Why Conversations Matter (and Assumptions Never Work)

I was having a conversation with a pro-choice activist about what it means to be ProGrace®. She appreciated that I wanted to meet and see if we could find common ground. We agreed on many things, from maternal and child healthcare to working to stop violence toward women and girls. Over the course of the conversation, I also showed her our 2-minute ProGrace video.

She said she liked the concept of ProGrace, but one part of the video made her very angry.

“I’m offended by the way the video characterizes pro-choice people as anti-child,” she said. “I am invested in many programs to help children live better lives.”

I explained that the video wasn’t trying to say that, but instead was pointing out that pro-choice tends to emphasize the needs of the woman, while pro-life tends to emphasize the needs of the child. And then I asked a follow up question: “The way you viewed it, the video would also be saying that pro-life people are anti-woman. Do you take issue with that?”

“Oh no,” she said. “That point was spot on. Pro-life people are definitely anti-woman.”

Months after this conversation, that comment continues to impact me. It reflects something that I often observe while dialoguing with people about abortion. Many of us are comfortable putting labels on other people, but we bristle under them ourselves. We don’t want people to make assumptions about us because of our view on abortion, but we’re okay making assumptions about them if they disagree with us.

That’s an easy thing to do when we lump people into a category and then assign certain characteristics to every person in that group. It’s even easier to do when we don’t have conversations or relationships with anyone in that group, but instead only observe how they vote, what they tweet about or how they are portrayed in the media.

I know this because I used to make a lot of assumptions about people who were on the other side of the fence from me.

But as I started having conversations — lots of them — with people who hold beliefs on abortion from all across the spectrum, something inside of me started to shift.

I talked to someone who is pro-choice because she was concerned about children being more vulnerable to abuse if the mom was in distress about the pregnancy. I talked to someone who was pro-life because she believed that access to abortion doesn’t empower women, but sends the message that they have to control their reproduction if they want to succeed.

I met a woman who was pro-choice because she witnessed births where no one wanted to hold the child (and she was personally committed to having foster children live in her home). I know a pro-life family who welcomed a young pregnant woman into their home when she had no place to live and hosted her graduation party when she got her college degree.

After years of these conversations, I’m confident that most people want to help both the woman and the child involved in an unplanned pregnancy. No one I’ve ever talked to wants to be anti-child or anti-woman. But sadly, many have been forced to take sides because they haven’t seen a way to engage in the issue without putting the needs of one (the woman or the child) over the needs of the other.

That’s why I love the first principle behind ProGrace: Pregnancy is a unique stage of life where a woman and a child are intertwined. And because of that, we can’t try to help one and bypass the other. We must look for ways to help both.

Being ProGrace transcends the political argument and gives us a way to meet the needs of both women and children. Regardless of our political persuasions, we can work to create a world that is more grace-filled and supportive of women facing unplanned pregnancy.

And maybe as we work side by side to do this, we will start to have more conversations.

And make fewer assumptions.

by Angie Weszely