OHIO — All this week, we’ve brought you stories about talking politics across Ohio through the efforts of Braver Angels. 

What You Need To Know

  • Debating issues can often devolve into shouting and personal attacks

  • Students at University of Cincinnati agreed to discuss abortion using Braver Angels rules

  • The sides didn't change their stances, but they kept it civil due to the Braver Angels format

In this story, we show you some of what Braver Angels discussions look like. We asked student volunteers from the University of Cincinnati and their professor and Braver Angels member, Professor Eugene Rutz, to discuss four hot topics using Braver Angels rules. 

These rules include: 1) listening first, then speak, 2) don’t try to change the other person’s mind, and 3) don’t assume group members all think the same.

We put students in red and blue teams. This example focuses on the issue of abortion. Professor Rutz opened the debate by addressing the “red” team:  “As you probably know, this summer, the Supreme Court overturned Roe versus Wade and made abortion access once again a state level issue. So, for you guys, why do you think this is a good idea?”

Red team member Alyssa Baker, part of UC’s class of 2025, went first: “We believe this is a great idea because the power being in the hands of the states actually allows individuals to have more of a say as to what those limitations regulations are within the state.”

MacKenzie Collett of UC class of 2024, and a “blue” team member, responded: “Well, I understand that the reality is that when it goes back to the states, not everyone is included in that choice. There’s a clear economic difference per state for a lot of individuals. It’s a choice between feeding their current families, feeding themselves, giving themselves an education and making that choice.”

This prompted “red” team’s Jaden Walton of UC’s class of 2025 to offer: “There are many non-profits such as abortionfunds.com that will actually cover these costs in their entirety, plus travel to get to wherever you might need to get an abortion.”

The “blue” team’s Tanmay Srivastava (also in the class of 2025) spoke last and in response to Walton: “I can see your point on this. But one thing I’d like to add, coming from a different culture and international background, is that even though we have availability of nonprofits and other resources, there are still a lot of people who cannot get.”

Walton followed with: “You can get access in the United States as long as have an internet connection. You can actually apply and have complete acceptance into getting access to these resources.”

This moved Collett to reply: “I see that point. But the reality is not everyone has that internet access. And even if it’s only $750 for some people, that’s an entire month’s paycheck. For a lot of individuals, they don’t have the time to take off work, to travel to a different state, to get that procedure to get back.”

From this, Baker raised a different side of the money issue: “I’m more focusing here on the fact that we are placing a money value on the child that is inside the mother. At this point, that child has the right to life.”

At this point, you might be thinking, “I have several good points to make in this conversation, and the speakers aren’t using them!” That’s true of a lot of our political talks. Remember, the students and Professor Rutz model a Braver Angels style discussion. The primary goal is to listen to understand the other side. Once we listen more, and show that respect, we’re in a better position to share our ideas on issues like abortion.

In response to Baker, Collett shared her perspective on life: “I don’t think we are against life in any way. I think, frankly, we’re about putting the individual who’s pregnant life first. And additionally, there is debate about when does life start? And I know for me personally, I put the life of the parent with children over the life of a fetus.”

To this, Baker said: “I believe that it does start at conception, meaning that once that life is formed inside the womb, that is a living. That is a living being. And by ending the life of that is murder at this point.”

Collett again couched the issue from her team’s vantage point: “When it was fully legal under Roe, what could happen was an individual could decide whether or not they wanted to get an abortion. And if you were against it, you didn’t have to have one. No one is going to force you to have one. And you had the freedom of speech to try to convince others not to and let them know about your beliefs. And so, by sending it back to the states and letting these states pass these heartbeat bills, it’s preventing people from being in charge of their bodily autonomy from their own choice.”

Walton then did the same: “I think the biggest reservation that might come along with this would be obviously the personal autonomy, because we do value individual rights. However, the biggest thing is that we believe is that you actually give more rights to people because you have a larger say in your state government versus federal government and really embodies federalism.”

And then, Professor Rutz drew the conversation to a close: “And that’s a great point, because these thorny issues are very intertwined. So we’re talking about abortion, but we’re also then talking about differences between where do those rights reside. So that’s a great point. Thank you for bringing it up.”

You might see some of your views reflected in this debate. You may also think one speaker was “better” than another. Rather than a flaw of the exercise, however, the Braver Angels debate style in this abortion conversation reflects how we can have these discussions in real life. In the end, no one had their minds changed. But all four team members listened to each other give their heartfelt perspectives without judging, name calling or shouting. This way of discussing politics may not be the norm, but it might be a “braver” style of hearing and learning from each other on the nation’s most pressing issues.