Getting a high-five from a self-proclaimed "pro-choice" guy is not something I expected to happen. I literally wear my
position about abortion on my chest. Here I will tell you about the time I got a high-five from a pro-choice guy in the middle of our discussion about abortion.
And it happened right in front of a Planned Parenthood abortion facility.
I was outside of Planned Parenthood in Harrisburg, standing 20-feet from the entrance. This is what I do every Thursday, telling women about other health options available to them and their families. I offer them a free gift (mostly information, but also a pack of tissues or chapstick or other little things they might appreciate on such a hard day). Some women talk, others listen, and some silently take the information. Sometimes women even turn around and leave - knowing that they aren't alone gives them the strength to choose life over abortion!
This is a public sidewalk, so people often walk by who have nothing to do with Planned Parenthood. One young couple was walking by, and I asked them if they were going into Planned Parenthood. They said no, but that they support Planned Parenthood and I should leave.
They kept walking as they said this, but I responded by asking them a question.
"Why do you support Planned Parenthood?" I asked.
"Because they give women free health services." The man answered, without slowing down or turning around.
"That's not true," I answered, "Planned Parenthood doesn't offer free health services. I'd love to talk about it."
By this time they were probably thirty feet away, but they stopped and turned around. The guy said something, but I couldn't hear him. I ran after them to listen and hear what they were saying.
That's how I started a conversation with two young pro-choice people in Harrisburg while they were on a coffee break from work. They obviously hadn't planned to discuss abortion and Planned Parenthood with anyone, but decided to stop and discuss it when they saw me and heard my willingness to engage them. They drank their iced coffees while the conversation went on.
Chad* argued against my assertion that Planned Parenthood is not free. He said that he's taken women there, and they got free birth control. That's an interesting answer, and I have never heard of it before. It seems unlikely that Planned Parenthood gives out free birth control (although I know that they give out free condoms), but I can't counter his personal experience. So I conceded the point. Perhaps I am wrong, and Planned Parenthood does give out free birth control.
That concession broke down a lot of walls right away. Chad immediately said that this was the "most civil conversation" he had ever had about abortion. Isn't that a rather depressing admission? He had never before had an interaction with a pro-life person that went beyond the minimal exchange of ideas that can happen as people walk past on the sidewalk. He had never had a pro-life person make a concession before. He had never had a conversation with a pro-life person in polite and civil tones before.
From that point forward, Chad, Karah*, and myself were able to talk about the real issue - the value of human life. We talked about the science of embryology. We talked about the differences between an adult human being and a fetal human being. (Those are: Size, Level of Development, Environment, and Degree of Dependency.) We talked about the philosophical arguments that try to justify killing a fetal human being. We talked about religion. We talked about utilitarianism (without using that word). We talked about difficult circumstances that mothers often face. We talked about "social justice." We talked about politics.
The conversation went really well. The whole time we talked, Chad and Karah were saying that they couldn't talk long. They had to get back to work. Despite their time constraint, we talked for over twenty minutes. They agreed to take my contact information, and I hope that I will hear from them someday to follow up on our conversation.
While we disagreed on so many points about science, biology, ethics, philosophy, and religion, Chad still gave me a high-five. It was while we were discussing politics. He brought up the two-party system, and said that he would have had a really hard time choosing who to vote for if Evan McMillan was on the ballot in Pennsylvania. I agreed with him that the two-party system is a mess, and said that "I am with Washington on that issue. We should never have gotten into a party system."
Chad stopped me, beamed, and said, "Washingtonianism for the win!" and gave me a high-five.
We connected as two people. Two young men who are living in a messed up society. We don't agree about abortion, but we agree with each other on some political principles.
This was one of the best experiences I've ever had. It was so refreshing to have an honest conversation with other human beings. Chad and Karah are both made in the image of God. It was a joy to talk with them for the short time we had.
Shortly after we high-fived each other, a Planned Parenthood employe walked over. She came up from behind me, and stepped right between me and Karah, leaving Chad a little to my right. This employee kept her back to me, and addressed herself only to Karah.
"Are you here for an appointment?" she asked, with a strange intensity to her voice. I was in the middle of a sentence, and paused in surprise.
Karah was also surprised by the interruption. The employee was not wearing anything to immediately identify herself. "No." Karah said quizzically.
"Do you live in the area?" The employee, with short, platinum blonde hair, immediately followed-up with another "yes or no" question.
"No." Karah said, clearly confused about what was going on.
"Well, you don't have to listen to this." The employee concluded, using tone to indicate what she thought about my presence there.
With that rather cursory statement, her interruption ended. She turned around and walked towards her car. I never even saw her face, because she kept her back to me the whole time. I called out a greeting, and let her know my name, and that I'd love to talk to her anytime.
Turning back to Chad and Karah, I laughed and said, "This is the first time I ever even saw her." We went on with our conversation without further comment about the awkward interruption.
The employee did not connect with Karah and Chad. She didn’t introduce herself. She didn’t express any interest in them, except to ascertain if they were connected to Planned Parenthood. Her only interest in those around her was in how they impacted her.
My purpose in talking with Karah and Chad was to learn about them. To hear what they think. And to try to change their thinking about abortion. I want them to know the truth about abortion, and to reject it.
I don’t know what Chad and Karah thought about the difference between the employee’s approach and my approach. At the end of our conversation, Chad said he was glad that we never called each other names as we discussed very important and controversial ideas.
We had a civil conversation. This is something that is becoming rare in our culture.
As pro-life people, I urge you to always be civil. Don’t call people names. Don’t shout out slogans and refuse to listen to responses. Hear people out whenever possible.
Don't do what I did at another time in front of the same Planned Parenthood. At that time a man walked past me and another sidewalk counselor. This man said to us, “You know they don’t do abortions here, right? You should do some research before you protest.”
This was an amazing opportunity for a conversation. The other sidewalk counselor was already engaged in a conversation, so I had to answer. As the man walked past me, I said, “Yes they do. We’re not protesting.”
These answers were cursory, and didn’t invite the man into a conversation. The man yelled something at us, and walked away. I missed the chance to actually hear him and his views. I missed the chance to have a conversation.
Who knows why the man believed that Planned Parenthood doesn’t do abortions at their Harrisburg location. It’s printed on their window that they do.
Perhaps he meant that they don’t do surgical abortions? That is correct, as far as I know. Planned Parenthood in Harrisburg only does RU-486 abortions. Did he believe that there is a moral difference between surgical abortions and RU-486 abortions? What ideas led him to believe that the difference is important?
Every person who walks by us is a chance to have a good conversation about facts and philosophy. Especially when they start the interaction.
Whenever I have a conversation about this topic, I have the chance to connect, and to form a relationship. It's a chance to change minds. Slogans and shouting doesn’t change anyone’s mind.
High-fives change more minds than shouting.
*Not their real names.