*Guest Post by Kris Miner
The St. Croix Valley Restorative Justice Program takes no stance on the issue of abortion and none should be implied.
The possibility of abortion peace.
The Exhale article highlights ‘peace’ as a state reached when we are able to engage in conflict without dehumanizing one another or ourselves, whether through violence or words (pg 19). As a practitioner of Restorative Justice I can appreciate the conflict transformation paradigm that seeks to create humanity in conflict. Restorative Justice brings those directly impacted by crime and conflict together to address what is needed to make things right. Victims who hold a stake because they have been harmed, meet directly with the person who authored the harmful act. These interactions are designed to be healing, offering an opportunity for storytelling. Restorative justice changes behavior by a change of heart. It is through stories that we get to a change of heart.
The Exhale article explains, “women who have had abortions have insight about the way our society treat and understand abortion and other people simply do not”. These stories have largely remained untold, and Exhale is approaching a paradigm to erase “sides” and embrace areas where common ground may exist.
When bringing those harmed together with the harmers, sides need to be erased. Restorative Justice approaches the dialogue by preparing parties to listen to each other. Respect is the foundation for productive restorative justice. The stories shared by victims and offenders offer each side the ability to further and deeper understand. The experience of the other is respected by being heard. This understanding also promotes an awareness of the common ground areas. In restorative justice the stories allow people to move into a place of separating the doer and the deed. We also ask people to step back and realize that our human nature is to see a person as all bad, when they have harmed us. We encourage a more holistic view of each other, and believe in healing. In St. Croix Valley Restorative Justice’s blog Circlespace the May 26, 2009 entry explains that accepting a person does not mean accepting the behavior. The “mixed” message described in the blog post is about holding someone accountable AND holding them in community. Consistent with the approach described in the Exhale article “A better approach must do at least two things: give voice to those impacted by the conflict and cultivate authentic and meaningful relationships among them (page 12).”
Stephen Covey, talks about blending voices and using “Third Alternatives . . . our way” this is not a compromise, but something better. Covey shares that there is more than my point and your point. The Third Alternative is a better for both of us option. These Third Alternatives are created when we deeply respect each other and we listen.
In Restorative Justice sessions I have seen victims, offenders and community members create ‘third-ways’ to repair harm and promote healing. As counter-intuitive as it might seem to place victims in direct dialogue with offenders, the results are powerful and transformative. Not to be done lightly and without preparation, just as dialogue and storytelling about experiences with abortion should not be introduced lightly and without preparation.
Without the background in Restorative Justice, and the front row to healing that I have seen from participating in numerous Restorative Justice Circles, I would probably question the notion of Abortion Peace. After reading the Exhale article, I accept the invitation to be Pro-Voice, to promote listening. Listening to women who have had abortions can be done, regardless of a policy agenda.
As the restorative justice movement has faced “wars on crime” by bringing forward alternatives to punishment, the Exhale project is bringing forth alternatives to the abortion wars. The proposed alternatives are listening to stories, removing sides and agenda’s and making space for ‘third-alternatives’.
The St. Croix Valley Restorative Justice Program mission statement is to build a culture of peace and belonging utilizing restorative justice principles and programs in our community. The Exhale proposal brings hope for abortion peace by offering a place for the stories to belong. The stories belong to both sides, they belong to all of us, they are part of our community. The stories hold the potential for peace, by listening at the very least we help people hear and at the very most, we are shifting the war on abortion.