The Southwestern Pennsylvania Program for Deliberative Democracy

Beyond the Picket Lines: A Campus Conversation on the Issue of Abortion, Clinic Regulations and Campus Reproductive Resources

Fall 2016/Spring - Fall 2017


Forty years after the Supreme Court Decision on Roe v. Wade, the political debate over the issue of abortion continues. The most recent arguments before the Supreme Court, in the case of “Whole Woman’s Health et al. v. Hellerstedt,” have provided yet another way to look at and to discuss the topic.

Since the 1990s this debate has moved to the State Houses and during the past two years alone over 40 bills have been introduced to regulate access to abortion. This is the source of the case in Texas that led to the Whole Woman’s Health opinion. 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. Futhermore, informed citizen understanding of current Supreme Court decisions can help to legitimaze or caution state legislators still engaged in ways to consider regulations of abortion-providing clinics.

The Program for Deliberative Democracy proposes to address this problem, at least at the level of our institutions of Higher Education, through a series of Campus Conversations in 2016 and 2017. The Program is releasing materials that will enable campuses across the country to run their own versions of a Deliberative Forum. Guidelines for hosting these events are available and recommended protocols include providing students with a pre-survey during an IRB approved recruitment process and receiving a well-vetted Discussion Guide prior to the designated 2.5 hour deliberation. At the host sites, the sampled individuals will gather in small, moderated groups to discuss the topic. They’ll formulate questions to be asked during a plenary session with experts and then gather once again to respond to a post-survey.

The data drawn from the pre- and post-surveys will have ‘consulting power’ and could be used by stakeholders to influence concrete campus policy.

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.

Resource Panel


A well-vetted Discussion Guide is available for review as well as a FAQ file (Frequentely Asked Questions). If you are affiliated with an educational institution or an organization interested in useing these materials in well-structured conversations, please contact Dr. Robert Cavalier through email ( or phone (412-268-7641) for permissions, consultation, general inquiry, etc.

We are also making available beta-tested survey questions for use in research or in more formal forms of feedback.

Organizations interested in using these surveys should secure local IRB approval.

Please contact Dr. Cavalier if you are interested in using the Pre-Survey and/or the Post-Survey. We also have a sample moderator guide for use in these conversations.

A Handbook on Campus Conversations is available. Note that the Handbook uses Jim Fishkin's model of a Deliberative Poll(R), but we have found that it is easiest for a campus to use 'Convenience Samples' for increased student participation. These can be called "Deliberative Loops" ( see Cavalier, Democracy for Beginners).


The following schools participated in the beta-test of the materials and will become host sites for the Spring 2017 PA State Deliberative Forum.

Carnegie Mellon Univsersity

Community College of Philadelphia

Shippensburg University


Generous support for this project comes from

Judith A. Wright, Carnegie Mellon, CIT Class of 1969.


View project video (3 min).


© Copyright 2016 Program for Deliberative Democracy; for more informatiom, contact Robert Cavalier at