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On Being with Krista Tippett is a public radio project delving into the human side of news stories + issues. Curated + edited by senior editor Trent Gilliss.

We publish guest contributions. We edit long; we scrapbook. We do big ideas + deep meaning. We answer questions.

We've even won a couple of Webbys + a Peabody Award.

A concern I have about my own side is, what the main activists in the pro-life or anti-abortion community want is an overturn of Roe vs. Wade. I am not at all convinced that if that were to actually happen that they would like the world that they would see on the other side.
- David Gushee, a Christian ethicist and professor at Mercer College, during his public dialogue with Frances Kissling, a long-time reproductive rights activist and former head of Catholics for Choice
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Abortion very late in pregnancy, abortion of disabled fetuses, these to me are very, very complicated questions. Even though I don’t think fetuses have an absolute right to life, I think fetuses have value. And I don’t think you can make the fetus invisible.
- Frances Kissling, long-time reproductive rights activist and former head of Catholics for Choice, during her public dialogue with Christian ethicist David Gushee
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No issue in America is more intractable than abortion. Or is it? A conversation with long-time reproductive rights activist Frances Kissling and Christian ethicist David Gushee that doesn’t begin or end in the predictable places.

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trentgilliss:

On January 22, 1973, the United States Supreme Court handed down its decision regarding Roe v. Wade. Forty years later, the decision remains a hot-button topic in the news but, as this Pew study points out, there has been remarkable consistency in public opinion over the last two decades:


“More than six-in-ten (63%) say they would not like to see the court completely overturn the Roe v. Wade decision, which established a woman’s constitutional right to abortion at least in the first three months of pregnancy. Only about three-in-ten (29%) would like to see the ruling overturned. These opinions are little changed from surveys conducted 10 and 20 years ago.


White evangelical Protestants remain outliers in this respect:


[They] are the only major religious group in which a majority (54%) favors completely overturning the Roe v. Wade decision. Large percentages of white mainline Protestants (76%), black Protestants (65%) and white Catholics (63%) say the ruling should not be overturned. Fully 82% of the religiously unaffiliated oppose overturning Roe v. Wade.


However, the U.S. public continues to be divided over whether it is morally acceptable to have an abortion:


“Nearly half (47%) say it is morally wrong to have an abortion, while just 13% find this morally acceptable; 27% say this is not a moral issue and 9% volunteer that it depends on the situation. These opinions have changed little since 2006.”


For a more in-depth discussion about the nuances of this conversation, I recommend listening to this conversation I produced for On Being with David Gushee, a Christian ethicist who advocates a “consistent ethic of life,” and Frances Kissling, a long-time abortion-rights activist, who reveal what they admire in the other side and discuss what’s really at stake in this debate.

trentgilliss:

On January 22, 1973, the United States Supreme Court handed down its decision regarding Roe v. Wade. Forty years later, the decision remains a hot-button topic in the news but, as this Pew study points out, there has been remarkable consistency in public opinion over the last two decades:

“More than six-in-ten (63%) say they would not like to see the court completely overturn the Roe v. Wade decision, which established a woman’s constitutional right to abortion at least in the first three months of pregnancy. Only about three-in-ten (29%) would like to see the ruling overturned. These opinions are little changed from surveys conducted 10 and 20 years ago.

White evangelical Protestants remain outliers in this respect:

[They] are the only major religious group in which a majority (54%) favors completely overturning the Roe v. Wade decision. Large percentages of white mainline Protestants (76%), black Protestants (65%) and white Catholics (63%) say the ruling should not be overturned. Fully 82% of the religiously unaffiliated oppose overturning Roe v. Wade.

However, the U.S. public continues to be divided over whether it is morally acceptable to have an abortion:

“Nearly half (47%) say it is morally wrong to have an abortion, while just 13% find this morally acceptable; 27% say this is not a moral issue and 9% volunteer that it depends on the situation. These opinions have changed little since 2006.”

For a more in-depth discussion about the nuances of this conversation, I recommend listening to this conversation I produced for On Being with David Gushee, a Christian ethicist who advocates a “consistent ethic of life,” and Frances Kissling, a long-time abortion-rights activist, who reveal what they admire in the other side and discuss what’s really at stake in this debate.

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GOP Presidential Candidates’ Stories Reveal the Depths of Their Positions at the Thanksgiving Family Forum

by Susan Leem, associate producer

Republican Candidates at the Thanksgiving Family Forum

"You guys are in a church, and that is not by accident."
~Bob Vander Plaats

There’s something that “opens everything up,” as Paul Raushenbush said on our program, when you ask a person about their religious or spiritual tradition. Asking such an intimate question conveys a sense of respect. And to be asked may be somewhat disarming; it tells the person that you’re interested in not only his or her worldview, but what makes that person who he or she is. More importantly, it communicates that you’re ready to sit and are willing to listen to a thoughtful, complex, nuanced response. That’s something we don’t expect or demand enough in our national political races.

The Thanksgiving Family Forum at First Federated Church in Des Moines, Iowa gave six GOP presidential candidates that chance. Absent were the gotcha questions that left Rick Perry fumbling to remember the government agency he wanted to eliminate and prompted Herman Cain’s Libya flub. Instead, personal storytelling and exploration of formative experiences fueled this faith-focused conversation.

Moderator Frank Luntz, a pollster for FOX News, began the two-hour conversation by laying out his intentions in his introduction, “I want you to understand what’s in these people’s hearts, not just the soundbites” and “understand their worldview so that you will know what to do come January 3rd.” His style of questioning gave the candidates an opportunity to flesh out their ideas and explain their moral positions in the context of their Christian traditions.

There were plenty of unscripted, dare I say sometimes moving, moments too. Luntz asked several valuable questions to draw out the candidates’ character: to describe a personal failing that would inform their work as president, to share an experience that helped shape their faith and spirituality. A choked-up Herman Cain relayed a story about facing his mortality upon being diagnosed with cancer. Minnesota Rep. Michelle Bachmann describes the pain of her parents’ divorce while she was a teen. Former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum confessed to seeing his daughter who suffers from Trisomy 18 as less of a person, and trying not to love her to avoid the pain of losing her during her medical crises as an infant. Rick Perry confesses that Jesus filled a hole in his soul.

And even though Luntz, in an artful move, invites Occupy Wall Street protestors to address the audience before the roundtable discussion, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich did not extend a hand across the aisle of the culture wars in America with his attack on Occupy Wall Street protestors and specifically secularism, “…(secularism) has dominated our academic world, our academic world supplies our news media, our courts, and Hollywood, so you have a faction of America today who believes things are profoundly wrong…they are determined to destroy our value system.”

The event was hosted by The Family Leader, a conservative Christian organization based in Iowa, and co-sponsored by Focus on the Family-affiliate CitizenLink and the National Organization for Marriage. Bob Vander Plaats, president and CEO of The Family Leader, said in introductory remarks, “We don’t the church to be political…we don’t need you to be Republican or Democrat, but we need you to be biblical.” His effort to make religiosity non-partisan was later overshadowed by his comment that the next President of the United States will come from the Republicans present at the debate that night.

The civil nature of the discussion was the real standout of the evening, and how that tone was created and sustained is worth pondering. Was it the way Luntz established the ground rules for the discussion? Without overtly saying so, he somehow made it clear that the “winner” of the night would not be the candidate who outdid or shamed the others, but the one who emerged from the discussion with the most integrity.

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Being Vulnerable Before Others and Sharing New Visions of Life

by Krista Tippett, host

Challenges of Change: Religion, Secularism & Rights (Oct. 2010)Frances Kissling and Asma Khader listen to Azar Nafisi deliver her introductory remarks at “Challenges of Change: Religion, Secularism & Rights” event in which women leaders from Africa, North and South America, Asia, and the Middle East discuss the challenges of accommodating diversity while striving for human rights. (photo courtesy of the Women’s Learning Partnership)

I know that this week’s interview will be heard, by some at least, as a show about abortion. Frances Kissling, after all, is a name synonymous with “pro-choice.” And of course this show touches on the ins and outs of the issue of abortion, for this is the sphere in which she has distinguished herself for over a quarter century. But the revelation of this conversation is how much Frances Kissling has learned, precisely in one of the most entrenched and contested moral values spaces in our public life, about grappling with difference.

Hers is a story of holding passionate convictions and of being open to change — a both/and, not an either/or. It is a story of unfolding wisdom about human and social change, wrested from inside the abortion debate.

Practical tools emerge from this conversation that could calm and enrich our public life on all kinds of fronts if we began to cultivate them right now. Like my former guest Richard Mouw who grapples with difference on the conservative side of same-sex marriage and abortion, Frances Kissling is eloquent about the value of the “simple” act of listening to different others and gaining some sense of why they believe the way they do, how they came to that, where their hopes and fears lie, and what they mean when they use the words they do. Echoing Richard Mouw, Frances Kissling insists that doing this is not an act of giving up the ground on which we stand. But, she insists, when we genuinely listen, “good things come of that.” New possibilities emerge that we couldn’t imagine or meet before.

And though Frances Kissling is more a politician and philosopher than a poet, she reminds me of Elizabeth Alexander when she describes the ground of these possibilities largely in terms of the questions she and others begin to be able to ask of themselves: What can I see that is good in the position of the other? What troubles me in my own position? She speaks of the courage to be vulnerable in front of those with whom we passionately disagree.

As she and I discuss, being vulnerable before others holding different opinions than ourselves is exacting for human beings in the best of times. In the atmosphere of fear that pervades our political and social divides now, it can seem impossible — literally asking too much of us humans who are biologically hard-wired to find the open questions and conflict of a moment like this almost unbearably stressful. Frances Kissling and those she has encountered on the opposite “side” of this excruciatingly charged debate show us that there are ways out. They begin with human relationship, with new conversations that lead to new visions of life graciously shared and difference peaceably navigated even while we continue to disagree.

Before we finished producing this show, we reached out to David Gushee, a Christian ethicist on the “pro-life” end of the abortion debate whom Frances Kissling mentions in terms of this new relationship. Within two days, he wrote an essay for us titled "Sacred Conversations," which we offer as an immensely rich addition to the experience of this particular show.

As always, we welcome your perspectives, reactions, and your stories as we reach the midway point of our series on widening and deepening our Civil Conversations Project.

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The Family Research Council, a Christian group, happily counts more than 400 abortion bills working their way through state capitals—Alabama’s Senate recently passed five.
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The Economist notes:

"A broad movement to limit access to abortion in America is gathering steam. The scale of this year’s assault may be unprecedented.

~reblogged by Trent Gilliss, senior editor

Tagged: #abortion
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Healing Our Fractured Civil Spaces on Abortion

by Krista Tippett, host

BoundaryI know that this will be heard, by some at least, as a show about abortion. Frances Kissling, after all, is a name synonymous with “pro-choice.” And of course this show touches on the ins and outs of the issue of abortion, for this is the sphere in which she has distinguished herself for over a quarter century. But the revelation of this conversation is how much Frances Kissling has learned, precisely in one of the most entrenched and contested moral values spaces in our public life, about grappling with difference.

Hers is a story of holding passionate convictions and of being open to change — a both/and, not an either/or. It is a story of unfolding wisdom about human and social change, wrested from inside the abortion debate.

Practical tools emerge from this conversation that could calm and enrich our public life on all kinds of fronts if we began to cultivate them right now. Like my former guest Richard Mouw — who grapples with difference on the conservative side of same-sex marriage and abortion, Frances Kissling is eloquent about the value of the “simple” act of listening to different others and gaining some sense of why they believe the way they do, how they came to that, where their hopes and fears lie, what they mean when they use the words they do. Echoing Richard Mouw, Frances Kissling insists that doing this is not an act of giving up the ground on which we stand. But, she insists, when we genuinely listen, “good things come of that.” New possibilities emerge that we couldn’t imagine or meet before.

And though Frances Kissling is more a politician and philosopher than a poet, she reminds me of Elizabeth Alexander when she describes the ground of these possibilities largely in terms of the questions she and others begin to be able to ask of themselves: What can I see that is good in the position of the other? What troubles me in my own position? She speaks of the courage to be vulnerable in front of those with whom we passionately disagree.

As she and I discuss, being vulnerable before others holding different opinions than ourselves is exacting for human beings in the best of times. In the atmosphere of fear that pervades our political and social divides now, it can seem impossible — literally asking too much of us humans who are biologically hard-wired to find the open questions and conflict of a moment like this almost unbearably stressful. Frances Kissling and those she has encountered on the opposite “side” of this excruciatingly charged debate show us that there are ways out. They begin with human relationship, with new conversations that lead to new visions of life graciously shared and difference peaceably navigated even while we continue to disagree.

Before we finished producing this show, we reached out to David Gushee, a Christian ethicist on the “pro-life” end of the abortion debate whom Frances Kissling mentions in terms of this new relationship. Within two days, he wrote an essay for us titled "Sacred Conversations," which we’ve posted online and offer as an immensely rich addition to the experience of this particular show.

As always, we welcome your perspectives, reactions, and your stories as we continue to widen and deepen our Civil Conversations project — mining fresh vocabulary, animating questions, and practical virtues towards edifying and healing our fractured civic spaces.

(photo: Joisey Showa/Flickr, licensed under Creative Commons)

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Sacred Conversations

by David Gushee, special contributor

Crucifix on the Klein MatterhornAt the heart of my Christian faith is the belief that each and every person I encounter is absolutely cherished by God. I believe every human being is ineffably sacred in God’s sight. This implies a moral responsibility on my part to do my very best to treat them accordingly. If God loves each person, followers of God’s way must love each person too.

This is a mystical vision. It is a mountaintop perspective. It is very hard to sustain it, especially in the vicious street fights of politics. And it is often very hard to see any evidence for it. But this belief is not really evidence-based. It is faith-based.

I am a Christian, born and raised in the Catholic Church before a teenage conversion to Protestant Evangelical faith. By now I find that both strands of my religious history are deeply interwoven and help to define who I am. I think that both of these strands, at their best, teach this vision of the equal and immeasurable worth of each human being. Catholic tradition, especially as articulated by the Vatican II documents and by Pope John Paul II, taught me a “consistent pro-life ethic.” Protestant evangelicalism, as exemplified in men such as Billy Graham, taught me that God so loved the world (each and every person in the world) that he gave his only son on the cross for our salvation. For my salvation!

I am also a Christian ethicist, a moral teacher, and writer. So inevitably my work brings me into occasions in which it is my responsibility and my opportunity to address hot-button issues like abortion, health care, war, torture, or gay rights.

Most conversations about these kinds of issues are profoundly unsatisfactory to me. Academic conversations tend to be highly technical, theoretical, and irrelevant to everyday life. Popular conversations tend to be angry and polemical, partisan and politicized. Neither type of conversation ever really feels very sacred to me. Academics are often scoring their tenure points while politicos are scoring their partisan points.

Over the years, I have tried to do something a little different when I engage difficult issues such as abortion. I try to play neither academic nor political games. I instead try to discern what it might mean to deal with the substance of the issue as if every person involved is sacred in God’s sight, and I likewise try to deal with my dialogue partners as if the same were true.

Frances Kissling Listens to David GusheeWhen I met Frances Kissling and dialogued publicly with her at the Princeton "Open Hearts, Open Minds" conference, I hope that this is the spirit that I brought to that conversation.

I saw in Frances and most of the pro-choice activists and thinkers at that meeting a serious concern for women in general, and women facing unwanted pregnancies in particular. I could tell that they were drawn into this issue because they had caught a vision of the suffering of women whose pregnancies create a crisis for them, and the even more intense crisis that this would be for them if they had no legal recourse to an abortion. Their fixed gaze on the needs and the suffering of women impressed me, and I respected it. Anyone who cares deeply about the suffering of other people is on the right track — because that is one of the ways we demonstrate our love for the sacred persons around us.

I do continue to think that our gaze on this issue must be at least bi-focal — on the suffering pregnant woman, and on the developing human life that she is carrying. I do sense that decades of defending the rights and needs of the pregnant woman have trained many in the pro-choice side to avert their eyes from the child. But I also recognize on the part of many pro-lifers the parallel averting of gaze away from the woman and her situation as she experiences it. Decades of advocacy in a polarized debate have caused both sides to miss the intertwined sacredness of woman and child. And it is certainly clear to me that the only way those whose gaze is fixed on the child will succeed in saving more of them is if they learn not only to look at the woman, but to love her.

This vision goes with me to other issues. I have been an advocate for the apparently astonishing view that no matter how much we want to prevent another terrorist attack that would destroy sacred human lives; this does not mean we are free to create a system that abuses suspected terrorists — because those swept up as suspected terrorists are also sacred human beings whom God loves. This view shapes my thinking about the right of all our nation’s children to have a good education, quality health care, and parents who love them. And it means that I refuse to go along with the contemptuous demonization of particular groups that sometimes sweeps us away — most recently exhibited in very disturbing anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim hysteria.

I find allies anywhere I encounter someone whose words and deeds show that they are operating on the basis of something like this vision. Often, sadly, these allies are not my fellow Christians, for sometimes the passionate commitment of my co-religionists to the positions they advocate causes them to forget their obligation to love even strangers and enemies. No, in public life, my favorites are those who surprise me with the tender and respectful way they encounter the sacred humanity of those around them. They give me hope.

About the images: (top) Atop the Klein Matterhorn in Zermatt, Switzerland stands a giant wooden representation of Christ on the cross. A metal placard beneath is engraved with the same phrase in four languages: “Mehr Mensch sein.” “L’homme d’abord.” “Uomo prima di tutto.” “Be more human.” (photo: mightymightymatze/Flickr, licensed under Creative Commons)

(second) Frances Kissling listens to the author at the “Open Hearts, Open Minds, and Fair-Minded Words” conference at Princeton University in 2010.


David P. GusheeDavid P. Gushee is the Distinguished University Professor of Christian Ethics and director of the Center for Theology and Public Life at Mercer University. He is the co-founder and board chair of the New Evangelical Partnership for the Common Good, a columnist for the Huffington Post, Washington Post, and Associated Baptist Press, and a contributing editor for Christianity Today. Dr. Gushee also currently serves on the Church Relations Committee of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. He has published 12 books, including Kingdom Ethics, Righteous Gentiles of the Holocaust, Getting Marriage Right, and Only Human.

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Frances Kissling on the Limits of Common Ground: A Sneak Preview

by Nancy Rosenbaum, producer

 Frances Kissling

Frances Kissling, Charles Camosy of Fordham University, Jennifer Miller of Bioethics International, and Peter Singer of Princeton University at the Open Hearts, Open Minds and Fair Minded Words conference at Princeton University in October 2010. (photo: Ricardo Barros)

The audio above is an excerpt from our upcoming show with Frances Kissling, “Listening Beyond Life and Choice,” which we’re almost finished producing for a January 20th release. In the excerpt above, Kissling, a longtime voice in the public conversation about abortion and former president of Catholics for Choice, says she doesn’t believe there’s much promise in finding common ground with people whose views and ideology we fundamentally oppose: “the pressure of coming to agreement works against really understanding each other.”

Cracking open our deepest divisions requires a willingness to be courageous and alsoto be vulnerable:

"…when people who disagree with each other come together with a goal of gaining a better understanding of why the other believes what they do, good things come of that. … I have changed my views on some aspects of abortion over the last ten years based upon having a deeper understanding of the values and concerns of people who disagree with me. And I have an interest in trying to find a way that I can honor some of their values without giving up mine."

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Twitterscript with Frances Kissling

by Shubha Bala, associate producer

We interviewed Frances Kissling on December 20, 2010. A longtime force in the abortion debate, Kissling is searching for new ways to talk to each other, not past each other, about our deepest disagreements.

We live-tweeted gems from the 90-minute conversation, which we’re reposting here in case you don’t use Twitter, or just missed it. Make sure to follow us next time. at @BeingTweets.

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When Girls Aren’t Desired in India
by Shubha Bala, associate producer
For every 100 girls that are born in India, there are 108.4 baby boys. Whereas, as stated in this World Health Organization bulletin, the ”natural sex ratio quotient [is] 0.512 (i.e. a total of 105 boys born for every 100 girls born).” In a country of over a billion people, these missing three girls for every 100 boys quickly adds up.



In India, the systematic aborting of female fetuses is a particularly complex topic. According to the United Nations Population Fund (pdf), there are many states in India that don’t face this issue. They have an average ratio of baby girls to boys. Other regions, notably western India, have as few as 77 girls born for every 100 baby boys.
Societal and family pressures play a significant role in the desire to only have boys in India — things like more financial incentives, increased opportunity for gainful employment, and access to better education. For example, in the state of Punjab, particularly known for its low ratio of girls to boys, women who are more educated are in fact more likely to abort female fetuses.
The following MediaStorm video paints a narrative picture of the plight of women in India, including the modern phenomenon of sex-selective abortions. Despite the complexity, this video echoes Nicholas Kristof’s reminder that we globally need to focus on improving the rights of women.
(image source: United Nations Population Fund)

When Girls Aren’t Desired in India

by Shubha Bala, associate producer

For every 100 girls that are born in India, there are 108.4 baby boys. Whereas, as stated in this World Health Organization bulletin, the ”natural sex ratio quotient [is] 0.512 (i.e. a total of 105 boys born for every 100 girls born).” In a country of over a billion people, these missing three girls for every 100 boys quickly adds up.

In India, the systematic aborting of female fetuses is a particularly complex topic. According to the United Nations Population Fund (pdf), there are many states in India that don’t face this issue. They have an average ratio of baby girls to boys. Other regions, notably western India, have as few as 77 girls born for every 100 baby boys.

Societal and family pressures play a significant role in the desire to only have boys in India — things like more financial incentives, increased opportunity for gainful employment, and access to better education. For example, in the state of Punjab, particularly known for its low ratio of girls to boys, women who are more educated are in fact more likely to abort female fetuses.

The following MediaStorm video paints a narrative picture of the plight of women in India, including the modern phenomenon of sex-selective abortions. Despite the complexity, this video echoes Nicholas Kristof’s reminder that we globally need to focus on improving the rights of women.

(image source: United Nations Population Fund)

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Referencing Abortion in the President’s Speech at Notre Dame
Trent Gilliss, Online Editor

President Obama’s recent speech at the University of Notre Dame commencement ceremony came up several times during our live event with Joshua DuBois at the Fitz — from Krista during the interview and from our online and in-house audiences during the Q+A session.

The president addressed several divisive issues — including abortion, a topic we’ve been working at reframing by asking for your perspectives and stories on how you and others might engage in this dialogue in ways not yet imagined. Specifically, Krista asked DuBois if he had a hand in writing the speech. His answer was rather indirect, saying something to the effect that the president faces difficult issues “head on” and that his speeches are in the president’s voice.

President Obama’s address garnered a fair amount of attention for his choice of place in talking about such a controversial issues. Was this the appropriate venue for this discussion? I’m not sure, but I like that the administration isn’t avoiding it. I’m hopeful that more fruitful ways of talking about this hot-button issue are on the horizon.

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