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Beyond Iowa Nice: Finding Common Ground in the Debate Over Abortion

Charlotte Cooper

Iowans have a reputation for being non-confrontational; the phrase 'Iowa Nice' is embedded in our vocabulary, right behind 'Iowa Stubborn.' In Beyond Iowa Nice, Iowa Public Radio is inviting Iowans to share their perspectives on some of the most controversial and divisive topics in the state today in an attempt to foster empathy and find common ground. 

The reaction to last week's Supreme Court decision made clear that the debate over abortion, Planned Parenthood funding, and reproductive rights is one of the most contentious in the country. But Mary Ziegler, author of After Roe: The Lost History of The Abortion Debate and Stearns Weaver Miller Professor of Law at Florida State University, says while people have always felt very strongly about abortion, the larger debate wasn't always that way in the past.

“Common ground would have been much easier to find across the country, and really within the pro-life pro-choice movements, not just in state legislatures. Everything from contraception from pregnancy discrimination legislation to better welfare protections for poor women to alleviate some of the pressures that might encourage women to terminate pregnancies they’d like to bring to term.”

Before Roe v. Wade, both political parties “didn’t want to touch abortion with a ten-foot-pole.” When each of the movements became, generally, aligned with a political party, things became more difficult.

“For a variety of reasons, that kind of common ground became much harder to find politically and made it much more likely when you think of pro-life, pro-choice movements, you think of them only fighting abortions and not finding ways to make abortion less necessary. But I think that’s something that’s been a product of our recent past, not something that’s inevitable or something that we have to live with forever.”

Ziegler says that type of moment, when compromise can be reached, is created through empathy, and giving the so-called “other side” the benefit of the doubt.

“The abortion issue is so heated, and it goes so deeply to core beliefs of who we are and what we believe, that it’s hard for people to even believe that people from the other side are coming to this from a position of good faith, even if they disagree with them.”

The solution, then, begins with conversation.

“People don’t necessarily know people who disagree with them on abortion. And if they don’t know people, it’s easy to imagine that these are just bad people who don’t understand anything about what’s moral or right in the world. And in my experience, I’ve found that not to be true.”

In this Talk of Iowa, host Charity Nebbe talks with seven women about their views on abortion rights and reproductive healthcare: Ziegler; Representative Beth Wessel Kroeschell, a Democrat from Ames; Representative Megan Jones, a Republican from Sioux Rapids; Jenifer Bowen, Executive Director of Iowa Right to Life; Jessica Mason Pieklo, Vice President for Law & the Courts at Rewire News; Robin Berman, a reproductive justice advocate in Iowa City; and Natalie Schira, a pro-life woman in Dubuque.

Charity Nebbe is the host of IPR's Talk of Iowa