I just sat down for coffee with my pro-choice US congresswoman and had the best abortion dialogue of my life.
Read that again.
Having productive dialogues with your representatives about abortion is possible.
Estimated reading time: 7 minutes
When a friend of mine told me about an upcoming listening session with my US congresswoman, I’ll be honest; I was very skeptical. I didn’t think there was anyone who is more famously pro-choice, maybe even pro-abortion in Congress than my representative. She’s well known for her opposition to the Born-Alive Infant Protection Act and she frequently makes headlines for her statements supporting abortion. It seemed like nothing I could say would make any difference, if I was even lucky enough to get a chance to speak at all.
This listening session was taking place in a cafe, and the flier requested an RSVP, which I assumed was a headcount for fire code reasons. Her office gave me a time slot of 5:00 to 5:10, but made no guarantees. I assumed this was going to be like the other listening sessions I’ve participated in—a wall of people given ten minutes total to talk and me raising my hand, never getting called on.
But that’s not even close to what happened.
I walked into a nice, airy cafe to discover there was no crowd at all. Her office assistant told me that she was running a little late, and said I could take a seat over by the couch. A few minutes later, I heard a soft “hey.” It took a second to register that this smiling woman wearing a nice top and jeans was my US congresswoman! We shook hands, and I thanked her for her time meeting with me.
She sat down on the couch across from me, and I was in an easy chair. Then, we just talked! We have kids in the same age ranges; her young daughter joined her on the couch until she grew bored of the grown-up conversation. I explained that I had two teenagers who were also running late, and we shared a little laugh.
I told her that I was really grateful for her time and that abortion was a very important topic for me because it had profoundly affected a loved one and, therefore, my life as well. I had been an actress auditioning for a video in Oregon in support of partial-birth abortion until my friend revealed to me the deep sorrow and trauma she continues to experience after her abortion.
You see, I had a strong pro-choice view from the time I was 11 until age 28, but the more that I pressed what I perceived as the individual right to “choice,” my friend spoke to me of the women in her post-abortion support group who bore the physical and emotional scars of that choice. I had never heard this side before, and, to me, it was stunning. I was struck on a deep level with the realization that someone who I would have loved to have in my life—my friend’s child—was missing. While I cannot logically justify ending abortion just because some women will regret it, on that day her witness opened my ears to the other side. My friend changed my mind. In the years following, my husband and I struggled with my autoimmune illness, and our two pregnancies were high-risk. My babies are now teenagers.
I told my representative that I knew we had different views on abortion, but I thought that both sides needed to get better at talking to one another. She nodded enthusiastically.
I described how I care a lot about women and how I know abortion is not an easy issue to discuss. But I also couldn’t deny the humanity of the unborn baby. Using ERI’s Elevator Pitch, I told her that I thought abortion was a conflict of rights issue, and that there’s an inherent conflict between the woman’s right to bodily autonomy and the fetus’s right to life. She agreed that the unborn are living human beings, and she seemed genuinely fascinated by this framing of the issue.
To be intellectually honest, I told her that I just couldn’t step past or deny the humanity of the fetus and that I thought everyone has an equal right to be protected from violence and not be killed. The basis of our laws is the protection of all human life, and I think that the government needs to acknowledge and protect the lives of both mother and child.
Looking back, I regret that I did not first mention the one thing I know we would have agreed upon—abolishing the death penalty. If I had known more about the format ahead of time, I would have done this; I was a little caught off guard by the amazing opportunity to just chat with her! I did mention our common ground there in the follow-up email that I sent to her office.
I told her that up until the time I was asked to audition for the Oregon video in support of partial-birth abortion, I didn’t know what that procedure was, and was shocked to learn that abortions were even legal past 12 weeks gestation.
I’ve heard and read several ERI podcasts and Secular Pro-Life articles citing the mountain of scientific evidence that fetuses can feel pain before 24 weeks and possibly as early as 12 weeks, so I printed off and stapled the 2020 article Reconsidering Fetal Pain by pain experts Dr. Stuart Derbyshire and John Bockmann (ERI interviewed John Bockmann on the podcast here!) before going that day. I told her that it was now standard practice for fetuses in the 2nd and 3rd trimester to receive anesthesia directly in the womb before undergoing intrauterine surgery, such as for spina bifida. She opened her eyes in surprise and turned her head to the side.
I handed her the Reconsidering Fetal Pain article while explaining the incredible story of the pro-choice and pro-life co-authors and the findings of their research. She began to read it immediately and told me she would read the rest after the session.
As I stood up to leave, I told her that pro-life people don’t consider ectopic pregnancy treatment to be an elective abortion procedure, and I explained why we don’t want ectopic pregnancy treatment to be illegal.
I also told her that abortion procedures in the 3rd trimester don’t happen to save the physical life of the mother since those procedures are too traumatic and long. My youngest daughter was delivered in minutes via emergency C-section; that is by far the safest option for both mother and baby if her life is at risk later in pregnancy. I’ve seen abortion harm women and haunt them for a lifetime, and, after my friend’s experience, post-abortion trauma is something I want no woman to go through.
When she stood up to join me, she did something that gave me pause: She looked me in the eye, took my hand, and said that she could understand how they suffered because she had suffered pregnancy loss, too. It was very hard for her to think about the someone who could be there but was not. I was moved.
She was still thoughtful and slowly said, “You know, I appreciate that you took the time to make an appointment to talk with me about this. Thank you for giving me this article. And I agree with you that both sides of the debate need to stop demonizing each other.”
I’m not naive; I know that I likely did not change her mind. Nor was that my expectation. But just because I may not be successful today does not mean that I’m not still called to speak up and plant a few seeds along the way. I genuinely liked my congresswoman. She was nothing like the stereotype I had of her, and I genuinely believe she thinks differently about me now, too. We probably disagree on a vast number of things, but we discovered so much that we have in common.
I originally wrote my story in an email to the ERI and Secular Pro-Life staff to thank them for teaching me how to dialogue effectively about abortion; it was my friend Evie’s mentorship and ERI’s Equipped for Life Course that gave me the courage to start speaking with others about abortion in 2012. My biggest hope and intent in publishing my story is not to laud my chance to speak with a famous person, but rather to encourage other pro-lifers to speak regularly and in person with their legislators—especially if your representative has an opposing view.
In seeking advice before the listening session, many people questioned why I would even bother, telling me our congresswoman was evil. And I said, “well, she is probably thinking the same thing about us right now.” She’s still my representative, and if a change is going to happen, we must keep speaking. Someone cared enough to take the time to talk to me and change my heart and mind about abortion. I wasn’t evil, and she isn’t either. Our representatives are people too, and their minds and hearts can change.
But only if we have the courage to speak with them.
Please tweet this article!
- Tweet: I Got Coffee with My Pro-Choice U.S. Congresswoman
- Tweet: I’m not naive; I know that I likely did not change her mind. Nor was that my expectation. But just because I may not be successful today does not mean that I’m not still called to speak up and plant a few seeds along the way.
- Tweet: I genuinely liked my congresswoman. She was nothing like the stereotype I had of her, and I genuinely believe she thinks differently about me now, too.
- Tweet: Our representatives are people too, and their minds and hearts can change. But only if we have the courage to speak with them.
The post I Got Coffee with My Pro-Choice U.S. Congresswoman originally appeared at the Equal Rights Institute blog. Subscribe to our email list with the form below and get a FREE gift. Click here to learn more about our pro-life apologetics course, “Equipped for Life: A Fresh Approach to Conversations About Abortion.”