April 3, 2001

Panelists Engage in Debate on Abortion

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Cornellians and Ithaca residents debated the controversial issue of abortion in front of a packed Hollis E. Cornell Auditorium in Goldwin Smith Hall last night.

Organized by the Bioethical Society of Cornell, the debate engaged 10 University and community organizations, including the Cornell Democrats, College Republicans, Cornell Civil Liberties Union (CCLU), and Students Acting for Gender Equality. The audience participated in a discussion following the debate.

“The issue of abortion is as contentious today as it was 30 years ago,” said Michael Matly ’03, president of the Bioethical Society of Cornell. “We organized and brought together Cornell groups — religious, feminist, political — to have an enlightened dialogue and to educate Cornell.”

The mediator, Prof. Donna McKenzie, religious studies, posed questions to each side and allowed for responses from the opposition.

The panelists held widely varying opinions, from opposing abortion in any situation to supporting abortion in some cases, to firmly believing in the right to choose.

“We need to give the decision of abortion back to the states after we overturn the Roe v. Wade decision [that allowed abortion],” said Ryan Horn ’02, member of the College Republicans.

Other debaters, including Scott Heyman from Tompkins County Planned Parenthood, opposed any anti-abortion legislation.

“All children should be conceived by the free choice of their parent,” Heyman said. “My organization believes in the right of women to make their own decisions on when to have children.”

Two religious groups, the Muslim Educational and Cultural Association and Young Israel of Ithaca, held more moderate positions.

“There is little disagreement that abortion is prohibited after 120 days of conception unless there is certain medical necessity such as when the health or the life of the mother is in danger,” said Abdulrahman al-khalidy grad, the MECA representative.

The debate addressed a wide range of abortion-related topics, including the drug RU-486, used to abort first-trimester fetuses.

“Because RU-486 has been safe and effective, it should be made accessible, especially to women who don’t have the financial means to obtain it,” said Alex Sanchez ’03, secretary-treasurer of the Cornell Democrat.

Others did not share Sanchez’s confidence in the drug.

“RU-486 was fast-tracked through FDA approval, and after only six months of testing, it was approved,” said Shannon Speicher, a member of the Cornell Coalition for Life (CCFL).

Other situations explored during the debate included abortion in cases of rape or incest, abortion of late-term fetuses, and the man’s role in the abortion decision.

“Men have one right — the right to choose to have sex,” said Elizabeth Lorina ’03, representing the CCLU, asserting that men should not be allowed to force their mates to have an abortion or to keep the baby.

The only time tempers rose occurred when Sean Breheny ’01, a CCFL representative, was prohibited from showing pictures of fetuses to the audience. At the beginning of the debate, it had been announced that no visual aids could be used.

“I thought the debate would allow free expression, and I could have tried to push the issue beforehand,” Breheny said.

Nevertheless, despite addressing several charged issues, the debaters avoided major outbursts.

After the debate, audience members challenged and questioned the debaters.

“I’m distressed because both sides talk about what they think individually and spew ‘facts’ that are not really facts,” one audience member said.

Other audience members found the discussion informative and helpful.

“I got a more comprehensive understanding of the issue of abortion,” said Umair Khan ’03. “I felt that the debate pitted one side against the other, but there should have been more middle ground [representing moderate viewpoints] represented.”

Archived article by Peter Lin