An audience of 34 people, including members from both Students Acting for Gender Equality (SAGE) and Cornell Coalition for Life (CCFL), gathered last night to discuss the controversial issue of abortion.
A short presentation by Geri Weinstein, a representative for New York Public Interest Research Group (NYPIRG), preceded the debate. Invited by the Cornell Political Coalition (CPC), the organizers of the event, Weinstein described NYPIRG’s efforts to prevent cuts in financial aid and tuition hikes for college students. She said that if the legislature passes Governor George Pataki’s proposal to raise tuition in state universities, students attending State University of New York schools will pay 35 percent more in tuition.
“This year is such a devastating year,” Weinstein said. “As students, we need to work together to get these cuts fixed.”
After Weinstein’s speech, the debate began with opening arguments from both sides.
Representing CCFL, Margaret Marczewski ’03 began by stating her belief in sincere discussion and learning from each other. She then described her reasons for taking the pro-life position, based both on her scientific background as a biology major and her personal beliefs.
“My reason for being pro-life was a reason for seeing this as life and death. First, I am pro-life because of my beliefs. If there are choices, they should be fair choices,” she said. “I am pro-life because of my education. From my understanding of biology and evolution, an embryo inside of me, I cannot deny it is life. I cannot deny it is human life.”
In response, Rachel McMichael ’03, SAGE’s pro-choice committee co-chair, and SAGE’s tri-president Courtney Ritter ’05, presented a short explanation of the pro-choice side.
“We support and act to ensure a woman’s right to choose at any point in her pregnancy,” Ritter said.
Clarifying their position, McMichael said, “Pro-choice does not mean pro-abortion. The right to abortion is about women’s personal freedom. It’s about not impressing your values on other people. Pro-choice recognizes that abortion is not a black and white issue.”
Shortly after the discussion began, CPC President Betsy Cooper ’04, changed the format of the debate, asking representatives from both groups to go up to the front of the room where audience members could ask them questions and make comments.
Questions addressed such topics as contraception, the objectivity of abortion clinic doctors and the future quality of life for an unwanted child.
On the issue of quality of life of an unwanted child, Nikhil Rao ’05, speaking for CCFL, said, “A life is a life. As long as you’re living, you’re above zero.”
Debaters particularly focused on the issue of whether the fetus is a separate being from the mother. While the representatives of CCFL argued that a fetus is a human deserving of rights, SAGE representatives said that a fetus is part of the mother’s body.
“A pregnant woman and a fetus can’t be considered two different beings,” McMichael said.
When CCFL President Sean Breheny grad proposed passing around a model of a fetus at approximately 9 to 11 weeks, the opposite side reacted strongly.
“Where’s the model of the woman you’re going to pass around?” McMichael asked. In response, Marczewski promptly stood up, eliciting laughter from much of the audience.
Audience member Daniel Mosco ’05 questioned the CCFL members’ lack of distinction between a human being and a person.
“Whether the fetus is a person [is what is important]. Not that it’s a human being … but a person has a right to life,” he said.
In response, Minyoung Yi ’03, a representative for CCFL, said, “Just because you can’t recognize yourself in the mirror doesn’t mean you are not a person. The thing that gives the new human being the right to life is not potentiality but that it is a human being.”
To end the debate, both sides offered closing statements, summarizing their arguments and opinions.
Leaders from both groups felt that the debate addressed and discussed important issues.
“I think it’s important that there’s an open dialogue on campus with the issue. I appreciated that [the CCFL members] approached it from a scientific point of view. I was surprised,” said K.T. Varley, SAGE pro-choice committee co-chair and campus organizer for Planned Parenthood.
Likewise, Breheny was mostly satisfied with the debate, although he wished there was more time.
“I think that it is important to talk about this issue. It’s not talked about enough on this campus,” he said.
CPC secretary Megan Dubyak ’04 felt that the debate was useful, but wished it was more focused on ethics.
“I actually didn’t like it when it turns into a biological discussion because I think it obscures what the issue is. It’s a basic philosophical moral belief on either side,” she said.
Archived article by Shannon Brescher