Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Abortion and Civil Discourse: All We Are Saying.....Is Give Peace A Chance

We are deeply concerned that the truly desultory level of civil discourse and manners in American politics has seriously impeded our ability to get anything done of any consequence that is important to our national life together.

Witness the $14 trillion+ national debt and growing as Exhibit A on the list of '21st Century American Political Failures' that future historians will scratch their heads over when they start digging through the ruins of America much like we dig through the ruins of ancient Greece, Rome and Israel.

Exhibit 1-A+ is the abortion issue.  If you ever want to clear out a boring dinner party, bring up the issue of abortion and the federal budget deficits and debt.  People suddenly will remember they left the gas on the stove burning or they need to go to the dentist to get a root canal 12:00 midnight.

Both are preferable to talking about abortion or the national debt, it seems.

I recently gave the following speech to over 200+ pro-choice advocates at a memorial fundraiser in my late sister's honor with the hopes that we could, at least, at the very absolute minimum, agree that the sky is, indeed, Carolina Blue and the sun rises in the east.

Nothing more, nothing less.

Maybe John Lennon's great song, 'Give Peace A Chance' would have been a fitting theme song for the evening.

One woman who helped organize the event announced to the crowd right after I gave this tribute and plea for comity and civil engagement and discourse: 'Thanks, Frank for that speech...even though we disagree with 99% of what you said here tonight.'

Hey! That is a at least a tiny victory for comity.  It meant there was 1%!!!! in the following speech with which she said 200+ people in attendance could agreed!

Take a look and see if you can find out what that 1% was.  We are hoping someone can tell us what it is so we can use that as a starting point.

(To be fair, several in the audience came up to me afterwards and said they agreed that there should be more discussion between the pro-choice and the pro-life crowds.  Right now, there is none, nada, below-Ground Zero discussions going on between the two sides.  That has to change and free civil discussion is the only way to we are ever going to get anywhere on anything we face as a nation, don't you agree?)

Tribute to Susan Hill
Pro-Choice North Carolina Dinner
April 21, 2011
Raleigh, NC

"Thank you all for being here tonight.

Susan would have loved to have been here….simply because she loved a good party!

I feel a little bit like Mark Twain must have felt at one of his first public appearances as a ‘public speaker’ out west over 150 years ago.  He was not very well-known by the public at that point and the only fellow who did know of him was not there that night to introduce him properly.

So they just chose a random guy out of crowd to introduce Mr. Twain and he said: ‘Our speaker tonight, Mr. Mark Twain, has never been in a penitentiary…and I don’t know why!’

To many in this crowd, I may appear to be the same as Mr. Twain.

There were many times when my sister, Susan, wanted to put me in prison…for stupidity; ignorance and just plain being wrong.  I felt the same way towards her….many times…more than I can even start to remember.

But that is why we are here tonight to celebrate the life of Susan Hill:  her spirit, her courage; her commitment and her fight.

I hope we can all only do justice to those qualities as we move ahead together.

Here’s the really ‘strange’ thing about being here tonight to talk about Susan:  She died a natural, yet courageous death, from complications due to breast cancer.  We all thought she would die by an assassin’s bullet; a firebomb or an anthrax attack, to be absolutely honest about it.

In fact, on many occasions, usually after an abortion doctor such as Dr. Tiller or Dr. Gunn was shot down in cold blood, she would look at me and say this: ‘Frank, when you speak at my funeral, I want you to tell everyone just how stupid and wrong these abortion-related murders are.’

So, here I am to tell you:  ‘Murdering people over their views of abortion is just plain out-and-out wrong.’  It is immoral; unjust; unethical; illegal and ultimately counterproductive to the whole concept of rational, reasoned debate that our great nation was founded upon.

One of the many times Susan wanted to throw me in the ‘Prison of Stupidity’, she looked at me sternly square in the eye and said the following words that seared into my brain:

‘Frank, you stupid ninny! (those were not really her words but I thought I'd clean it up for this audience)

NO ONE ‘loves’ to have an abortion! NO ONE thinks it is an easy decision! NO ONE doesn’t experience the pain and suffering of having to make perhaps the most difficult decision in their lives when they come in to meet with our counselors and doctors to discuss their options concerning abortion.

What do you pro-life people think we do here at Raleigh Women’s Health? We don’t run ‘2-for-1 specials’ on the weekends! We don’t run ‘President’s Day Sales’ for abortions! We don’t do this for the money! We do this because these are very, very difficult and wrenching decisions for these young women and we want to be there and help them go through the tough process and have abortions that are ‘safe and legal’!

And on top of that, we don’t want some old white guys telling us what to do with our bodies!’

Well, I don’t want ‘old white guys’, or anyone else for that matter, telling me what to do either! I gotta be honest about that…so we do have something in common: “No. More. Old. White. Guys. Telling. Us. What. To. Do.!’

(Can I get an ‘Amen!’?)

I think what Susan said to me that day actually can set the predicate for the abortion debate going forward.  If ‘no one’ loves the abortion issue, let’s do something about it.

We are never going to agree 100% one way or another in America on what to do about abortion rights….that is just not possible in a civil democracy as diverse and vibrant in free thought and philosophies as we are.

But can we here, tonight, in Raleigh, North Carolina, on April 21, 2011, agree together that we will engage with others from ‘the other side’ of the abortion debate and start talking ‘with’ each other and not ‘at’ each other?

On the behalf of myself and my sister, I am begging you all to commit to that one request...'Let's. Start. Talking. With. Each. Other!'

Susan was many things; a leader; a warrior; a visionary and a ‘change-agent’.  But above all was her ‘street-smarts'.  Susan could figure out how to negotiate someone into a corner better than anyone I have ever met in or out of politics and government.

She would have been a great Member of Congress or, God Forbid!, a U.S. Senator!

(One side note:  Our father, who was a hard-headed, red-headed and tough Irish Catholic-turned-Methodist, one time was drinking with Susan late at night and he said: ‘Susan, you have more balls than both of my two sons….combined!’

To which my brother, Dan and I, both heartily agree!)

Susan was not a lawyer….but she won 4 Supreme Court cases and lost none. She was never officially the ‘head’ of NARAL, NOW or any other organization…but she exerted her influence greatly behind the scenes to steer them in the way she wanted to see them go.

And on top of that, while others were talking about abortion rights, Susan was ‘doing them’ on the frontlines from Jackson, Mississippi to Columbus, Georgia to Fargo, South Dakota in the face of protests, lawsuits, firebombs and yes, assassination threats.

Regardless of where you might be on the abortion issue, you have to admire someone who has the intestinal guts and fortitude to fight through all the obstacles she faced.  After over a year of working on her estate, no one in this room, aside from Ann Rose and a few people she worked with, has any idea of just how much personal sacrifice and time and energy and money Susan Hill personally put into National Women’s Health Organization to keep clinics open across the nation.

She kept one open in Jackson, Mississippi, for goodness sakes!

It will be a very rare person indeed who will ever match Susan for her tenacity and singleness of purpose.

I can dwell on a lot of things and talk about how wacky Susan really was…her quick and sharp-edged sense of humor; her story-telling; her ability to stand toe-to-toe with men like my dad and all the politicians at the state legislature (you know who you are!) or in Congress over tables of bourbon and scotch and drink them under the table.

She was a great big sister to me and she never turned away from helping people; that was the social worker in her. I think at last count, we figured out that she had personally paid for and financed the college educations of at least 7 sons and daughters of co-workers and a few co-workers as well.

But in the spirit of celebrating something in Susan’s memory, let me throw out a few thoughts, since we are among friends, aren’t we?

I have a strong feeling that Susan Hill and I perhaps had the longest-running argumentative conversation in the history of mankind on the abortion issue, many times very passionately so.  I think I miss it, to be honest about it, as strange as that may seem to you.

Towards the end of her life as we talked as we always did, I actually started to think there might be some room for a reasonable ‘compromise’ on this volatile issue that will defuse it some and perhaps lower the tensions from both sides and perhaps, just maybe, might end the shootings of these abortion-providers.

We believe that the senseless shooting of Dr. Tiller just plain wore Susan out at the same time she was battling breast cancer.  She was tough and she could fight one…but not the other at the same time.

With the goal of some peaceful discourse and compromise from both sides in mind:

Why not consider then, from both sides, passing a constitutional amendment, at least at the state level first, protecting the right to an abortion in the narrow, limited cases of rape, incest and ‘life of the mother’ strictly defined as a starting point since 95% of all Americans seem to agree on those conditions?

Why not then consider, pooling resources from both sides to engage in a national sex education campaign via the internet, Facebook and Twitter and on cable where ALL the possible birth control methods are discussed openly and without prejudice and bias such as The Pill; abstinence; condoms; the ‘morning-after’ pill and any other technological devices that are soon-to-be invented to prevent unwanted pregnancies before they occur?

After all, we have spent perhaps billions of dollars by now on the ‘pro-life’ and the ‘pro-choice’ side of things and the number of abortions has stayed virtually the same for the past 30 years.  If our ‘goal’ is to truly make abortions in America ‘Safe, Legal AND RARE’, as Bill and Hillary Clinton have repeatedly called for,  then let’s actually start doing something to reduce the number of abortions in America instead of lobbing ‘hate bombs’ across the divide at each other.

Let’s have a ‘JFK moment’ right here tonight at this event in Raleigh, North Carolina and say it was the moment when both the pro-life and pro-choice sides in America decided to aim towards a goal of reducing the number of abortions in America by 50% by 2020.

And why not go a step or two further to get there:  Why not go after the ‘real’ perpetrators (which literally means ‘to father of’) of abortions in America…the millions of men who impregnate these women and then scurry off to the corners of the world like some sort of cockroach and don’t stick around to help the woman or their potential offspring grow up to maturity?

What sort of sick society are we where fathers, of all races, backgrounds and economic status, don’t stick around to raise their young?  I mean, even the wild animals in the forest do better than that.

I know this sounds like an ‘invasion of privacy’…because it is…but some sort of state statute enforcing reversible surgical tubal ligations for men who father children out of wedlock or leave their pregnant wives would seem to be one thing both the pro-life AND the pro-choice sides could agree on to get passed into law.

These men are first responsible for their own actions, their own fetuses and their own offspring. Those of you in the pro-choice crowd need to help pass this so men always remember that.

And finally, joint efforts by the pro-choice and pro-life leaders on reducing the incredibly high barriers to adoption services in every state would seem to be in order as a way to build trust and cooperation between both sides.

Why should an elderly couple or a young family with some sort of ‘medical condition’ (we all have ‘a medical condition’…it is called ‘life!’) be excluded from adopting the baby of a fellow American just because they are not in the ‘ideal situation’ to raise a child?

What else is needed if they are loving, caring and responsible parents?

All is this is a lot to consume…but if Susan Hill was nothing else, she was an inveterate ‘thinker’, ‘deal-maker’ and ‘willing to meet with anyone and anything to talk rationally about an issue’.

And…Susan was ‘A Talker!’  Her cell phone bill was over $500/month. By herself.

I suggest we all do the same…talk more ‘with’ each other and not ‘yell’ at each other.

So let’s have a beer and a scotch and water or two and help make abortion ‘not’ the slavery issue of our time.

Here’s to Susan Hill.

Thank you very much."

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