Carnegie Mellon University

Program for Deliberative Democracy

Department of Philosophy

The Issue of Abortion in America (Pennsylvania, 2018)

Forty years after the Supreme Court Decision on Roe v. Wade, the political debate over the issue of abortion continues. Since the 1990s this debate has moved to the State Houses and during the past five years more and more bills have been introduced to regulate access to abortion. Today states like Texas and Mississippi have passed laws that effectively ban abortion in most cases. Yet discussions in the State Houses often lack informed public input on the issue and thus deprive these law-making bodies of representative citizen engagement in the conversation. Such informed citizen opinions are also necessary for consideration by the Court Justices themselves.

Carnegie Mellon’s Program for Deliberative Democracy in partnership with Temple University’s Institute for Survey Research sought to address this problem of informed citizen opinion by sponsoring a Community Deliberative Forum on the issue of abortion in America on October 6th 2018.

The data drawn from the exit surveys from this event may have ‘consulting power’ and could be used by stakeholders to influence concrete policy discussions in State Houses across the country. Of potential interest was citizen input on the regulation of clinics. 

In 2019 the results of the forum were presented to the PA State Women’s Health Caucus, with a special focus in HB 2050. This bill would prevent termination of pregnancies if based solely on the diagnosis of Down Syndrome. This issue is discussed in an Op Ed in the PennLive feature of the Harrisburg Patriot News and is encapsulated in the following participant comment: “Those arguing against this bill note that it is still a matter of family choice as difficult and complex as this may be and that the law would take this choice away from the individual and place it within jurisdiction of legislators.”

Q&A Session with Expert Panel

Our experience in developing these kinds of events convinces us that we can not only address this issue in a civil and constructive manner, but that the very process of informed, well structured conversations itself demonstrates the advantages of a more deliberative, less divisive democracy.