The testimony of Rev. Dr. Marian Stewart, Senior Minister of First Unitarian Church of Columbus, against the six-week abortion ban (Senate Bill 23) in the 133rd General Assembly. Watch all the testimonies here and here.

Chairman Merrin, Vice Chair Manning, and Ranking Member Boyd,

Sunday morning, I experienced a youth-led worship service. They had written music, composed readings, and prepared reflections. I am always curious about what they will say and am continually surprised and amazed by their insight and wisdom.

In some ways, the younger generation is far ahead of the rest of us. The youth spoke about community and common ground and how our assumptions limit us.

One teen in particular spoke about what it means to accept each other regardless of differences. They told a story of how during 3rd grade, a classmate asked about their religious beliefs. There were similarities and a few differences. Because they weren’t exactly the same, this classmate decided the two could no longer be friends. He was kind and well-meaning, but differences in personal belief could not be tolerated. Eventually, the friendship ended. The lesson this youth took from that experience was intriguing. They gleaned that we have become too dependent on common ground as a criterion for connection.

As a minister, I wonder about how this concept of common ground affects how we see one another. Our country and our politics have driven us into corners, and it is impossible to see the “other” behind our own beliefs. We are reactionary and dismissive at any hint of differences. We ignore the capacity we have for loving one another beyond what we may share in common.

I have tried to reach beyond this veil of common ground and see if there is something that we actually do share underneath our public stances. Here is what I’ve learned:

  • We all have the need to love and to be loved

  • We all desire the best for ourselves, our children, and our families.

  • And we all hope that difficult situations will never come our way.

When my friend, let’s call her Amy, was pregnant with her first child, she was elated. Her younger sister was also pregnant with her first. There was much celebration. But testing gave Amy bad news. The baby had a heartbeat, but its brain was not developing. She had a choice: abort the fetus at 19 weeks or carry what would be a tragic stillborn to term. Amy and her husband had a profoundly difficult decision to make. There was no hope for the baby. The only choice was whether or not Amy had to carry what would be an essentially dead baby in her body for another 20 weeks. The outcome would not be different, only the suffering.

Amy and her husband chose to abort the pregnancy. Because the procedure was done safely and legally, a few years later, Amy gave birth to a healthy baby boy.

Carrying a brain-dead fetus for 20 more weeks inside her body would be the only option under SB23. For the next 140 mornings, Amy would have to face each new day knowing that the fetus in her belly was dying. She’d have to face friends at work and strangers who wondered why she cried when they offered congratulations. The belly bump and fetal heartbeat did not tell the full story or even hint at the pain or the tragedy. SB23 is inhumane and immoral. It tells Amy, we don’t care about you.

Beyond our beliefs, I believe our real common ground is compassion. It is not seeing how fast we can divide ourselves into camps that leave no room to see each other’s joy or pain. None of us wants to be in extraordinarily difficult situations. But they happen. To us. To our friends. To our families.

We should not be at a point in our society where the youth sharing their stories on Sunday will face a world where coat hangers, shared metal blades, and tummies as punching bags once again become the only methods for reproductive health care.

We all wish for a perfect world where no woman or family faces hard decisions, but when they do, the grown-up and civilized thing to do is give options and let the medical professionals and their patients make the best choices for that particular situation.

We all want the best outcomes, but sometimes we only want the joy. Like the third-grader in the youth’s story, we only want the part where we agree. But life has sorrows too.

SB23 is simplistic and makes no room for reasoned and compassionate care when it is most needed. We will not all agree all the time, including this issue, but your job is to pull us together, not divide us further. Bring your personal beliefs to the table, yes, and also bring ours. The challenge is not to divide us but to unite us. Together, we are Ohio.

SB23 is about heartbeat, but it doesn’t have heart or compassion. And for my friend Amy, it doesn’t even have a brain.

Lead with compassion. Lead with love. Lead for ALL of us. Create a larger vision that holds both joy and sorrow. Vote against SB23.