On abortion, advocates and opponents unite on policies to address root causes

Editors’ note: This story is the third in a series about a group of people in Wisconsin trying to craft policies to address abortion and its root causes that could apply nationwide. Their biggest goal is to find common ground on one of America’s most divisive issues.

MADISON, Wis. The Starts With Us civic experiment on abortion began with a hypothesis that was reflected in the first working title of the sessions: Abortion Access & Limits.

And the results of the experiments, after heated discussions among 14 Wisconsin residents with divergent beliefs about abortion, are reflected in the final title of the session: Abortion & Family Well-Being, the five proposed consensus solutions that end to publish are designed to address the economic, health and educational disparities that can lead people to choose abortion. Ultimately, the group could not reach any consensus on abortion itself.

But they got very close.

Shortly before Starts With Us began its public comment period on Wednesday, Dr. Participant Kristin Lyerly experienced what facilitator Mariah Levison described during this session as heartburn.

The obstetrician and abortion provider told the States newsroom that they could not sign off on the final language of what would have been a sixth proposal titled Keeping abortion available when a woman is experiencing a medical risk that poses his life in danger. He said he took issue with some of the non-medical terms such as being born, but his biggest concern was that the proposal used Wisconsin’s definition of a life-threatening medical risk, which he said is poorly defined and does not explicitly include mental health emergencies. .

As a doctor, I do it in practice, and everyone else just talks about the theory, said Lyerly, who has since distanced himself from the Starts With Us project because his recently launched congressional campaign conflicts with the its non-profit status. When I am caring for my patients, do I focus on what my patient needs medically right now? No, hey, can you Google what current Wisconsin law says about when a mother’s life is in danger?

Starts With Us Communications Director Tori Larned told States Newsroom that despite the high-level consensus on the issue, several participants who support and oppose abortion access were not in accordance with the final language of this proposal, so they have discarded it for the moment with the possibility of revising it soon. future

For some, the language is still too permissive and for others it is too restrictive, Larned said in an email. Citizen Solutions is about bringing more nuance to what is often a binary and overly simplistic conversation.

Several of the participants on both sides of the abortion access divide said the Starts with Us civic experiment motivated them to continue discussing abortion with people they disagree with. (Sofia Resnick/States Newsroom)

Lyerly said she is excited about the proposals the group reached consensus on and the connections she made with people who disagree. But she remains firm in her view that a medical procedure should not be strictly regulated.

I think we’ve made some important progress, and I think the fact that we can’t address the pressing issue of abortion itself emphasizes how complicated this issue is and how it belongs in the realm of medical practice, not politics, Lyerly. said It is very difficult to find that middle ground because there is not necessarily a middle ground that applies universally. It is a personal issue for you that affects your personal self and your personal family.

Several of the participants on both sides of the abortion access divide told States Newsroom that this civic experiment motivated them to continue arguing about abortion with people they disagree with. One couple said they were disappointed with the final results. And some expressed a better understanding from the other’s point of view, but there were no major changes in thinking.

Initially, I just felt this, how could you want to kill a baby inside your womb? How can you come to this conclusion? said participant Jeff Davis, 76, who has worked with crisis pregnancy centers for women who are considering abortion. From some of the experiences of people there who saw things differently than I did, I could see why a person might come to these conclusions. And so, even though I didn’t change my view, it’s like, okay, now how can those concerns be addressed so that a person wants to choose life?

Davis also told States Newsroom that she was among the abortion opponents who initially agreed that termination of pregnancy should be allowed to preserve the woman’s life, but did not agree to include mental illness as apart from this definition. The semi-retired cattle veterinarian said his reasoning revolves around the qualitative nature of mental distress.

It seems to me that pro-abortionists want to set the bar very low, Davis said. As a result, almost all women could claim mental distress as a reason to be able to have an abortion.

Participant Ali Muldrow, the executive director of the WMF Wisconsin abortion fund, said she ultimately believes hers is a progressive set of policy proposals in what it doesn’t include: rape and incest abortion ban exceptions.

The fact that we didn’t actually agree on an exception for rape and incest I think is a victory, Muldrow said. We were not oversimplifying enormously traumatic experiences as if they could be easily identified, tested, and used to access health care. We did not take the bait of compassion with a condition of extreme brutality. This is something that you are seeing in the country right now and it is really dangerous.

She said that for her the group dynamics mirror what she sees in the US, where there is a majority generally on the side of abortion access despite their diverse personal views, and a minority (in this case five white Christians ) who defends the limits because of deep religious beliefs.

When you combine people who represent 80% of the population with people who represent some kind of specific religious perspective and pretend that those sides are equal, without acknowledging that one of those groups of people has historically had more power than the other group of people. people, it creates a pretty complex dynamic, Muldrow said.

Opponents of abortion also expressed disappointment at what they saw as an imbalance of perspectives on abortion. Kateri Klingele said before the final session held in April she acted as a spokesperson for the five abortion opponents and said they would refuse to consider an abortion exception related to fetal health diagnoses. Lyerly noted that three of the nine supporters of abortion access were absent from the final debate in person. Heather Martell and Ramona Williams were absent due to personal issues, and Monique Minkens began to feel ill and had to leave.

Proposed consensus solutions on abortion and family welfare

This group of 14 Wisconsin residents live across the state, including Milwaukee, Rock, Chippewa, Door, Brown, Grant and Dane counties. But now residents across the state and nation can vote and comment on the groups’ proposals for state lawmakers to consider. The proposals were evaluated by 14 health, legal and policy experts with divergent views on abortion access, three of whom (a Catholic marriage and family expert, a pro-life obstetrician/gynecologist and a professor of educational policies) chose to remain anonymous.

In summary, they would be:

  • Require human development education in schools (and ensure it is medically accurate, developmentally appropriate, and state-funded);
  • Require information about all options from pregnancy centers, abortion clinics, and prenatal care providers (and to ensure that it is standardized, medically accurate, and necessary for dissemination to centers that oppose abortion in the same way as in abortion clinics);
  • Extending Medicaid 12 months postpartum (something that failed to pass in Wisconsin’s most recent legislative session);
  • Provide a refundable state child tax credit (while Wisconsin recently expanded its state child and dependent care tax credit, the state does not have a statewide child tax credit. Fifteen states offer these credits additional child taxes at the state level, many of which reach $1,000 or more per qualifying child); i
  • Approve paid family leave, including foster and adoptive parents.

We envision a world where Wisconsinites have more support to plan and support their families, the participants write in their joint vision statement. Women of color and lower-income women disproportionately experience unintended pregnancies and poor maternal and fetal health outcomes. Better social and community support, including for children and families, as well as during pregnancy, birth and the postpartum period, help women who become pregnant feel they have options to continue their pregnancy.

Starts With Us head of programs Ashley Phillips said that after the public comment period ends on May 31, participants will find out which proposals have received the most support and then evaluate possible next steps, including taking them to state legislators. He noted that for its first session, on gun rights and safety launched last year in Tennessee, more than 30,000 Tennesseans weighed in on eight proposals, and ultimately five proposals were introduced with majority support in the state legislature.

The June 2023 poll by Marquette University in Milwaukee found that 32% of respondents believe abortion should be legal in all cases, 34% most, 25% illegal in the majority and 6% illegal in all cases. The participants in the Starts with Us civic experiment came from different backgrounds and viewpoints on abortion access. (Sofia Resnick/States Newsroom)

Phillips said Starts With Us absorbed a lot of feedback from participants (including hiring a mental health counselor to help guide the final session in April) as they continue to repeat their Citizen Solutions sessions around the country. She said the results of this particular experiment, on abortion in Wisconsin, make her optimistic.

If you look at all five [proposals], are much more about the root causes of abortion, Phillips said. That’s the conversation this group is trying to have. How can we broaden the conversation about abortion, so that it’s not just about weeks, and not just about exceptions and exclusions and prohibitions and not prohibitions and morality or not?

Many of the participants said that this experience was tough, but for most it was worth it.

I think it’s important to listen to where people are at, Muldrow said. As important as the areas where we agree, I think the areas where we disagree are deeply important. If you want there to be this kind of Kumbaya happy ending in a conversation about abortion with people of very different beliefs, it’s a little disappointing that one of the most pronounced elements of that conversation is where people disagree, but people were able to disagree and stay together in this space. I think there is a lot to learn from this.

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