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At conference in Mitchell, pro-lifers urged to engage in dialogue

Stephen Wagner, director of training for Justice for All, shares a note he received from a man whose girlfriend had an abortion without telling him. Wagner gave a talk entitled "Why Pro-Choice Advocates are Essential to the Pro-Life Movement" during the South Dakota Right to Life Convention Saturday in Mitchell. (Chris Huber/Republic)

Education and communication, not confrontation, were emphasized at the South Dakota Right to Life convention, held Saturday at the Highland Conference Center.

Stephen Wagner, director of training for Justice for All, said it's important to engage in open discussions about abortion. Wagner said he travels the country training people how to start a conversation with someone about abortion.

The goal is to move the conversation away from a debate and toward dialogue, Wagner said.

"When you talk to prochoice advocates what you will find is they do move; just don't expect them to move all the way in one conversation," he said.

Wagner outlines in his book, "Common Ground Without Compromise," ideas that he said both pro-choice and pro-life individuals can agree on.

Wagner urges pro-life advocates to engage in dialogue with pro choice advocates "instead of this being a toe-to-toe conversation where I am trying to make my point, we turn it into a shoulder-toshoulder dialogue."

Wagner says pro-choice advocates are essential to the pro-life movement because, "without prochoice advocates we are not able to change the law in any significant way."

"Pro-choice ideas are the enemy, not pro-choice people," Wagner said, urging people to "destroy confusion, not people."

Mitchell Area Right to Life Vice President Valerie Johnson said the organization has always emphasized education and conventions like this are great ways to train advocates.

Johnson said speakers like Wagner are very important for the movement because "it made people think outside the box and move out of your comfort zone."

After hearing such discussions, Johnson feels pro-life advocates are better prepared to have useful discussions about issues such as abortion.

South Dakota Right to Life State Director George Dummann agreed and said education is very important, "so they (advocates) have the facts on their side and know how to make good arguments when discussing with others."

Johnson said through education, the pro-life movement can get more young people involved, a point that she said is essential.

Several Republican politicians also turned out to show support for the Pro Life movement, including Lt. Gov. Dennis Daugaard, who is running for governor, Steve Barnett, who is running for auditor, secretary of state candidate Jason Gant, and Dusty Johnson, of Mitchell, who is seeking a second term on the Public Utilities Commission.

Johnson, who served as the emcee for the event, said he enjoys conventions like this one because they serve as good reminders that people do care about their country and want to make a difference.