The Cornell Coalition for Life hosted a lecture and debate with pro-life activist Randall Terry yesterday evening in McGraw Hall. Terry, who was once referred to as an “icon of the pro-life movement” by the New York Times, gave a brief talk on morality, euthanasia and abortion, before launching into a spirited question and answer session with audience members.
Terry founded Operation Rescue in 1986, an organization which conducted protests and “sidewalk counseling” outside of abortion clinics. He ultimately left the group after a torrent of lawsuits and arrests; Terry himself spent a year in jail. More recently, Terry has been at the center of a controversial political battle over the fate of severely disabled Florida woman Terri Shiavo, whose husband, Michael Shiavo, is seeking to remove her feeding tube against the wishes of her parents.
“Our goal was to create an avalanche of sympathy,” said Terry, who in the past several weeks has headed a campaign urging Governor Jeb Bush to sign an executive order extending the woman’s life. “[We] could hear her trying to talk — saying yes or no. She is severely disabled. I’m not going to lie to you … but, she was denied therapy.”
In addition to his discussion of the Shiavo struggle, Terry outlined his argument against abortion, beginning with a broad overview of ethics and religion and subsequently narrowing in on the specifics of abortion procedures and the role of the Supreme Court in representative government.
“Don’t confuse judicial dictate with the rule of the law,” said Terry, arguing that recent rulings have been “driven down our throat by an activist court.”
Terry also shared his views on legislation that would prohibit a procedure referred to by opponents as “partial birth abortion,” a ban which was recently passed in both houses of Congress. Terry said that the law would have little effect on the availability of late-term abortions, arguing that alternative methods would proliferate in the absence of the “partial birth” technique.
“The partial birth abortion ban is a public relations gold mine and a political scam,” Terry said.
Terry also spoke extensively on the role of Biblical law and the rise of Christianity in shaping the morality of the modern world.
“[God] didn’t give us ten suggestions, he gave us ten commandments,” Terry said, adding that those who denied the existence of an absolute moral code “are pretenders to the throne of God.”
Following his talk, Terry spent an hour and a half in a lively debate with audience members, mixing off-the-cuff jokes and ethical arguments with listeners that were alternately sympathetic and hostile to his views. Organizers eventually had to bring a close to the discussion time, but pockets of students lingered afterward to exchange opinions.
“I like that it got heated,” said Malkia Hutchinson ’05, president of the CCFL. “I wasn’t expecting [an] atheism vs. Christianity [argument], it really added to the quality of the debate.”
“I was surprised at how pertinent what he said was, I expected it to be more theoretical,” said attendee Hannah Maxson ’07.
Some listeners, however, remained unconvinced by Terry’s presentation. “He’s a good speaker, I can’t deny that,” said Ben Rockey-Harris ’04. “But a lot of his arguments revolve around … falling back on Christianity. He failed to present something for me to believe. I never got it. I tried.”
“I do believe every human life has value,” said Michelle Raczka ’06. “[But] I feel that at the same time you don’t have to believe in God to value every human life. I think you can know killing another person is wrong through reason.”
The CCFL plans to continue promoting anti-abortion and anti-euthanasia causes on campus through literature distribution and publicity campaigns.