, both democrats and republicans) do not feel completely for or against this topic and have mixed opinions, others have their mind made up completely in one direction. This topic is a human problem that deals with relationships, sexuality, relationships, economics, etc.. It is seen as a culture war because people are taking an impoverished approach to an intimate civilizational question.
The conversation starts with David. He was raised Catholic and is now a Baptist minister. He became pro-life when he entered into the evangelical world, where there is a holistic ethic of life. Christians at taught to believe that every life matters and should be protected, and a fetus is a life from the time of conception.
Frances, was also raised catholic, and actually became a nun, but then left the convent. Her position as pro-choice is due to her own life experiences. Her mother was 17 years old and unmarried when Frances was conceived. Her mother was bitter and damaged from parenthood and this carried over into her children's lives.
This is a topic I usually choose to avoid, because I agree that this is an unsolvable problem, because there are too many factors that lead people to make drastic decisions when it comes to abortions. I am apart of the 60% that fall in the middle ground on this topic. I really enjoyed this discussion, as they were able to have it civilly and both admitted to seeing certain parts of the others point of view.
They approached this discussion with the thought that, you “need to be vulnerable in front of those whom you passionately disagree with.” David and Frances both agreed that procreation is sacred, and that both men and women needed to be more responsible. Frances stated that, “making babies is a serious business and sex is a pleasurable and meaningful activity with social consequences.” They felt that is society focused more on increasing health care and contraceptive use, if more attention was focused on caring for women during their 9-months of pregnancy, adoption rates may increase while abortion numbers would probably decrease.
I was able to relate to both participants during this discussion, and thoroughly enjoyed the entire thing. The question remains, what is the best thing to do in difficult situations? It is a question that will never have a definite answer, but as long as people are able to open their minds and see the other side, worthwhile answers can be found, and certain decisions might be made a bit easier.

If you are Pro- Abortion, then you must be obligated to TEACH the children in health class exactly WHAT IT IS. I went to a mortuary in 8th grade for a field trip; I saw the embalming tools. I learned about death. Make it mandatory - include a trip to an abortion clinic so these children are armed with the TRUTH; show them the tools, show them pictures, make them truly aware of what takes place. Teach them that the destruction/killing/ ABORTION of an embryo...fetus...baby...human...A ROSE BY ANY OTHER NAME IS STILL A ROSE...is more than just a word. If my observations are correct, these children (like myself and my friends were) are so disconnected from the reality of the word. Give them a TRUE choice.

I read a written radio show about abortion, featuring David Gushee, he is a Christian ethicist, and Frances Kissling, a longtime reproductive rights activist. They each told their stories, how they came to be where they are, and spoke about how it shouldn't be a subject that is sliced neatly into two groups. And it really isn't.
They both were understanding to each others chosen sides, they didn't argue that 'life is life and it should be holy' or 'it's the woman's choice leave it alone'. They actually talked about how it's not a subject that splits into two groups, how there are many that believe both sides are right, in their own way. Being in poverty is a really big reason many women get abortions; they don't have the money or resources to take care of a child.
Kissling did not blame men, but defined them as being constantly 'off the hook', whether they marry the girl or tell them to get an abortion. And Gushee agreed that in this society it shouldn't be because women are in poverty that they can't take care of the child. That is where the man should step in and help, no matter if he does marry her or helps her keep the child alive.
They also think that having two sides isn't helping this subject come to a close any faster. Legal or illegal there has a be a compromise between the groups, it can't go on being so deeply two sided. Many of the people on either side only know half of what they should to be pro-choice or pro-life. And then there is everyone else who believes in both sides, and some who think that there should be limits to abortion. Not as in how many one woman can have, but as in how long in the pregnancy they are before it's too late to have an abortion.
What I have taken from this talk between the two is that the divide between the groups is deep, yet shallow. There are points on either side that are valid, but they need to come together to make better choices. Women are in the middle of the controversy, and they should be allowed to do as they wish. If they had more power it wouldn't be an issue, if men would take up responsibility it wouldn't be an issue. Women are allowed to have the choice, but that is exactly what it should be. A choice.

I understand both points of view, teenage girls who become pregnant wish him his life back to this event, but it is only fair to pay the baby a mistake made by the mother.

This moral dilemma has a very wide line, when will a zygote have the same rights as a human being born?

I agree that different points of views, but this is basicly a moral dilemma. A zygote most likely will not have the same rights unfortunately ...

The idea of a nuance on this issue can be overstated. It's like the slavery issue in the 1800s, either you thought a white man could own a black man, or you didn't. There's not much of a nuanced position available. So here, one can civilly state one's views, and identify geniune concerns of the other side, but I don't see much room for a nuanced position.

Pro-Life, Pro-Choice

Before available birth control unwanted pregnancies could result in babies being given to programs, such as existed when I was growing up, St. Mary's Home for unwed mothers. Many such program exists today.

The nature of forced marriage in unwanted pregnancy situations is not as prevalant as in past years, in fact most single "mothers" have one or two children and remain unmarrried.

What is disturbing in the "pro-life" "pro-choice' debate is the alarming use of abortion by women who have birth control available to them, fail to use it, and who then resort to abortions.

The examples of other women, with less choice, poverty level economic circumstance, and rape is predominately used to advance a pro abortion platform. Research on these uses of abortion don't support the more better off women relying in abortion as birth control. I could be wrong and supported research could be limited and outdated?

Abortion will always be a dividing issue, but the trends and uses of it should be presented in any discussion.

The morality of abortion needs to be addressed more clearly, needs to deal more directly with issues like personhood, like pain to the fetus. With God (or no God), with whether we are the product of chance or not. This can be done. I did it for myself and have been comfortable and unconfined with my own conclusions ever since. It took roughly 20 years to get there, but now I am not only unconflicted, I am spiritually inspired by my 100% pro-choice and 100% pro-life position. And I have been direct. I have not "compromised." For me, now, it is very clear, very comfortable. I've even written a dlalog explaining it: "The Sureness of Heaven." It has continued to be edited over the years and I think it's helped some people.

I would like to see religious leaders promote the understanding that contraception prevents abortion.

Fascinating discussion -- though the interest for me was more in what Gushee and Kissling were willing to state from the beginning than in the actual dialog, which frankly didn't seem to confront any serious disagreements head on. Gushee in particular seemed unwilling to explore his areas of disagreement with Kissling. Does he think abortion is murder, or doesn't he?

Despite the fact that this dialog was intended as an encounter between two people who disagree deeply, in reality the "civil" character of the conversation seemed to have a firm foundation in the belief of everyone involved that the pro-life movement has badly damaged politics in this country. That's a truth I also consider axiomatic. But it's hardly a real dialog when everyone's already-agreed-upon enemy never shows his face.

"There is no safe space." says Frances, tellingly. A womb is definitely not a safe space.

I wish she'd have respected Krista's offer of a moment without fear. Rather, her fear overran David, I found.

This was a wonderful episode. It made my Sunday morning much brighter. Thank you all for the thoughtfulness and wisdom that was expressed.

Great abortion discussion. More intelligent than most exchanges, but the issue is still irreconcilable. Either a woman has a right to control her body, or not. The Supreme Court got it exactly right. Early in a pregnancy [first trimester], abortion on demand is a woman's right, no questions asked. Midway into a pregnancy [second trimester], let each State's voters decide through their elected representatives. Near term [third trimester], problematic given the rights of the mostly developed fetus.

Posing this as a legal thing is unhelpful and posing it as related to women's bodily autonomy is unhelpful. I have to do things with my body that I don't want to do, and I luckily don't have to struggle with killing a being or prebeing. Why does absolute autonomy have to be maintained in this question but exists in no other sphere? I can't drive through red lights because it endangers others. I can't kill other people if i thought it'd be in my best interest for the rest of my life, like killing abusive partners. Why is abortion different? Let's say we agree 12 weeks is the cutoff. Why would abortion prohibited after this point be any more threatening to women's autonomy than prohibiting homicide in general would be to either gender's autonomy?

It's a moral and social question. The legality is transient, like the voting rights act ruling.

I've had an awful illegal abortion pre Roe V Wade.. No one should go through that. Why haven't you even spoken on the harm to women's bodies by illegal abortion? I agree with David Foster Wallace. I'm pro life and pro choice. It's wrong and I'm for it 100%. In the seventies, when feminism began, women would angry with me for telling them i felt guilt. I'd do it again. The man proposed to me, not really wanting to. I turned him down, not wanting to marry or have a child. Frankly, I wouldn't want a child to grow up in a fundamentalist family. Christian, Jewish, or Muslim. I was raised a third generation atheist, though I prefer my grandfather's term, "free thinker". I'm also a mystic. not only should contraception be taught but condoms should be free in boy's and girl's restrooms, where no one can see them pick them up. Often people have a hard time imagining their daughters having sex. Once I sent a box of condoms to a friend's child was to be visited by her Facebook boyfriend. With illustrations on how to double bag and leave room at the front of the penis. A week later the girl's mother called to say they'd asked for another box. My mother, a liberal, taught me how to have children, but not how not to. She was jealous of my freedom as a good looking young woman. When my brother left for college, she fiiled his closet with Kotex, saying, "That will last until you get pregnant and married." A curse I overcame with an abortion. There's a correlation between alcoholic mothers and pregnant teen daughter. Among other impacts of alcoholism on children of alcoholic. If I described my abortion you'd throw up. (And I'd already met his Catholic family with eight children, one having had two kids out of marriage, given away.) Pro Life people, especially men it seems, don't realize how cruel they are. Some "pro life" women and men would say, "She deserved her suffering." Interview someone who has had an illegal abortion. I've written a piece on mine. Am trying to decide where to send it. If you have any ideas please email me.

I am a pro-life democrat (there are many of us but we are largely quiet about it). I am also a Christian. I would like to see this discussion material made available to more college campuses, perhaps in critical thinking classes or reading materials. There is so much political correctness, polarizing debate without the openness we saw here. The discussion could be expanded to include support for women after they've had an abortion, and not minimizing the traumatic effects it has for a great many women. The discussion could also include the expanded adoption world now, with more choices and supports offered. I think both sides were presented in an open way and I would like to see this continue. To those who are bothered by the notion that a pro-abortion person could have doubts about her side's black and white view of it, or that the pro-life voice here is calling for more sex education and contraception: only respectful dialogue, validating some of the views of the other side (without necessarily agreeing to them) will lead to less abortions and better lives for women and their unborn or born children. Lighten up, people!
The people who feel as I do may be getting their kids ready for church, and perhaps do not usually listen to NPR talk shows. I do not represent the typical demographic of an NPR devotee. If my comments upset anyone, consider listening to the show again. It is an example of effective dialogue. but I would like to see more coverage of the atmosphere on university campuses (what could be done to help students see the gray areas). And what about parental notification? I have to give permission for my teenager's school to administer cough syrup or tylenol for cramps, but not for something as life-altering as an abortion? "A man convinced against his will, is of the same opinion still...." I live in an area where the most vocal, default position is staunchly, unequivocally pro-abortion. Thanks for giving us all things to think about, and for showing me that NPR does not assume that ALL of their listeners are of the same mindset.

David Gushee's belief that abortion is more a societal issue than a legislative (or political) one is completely on target. You can't legislate a profound appreciation for life - it has to be ingrained in our moral consciousness. It's something we have to teach our children from the start. The day a pregnant woman and those around her believe that finding a means to accommodate the yet to be born child is more important than finding a means to eliminate it we will finally see an end to "expedient" abortions. That will take not only a personal commitment to the preservation of life but a societal willingness and capability to care for the life brought forth. It really will take a village to solve this particular problem - and what a marvelous village that will be.

Sometimes the sides in a debate are not as opposite as they assume. Sometimes, working together, sides find a better and more profound solution to their dilemma than either could have uncovered alone. Go to this link: http://www.universalist.org/archives/000547july_2009_anchor_newsletter.html. Then click on the words in the box: "July 2009 Anchor newsletter." Read "The Sureness of Heaven." What do you think?

There is a third term that was not used but was what this conversation ended up being about and there was much middle ground of agreement. The term is PRO Birth. The definition in my understanding is this group believes there will not be any abortions but they also don't provide any support for the child except legal before or after the birth.

Will someone please tell me how the anti-abortion folks managed to become labeled "pro-life"? This is the greatest public relations coup ever. People who oppose a woman's access to abortion are anti-abortion, not necessarily pro-life. In the discussion of abortion, the term used is inevitably "pro-life" , which sounds so much more positive than what is really is, which is anti-abortion. Many of the so-called pro-life group support the death penalty, own guns, hunt animals, eat meat, and are themselves, or support, the armed forces. There isn't much "pro-life" about any of these things. In the discussion of the complex subject of abortion, much greater clarity is obtained by using the correct term of "anti-abortion" or "anti-choice" instead of the emotionally charged term "pro-life".

Dear Cynthia, I really hope you're joking. Sorry I can’t resist. Come on Cynthia, you have to admit, it’s one sandwich short of a lunchbox, logically speaking :) Umm....BECAUSE ABORTION TAKES AWAY LIFE might be the simplest answer. Out of almost 7 billion people on this planet, please tell me of one that was not at one time a fetus. Studies have shown that there is a direct relationship between fetuses and people ;) Therefore if you 'terminate' a fetus you are ending a life. Even a child can work this out. According to your one side 'logic' of challenging positive spin, one would have to also term the 'Pro-Choice' lobby: 'Anti-Life'. That would be fair, and more accurate. Especially since the 'Pro-Choice’ cause is dependent on preventing women from receiving the information they need to make informed choices such as sonograms (note the opposition to the kind of legislation that would provide more information like this to mothers). Let’s try ‘Pro- Abortion’ to keep with the positive spin. Everyone likes that one. You bring in irrelevant arguments about the death penalty / guns / animal rights because you simplistically lump people in the same box because of narrow-minded party politics. We’re not talking about those issues. This cold & soulless bluster about emotionally charged arguments is the quintessence of human self deception.
Please think with me for a minute along the lines of worst case scenarios. Imagine with me that the 'Pro-life' position is shown to be terribly mistaken, beyond a shadow of doubt, actually completely groundless and yet they have their way and repeal on-demand abortion. The result: we have tragically restricted women in their reproductive rights and they will have to raise children that they did not wish to have or give them away for adoption. That’s a painful and often bitter scenario (but life can always surprise us) and not one enfranchised women, or the multi billion dollar abortion industry are likely to opt for. Now imagine with me that the 'Pro-Choice' position is actually mistaken. Instead of ‘blobs of cells’ fetuses are shown in reality to actually be children (over half of which will be women) with precious potential and 'the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness’ like all other members of society, and yet are the most vulnerable sector of society and unprotected by the very parent who is supposed to provide that protection and who is actually the cause of their dismemberment and brutal murder. What do we have? We have the violation of the rights of the weakest of human lives, but much more than that, we have the silent massacre of 40 million children (7 times the size of the Jewish Holocaust). Judge for yourself which is the worst. Please don’t talk about emotional charge. Human beings are masters of self deception where guilt is concerned, because we don't want to even open our minds to the possibility that we are guilty of such despicable barbarity being committed in the name of 'civilization'. This is the real emotional charge in this debate: guilt. Hopefully one day society will look on this evil stench in it's cold light of reality as we now do the Slave Trade, but I believe that day will never come, because our society might be very smart but it’s morally dumber than a box of rocks, just like your posting.

this show was such a delight! At last a thoughtful and humane discussion of this issue. Having worked in maternal-child health all my life the complexities and the realities of life for mothers and their children are critical to our future and yet they get hijacked by arguments that take us nowhere. At last a chance to think about them in all their soul searing reality. thank you

Until there is science to support where the line of viability is, I think the decision is that of the woman. Any other view is an imposition of morality on another person. I doubt that there is a person in the world that "likes" abortion; but, there are a lot of people that think they should be allowed to make decisions about other persons ability to decide what should be done.

David Gushee's,"We are becoming dumber as a society...civilizational significance" didn't say what I have been feeling since I listened this morning. I think what I have been feeling is not less intelligence but less virtue, less striving for wisdom, less appreciation for wisdom, happiness and virtue. When were these given as the real reason for spending money on an education? Money has become our god. We need to ponder the fate of Midas.
It seems we have more abused children, more abused women, more economic slavery, more suicides, more mental illness, more abuse of natural resources than ever before, more expensive but poorer health care, poorer education and the Ogllala aquifer on its last twenty years. Making abortion illegal will only compound the problems.
I had a very wise and loving old uncle who never seemed to have a bad day or thought, who in his very alert ninties almost knocked me off my chair when he declared, "Only after half the people starve to death will the rest come to their senses." That sentence has been haunting me ever since. We are in desperate times. When will virile mean virtuous? When will virtue become valued? When will we become aware that happiness takes its life from virtue?

What about the mentally ill who become pregnant? How do we deal with those that want abortion? Can we force them to have children? We have a large number and am not sure they would be adopted.

Still love the episode. About my 3rd listening.
I appreciate your find of David.G (he was new to me) he's a great thinker.
How about building an entire show around that gem at the end - that modern media is making us dumber. Aim high - I don't want to remember your enterprise as all just TED talks on the radio.

I found this program to be very profound. Having been part of the debate for many years I found it refreshing to listen to the topic discussed open and honestly. I appreciated both Gushee’s and Kissling’s views and their thought provoking questions they had for the other.
I believe there is no clear answer to the issue, nevertheless I think David brought up the fact that we need to honestly address the taboo topic of “sex” with young people and help them to become aware of the consequences of their actions.
I also agreed with David when he mentioned that if Row v Wade is overturned and we haven’t dealt with the underlining issues, the fallout will be great.
Since you were willing to address the topic of abortion in an open an honest forum, maybe it’s time to deal honestly with the topic of how our society is the most sexualized and conversely the most puritanical. This issue impacts our society; morally, ethically and religiously.
Thank you again for a truly stimulating program
Leslie Dixon, Executive Director/Founder Birds & Bees Connection

What a breath of fresh air as far as a conversation, Both parties displayed abundant respect, intelligence, curiosity.. I was also struck by the civil, nuanced, and meaningful conversation, usually in very short supply when there are disputes on this kind of magnitude. With these kinds of seemingly unresolvable differences, with people firmly entrenched on their respective polarized sides, the best that can be hoped for may be this type of compassionate dialog, where people really try to listen to and hear each other, and try to empathize with each other's perspectives. And to acknowledge there may be some validity to what the other side is saying. It's an interesting mental exercise to pose a hypothetical thought problem, as if your life depended on you standing up and defending one aspect of the other side, which you respect and admire

If some kind of creator exists, I imagine that he/she/it created men and women so that they could procreate. I believe in the biological imperative. However, I feel it also takes an extraordinary act of courage, to bring a measure of thought and free will into the picture and recognize that one may be an exception to the rule. Perhaps one does not feel that one has the instincts or the capacity to be a good nurturing mother, or perhaps one has not met the person one feels would be a good father and husband. Or perhaps the whole world is just such a rotten place that one wonders why anyone in their right mind would want to subject a new being to the torture that is life on this earth, filled with so much pain and suffering. It then is a act of responsibility and courage, even kindness, on a woman's part, to recognize and accept that the biological imperative is not destined to be her experience. I respect a person's decision to choose not to procreate if they choose not to. In this dialogue, I was really struck by Ms. Kissling's life story, and her pointing out that the other side would seem to want and expect her be a virgin all her life, if indeed the sex act is, or should be, so intrinsically linked to the act of procreation. Dr. Gushee totally avoided answering this one, as if it really was too hot to field. There is no answer that I see as workable here, coming from his perspective. But on the other extreme, one can see all around us in this society promiscuity raised to an art form, people indulging their physical urges with no self-restraint or self-control, like dogs, just for pure physical pleasure and fleeting gratification, with no thought to the possible consequences of creating a life, bringing a baby into the world, and having to care for it long-term. It is the loss of personal responsibility in all this that I bemoan and find most dreadful. Actions have consequences - period. Any such simple and natural cause-and-effect relationship like this should offer up teaching moments. To engineer, manipulate and alter this with contraception and other modern technology may be doing a grave disservice to the long-term common decency and integrity of human beings. It's almost like some universal of fundamental law may be being tampered with and broken. Sex just feels so good. If there is a creator I imagine he/she/it would have wanted us to feel such soaring heights of pleasure in physical intercourse, uniting as one in love-making, and making babies as the ultimately beautiful result of this expression of combined passion. But looking at the animal kingdom and extrapolating to man from that, if men's and women's physical needs would really be met, it seems like women would be popping out a baby every year they are fertile. The big question is, what is the "morality" of contraception? If having sex is what some creator intended to combine pleasure with making babies happen, can one simply undo this by some creative means, to eliminate the "danger" of making a baby, so that the sex act can be used ONLY for pleasure when one wants, without fear of any such "grave consequences", i.e. exactly those same consequences as some all-knowing creator had intended. Sound a bit similar to pick-and-choose cafeteria Catholicism. I'm generally more sympathetically "pro-choice" if we are talking about an individual who is basically a fairly responsible person and puts sex in some greater context, where there is some greater emotional depth to the relationship. I get increasingly less sympathetic with people who have no sense of the risk they are taking, have no respect for the sanctity of the potential life they are creating, who don't recognize any "sacredness" in the fundamental linkage of sex with making babies, and who use abortion merely as a routine procedure to reverse any unintended and unwanted "accidents". It seems that what separates us from the other "beasts" in the animal kingdom is that only we humans have the "higher" consciousness to understand the emotional component of the sex act, whether or not you specifically call it "love".

All this completely changes after menopause, which is a creator's natural contraceptive technique, which neatly resolves all these nasty and tricky dilemmas. Then people can be free to have ecstatic glorious carnal pleasure all the time with no risk of any "bad" consequences. Hoorah.

I enjoyed your interview on public radio. We need more open dialogue on
polarized issues such as abortion. I'm a physician who has intimate contact
with life and death daily. Raised in a morgue, I examined miscarriage specimens
as a child alongside my father, a hospital pathologist. With the wonder of young
girl and the wisdom of a woman physician, I've investigated the destiny of these
discarded embryos and fetuses. My philosophy is apolitical and offers a fresh
angle on a topic that deserves public discourse. I have been pro-choice in the past
though have been considering the sanctity of life and wondering why we consider
miscarriages medical waste. While pro-choice and pro-life groups remain polarized on elective
abortions, there are far more spontaneous abortions (miscarriages) in America.
What happens to all of these miscarriages? I answer this question in my essay,
The Life of a Miscarriage: http://blog.oregonlive.com/health-care/2013/07/the_life_of_a_miscarriage...

No man can understand how it would feel to have his body and his future co-opted by someone else's desires. If an easy modification of a man's body were available, would David always choose to take inside his body, nourish and support the lives of each unplanned pregnancy? At fifteen, I was betrayed by my mother who invited the man who had just attempted to rape me to live in my home. He raped me in my home. I was forced to marry him because otherwise my child would be a bastard. 54 years later my son has suffered because he never had a father. David, how many children would you carry and support? That is a real question for every woman.

An interesting and refreshingly un-polarized discussion. While David Gushee seemed generous and conciliatory, I couldn't help feeling that any minute Frances Kissling was going to burst out of her rather contrived tone of generosity and burst forth with "Let me tell you somethin' ! ", like she knows the absolute truth of the matter and anyone who dissents from her viewpoint is automatically misinformed.

The picture seen here demonstrates this difference in attitude wonderfully.

Thank you, thank you, thank you. This conversation is excellent on so many levels. Most especially as a model of Dialogue. I was thrilled to be able to listen to civil conversation on the abortion issue after a lifetime of having had to listen to propaganda and invective in shouted volleys. Very encouraging.

I am not a regular listener, and seldom write comments on any radio or TV program, but I enjoyed this program so much I am doing so now. It was good to set aside the stock arguments, and the sense of alienation, and have two thoughtful persons with different points of view have a civil dialogue. There was no meeting of the minds but I learned a great deal about perspectives in this brief program. Maybe there is a place - a small spot of common ground - where we can meet.

David Gushee and Frances Kissling interview was such a great discussion,I found this discussion very timely and well thought out, hitting hard on a very passionate issue. I can see both sides of the issue and have open discussion like this could bridge the gap of what people believe; I have very strong beliefs about this subject , but was able to see both sides of this discussion. Really thought provoking. “Making babies is serious business and sex is a pleasurable and meaningful activity with social consequences.” Heavy so on point.

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