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My Take on "Open Hearts, Open Minds"

Written by Aimée Thorne-Thomsen for - News, commentary and community for reproductive health and justice.

The conference Open Hearts, Open Minds, Fair-Minded Words, took place at Princeton University on October 15th and 16th, 2010.  Videocasts of the sessions can be found at the link.

I have to confess that I registered for this conference with neither an open heart nor an open mind. I intentionally don’t engage in conversations about abortion with people who oppose it.  It’s a form of self-preservation.  I don’t understand a worldview that espouses curtailing women’s autonomy and human rights as necessary and even good in order to protect potential human life.  I simply will not abandon my conviction that women retain their agency, dignity and self-determination, regardless of whether they are pregnant or could become pregnant.  Nor will I judge women for making decisions about their reproductive lives that are best for them.  Knowing that this conference would be a radical departure for me, I ventured to Princeton anyway. Unsure of what to expect and anxious, I nevertheless wanted to lend my support to allies who supported abortion.  I also intended to bear witness to conversations that at least on their surface centered on abortion outside of its actual context, that is, outside the bodies, lives, and experiences of the women who get pregnant and have abortions. 

The organizers of the conference, Frances Kissling (Center for BioEthics, University of Pennsylvania), Peter Singer (University Center for Human Values, Princeton), Jennifer Miller (Bioethics International), and Charles Camosy (Department of Theology, Fordham University), challenged the hundreds of participants to view the conference as an opportunity to understand the thinking of those who feel differently about abortion than we each did personally, and to see disagreement as an opportunity to learn something, not to attack.  The discussions ranged across many issues including the moral status of the fetus, the concept of fetal pain, and the potential discriminatory affects of abortion (as in sex selection or after pre-natal diagnosis of fetal differences).  While each session was thought-provoking in its own way, I want to focus on the opening plenaries on Friday and Saturday morning because they challenged me the most and helped me reaffirm my own values around abortion.

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