Jimmy Simmons, vice president of the Pikes Peak Southern Leadership Conference, accepts water and shakes the hand of an armed civilian watching the Casper vigil June 5, 2020. (Dan Cepeda/Oil City News)

We Americans have increasingly struggled with how to relate to one another. The pain caused and the dangers posed by that collective shortcoming have been on full display in the days since the U.S. Supreme Court issued its Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization opinion. 

Opinion

On June 24, the Supreme Court overturned its prior ruling that the U.S. Constitution’s implied right to privacy included a right to abortion in certain circumstances. In the days since that ruling, we have seen Americans express joyous celebration and desperate sorrow. What we have seen very little of is either side of the yawning political and ideological divide attempting to understand the other.

Issues like abortion are difficult to talk about. Positions on abortion are often defined by deep-seated beliefs. For or against it, your position probably derives from a fundamental belief about something like freedom,  life, autonomy or equality that makes it difficult to hear and understand those with different perspectives. Religion, of course, plays a big role in the abortion debate, but make no mistake, the church holds no monopoly on faith. Those in favor of access to abortion typically come to their positions with beliefs just as fervently held and immutable as their opposition’s. 

Conversations about abortion are so uncomfortable because they often involve disagreements about ideas that the participants believe to be fundamental truth. As humans, our instinct is to avoid the cognitive dissonance that conversations like this cause by only talking about the subject with those who agree with us. This is unhealthy for us as individuals and for our society.

Now more than ever, it is important that we have the uncomfortable conversations. It is especially important that we have those conversations with the goal of understanding where the other side is coming from, even if we are never persuaded by their position, or convince them of our own. 

We often hear talk of the need to unify our country. I agree with the sentiment, but for too many of us, “unification” is really code for converting everyone to our own way of thought. While it certainly would make for easier conversations, in a nation as large and diverse as the United States, it is unrealistic to believe we all will think the same way, even on very important issues. Genuine unification requires, instead, a concerted and widely shared effort to understand opposing viewpoints. When we do that, it becomes very hard to see the other side as an enemy and it opens the opportunity to seek common ground.

In practical terms, this means that those who oppose access to abortion need to try to understand the very real concerns that lead people to be in favor of it. For example, female bodily autonomy, subjugation and gender equity are real and valid things to be concerned about. Similarly, those who support abortion access need to understand the very real and valid reasons that lead people to oppose it. Concerns about human life are real. Concerns about devaluing human life and using abortion as a surreptitious method of making judgments about who is deserving of life — especially those with genetic abnormalities or diseases — are real, and pro-abortion citizens must try to understand them. Even if neither side is convinced by the other, understanding the “why” of the other side’s stance will lead to better and more empathetic conversations. 

Just as important as the attempt is the attitude. This effort to understand must not be merely an attempt to set up a strawman to knock down. There is no value in making the other side into a caricature with poor arguments to be mocked or villainized. Rather, when we genuinely try to understand, we will likely find that what separates us is less than we think — even on hot button issues like abortion. Polling indicates more than 80% of Americans support access to abortion in instances of rape, incest and danger to the life of the mother. The public has similarly high levels of support for bans on abortion in the third trimester. At the same time, there are certainly areas of profound difference. The question of when human life is entitled to protection on its own is a question that we will wrestle with for a long time. The intertwined question of what level of responsibility or autonomy a woman has regarding a fetus that results from consensual sexual activity is also a debate that we will undoubtedly be having for years and years to come. Hopefully, those having that debate begin by trying in good faith to understand the opposing position. 

Even if we never reach a definitive solution, our country will likely end up in a better place for the effort.

Khale Lenhart

Cheyenne attorney Khale Lenhart is a former chairman of the Laramie County Republican Party. He can be reached at khale.lenhart@gmail.com

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  1. The right to privacy should have prevailed as Roe was already a compromise at 3 months, but for 50 years so called christians were encouraged to ignore the right to privacy and rely on faith. Faith is no way to run a country our currency yet here we are with less rights than in 1973.

    Now that so called low regulation, pro business that rode the wave of one issuer voters right back into back alley abortions, Khal says that rabid anti abortionists need to understand those that advocated for minding your own business when it comes to decisions that only impact an individual, not society as a whole.

    Where was Khale and this measured response for the last 50 years? Oh that’s right, riding the wave of one issuer voters into power and now that one issuer voters have achieved their dream, what happens from here on out is very clear.

    Liberal states will get more population and business while republicans will advocate for a nationwide ban because people striving to live by the Constitution should not have an economic advantage over states that have more in line with the theocratic Taliban than the rights afforded a US Citizen. Ludicrous thinking is a hallmark of religious indoctrination.

    The dog caught the car, now what are you going to do?

  2. To be honest, no one wants to abort a viable fetus. On the other hand, sexual intercourse isn’t necessarily intended to procreate. We could argue until the cows come home about the virtues of abstinence, but let’s be real. Men sort of have a “ get out of jail free” card because they don’t get pregnant. Becoming pregnant and deciding to continue a pregnancy involve very complicated personal, emotional and socioeconomic issues which are best decided by women, their partners (if involved – and many don’t want to be) and the woman’s physician, not legislatures.

  3. Interesting that a man wrote this. But yes, I had a long conversation with two pro-life women representing an organization that offers financial support to women who have the child instead of aborting it. I’ve since read that such places misrepresent the facts of the pregnancy but advertise themselves as giving abortions they do not give . In this Denver Park, in the heart of progressive neighborhoods,I gatheref they’d been screamed at all day as they were most happy to discuss .We agreed on some things, like if you don’t want a child you need to use birth control. That abortion may be a relief but is not a happy experience. At 27, I’d had an abortion in Japan where it had been legal and cheap ( and still is) since 1949. ( Long story) They asked if someone had offered to adopt the child would I have had the procedure. . I said yes. The discussion was long and we parted on good terms. This was after the Supreme Court opinion was leaked, but before the decision. I find myself hoping that these young women aren’t out there pushing their stickers and leaflets now. They could get hurt.