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Wisconsin residents with opposite views of abortion are crafting family planning policy

As part of a national program, 14 strangers across the state find common ground. Now they want your input.

The Wisconsin Citizen Solutions on Abortion and Family Well-Being, a group of 14 strangers with opposing views on abortion, meet to try and find common ground. Photo courtesy of Builders

Imagine having a seat at this conference table: Fourteen strangers from around Wisconsin charged with crafting policies on abortion. Nine members at the table support abortion rights. Five are anti-abortion.  

The group known as Wisconsin Citizen Solutions on Abortion and Family Well-Being assembled earlier this year as an experiment. Can people who come from all walks of life find solutions to divisive issues when they disagree?

The national group shepherding the program is now called Builders, formerly known as Starts With Us. The group guides members to gain trust and ultimately put forth policies for lawmakers to consider. The five policies the group spent four days crafting, however, did not include a policy on abortion. 

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But members who call themselves the “Wisconsin 14” still think there were important takeaways from the effort. 

“In the midst of it, it probably felt like (a failure),” Bria Halama, one of the members who considers herself anti-abortion told WPR’s “Wisconsin Today.” “But something I learned is that the issue of abortion, life, bodily autonomy is complicated and so deeply sensitive.” 

Ashley Phillips is the head of programs at Builders and said the organization chose abortion as a topic because of its complexity. 

In 2023, Builders brought a group of people from Tennessee together to craft gun rights and safety policy. It was months after an armed assailant entered the Covenant School in Nashville, Tennessee, and killed three students and three staff members.

“We’re not shying away from these issues — like guns, like abortion — that are really difficult,” Phillips said. “Because our belief and polling data supports it. …We’re not as divided as we think.”

Participants of the Wisconsin Citizen Solutions on Abortion and Family Well-Being listen to a presentation from an expert at American Enterprise Institute. Photo courtesy of Builders

The Wisconsin group found common ground about abortion. Every member agreed they value the mother and the child. The group also agreed that Wisconsin needs more support for planning and sustaining families. Members crafted a vision statement that says, “We agree that the circumstances surrounding abortion are rarely simple.”

From there, the five policies are

  • Require human development education in schools 
  • Require all-options information at pregnancy centers, abortion clinics and prenatal care providers
  • Provide a refundable state child tax credit
  • Enact paid family leave, including for foster and adoptive parents
  • Extend Medicaid 12 months postpartum 

Kai Yael Gardner Mishlove is the executive director of Jewish Social Services and supports abortion rights. She said once people step outside their echo chambers, they can work together to find common ground on divisive issues. 

“Some people might be labeled pro-choice or pro-life, but there is a lot of gray area in between those two terms,” Gardner Mishlove said. “A person who may be pro-choice might share the feelings or opinions of someone who is pro-life. So, how can we move beyond the labels and work together to create a society that is safe and healthy?”

People can weigh in on the five proposals until June 5. So far, more than 13,800 Wisconsinites across 69 counties have voted on the proposals, according to Builders. 

After the public input sessions closes, the Wisconsin 14 hope to bring the proposals to lawmakers.

Editor’s note: Language in this story was updated to reflect that the group crafted policies related to family planning.

The 14 participants of the Wisconsin Citizen Solutions on Abortion and Family Well-Being. Photo courtesy of Builders