November 18, 2005

Students Debate Roe v. Wade

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Adriane Bracciale ’07 from Students Acting for Gender Equality and Bryn Roshong ’08 of the Cornell American Civil Liberties Union debated Sandy Czlusniak ’07 of the Cornell Coalition for Life and Michael Francisco law of the Cornell Federalist Society over whether Roe v. Wade should be overturned? The debate was held in front of roughly one hundred students in Uris Auditorium last night.

Roe v. Wade is perhaps the most politically significant Supreme Court decision to date, and certainly one of the most controversial,” said Ben Ware ’08, moderator of the debate, in his introduction. “On January 22, 1973, the Supreme Court ruled by a 7-2 majority that laws against abortion violate a Constitutional right to privacy. Over night, all state laws restricting abortion were overturned by the Court’s decision.”

The question of the debate addressed the legal basis of Roe v. Wade , not whether abortions themselves are moral or immoral. Nevertheless, morality became an issue early on in the debate.

“There is a consensus that life begins at conception and therefore an abortion takes an innocent life,” said Czlusniak.

Bracciale countered by claiming that “there is no scientific consensus about when life starts, but there is a consensus that all the women in this auditorium are alive and their lives and rights should be protected.”

In further exchanges of statistical references, Czlusniak claimed that more than 45 million unborn fetuses had lost their lives since the 1973 ruling, while the pro-choice group claimed that still to this day between 68,000 and 78,000 women lose their lives each year due to lack of access to a safe and legal abortion. They added that abortion-related deaths in the United States went down by 85 percent after the Roe v. Wade ruling.

Instead of the moral implications, Francisco focused on the legal framework within which the Roe case was decided.

Roe cannot be supported with any legal basis. It simply is not constitutional law,” said Francisco. He added that “overturning Roe v. Wade would put the matter back into the hands of the state legislature, where abortion could be decided in the political landscape. It is a political question, not a question for nine judges to decide.”

Francisco did not disclose whether he thought abortion was moral or if he thought abortions should be legal or illegal in any form. Instead he argued that “the abortion issue being decided by nine men in their moral image is wrong. We are a nation ruled by laws, not by men, and Roe v. Wade is a moral image imposed by nine men and not the law.”

Some questions posed by the audience left the debaters with few answers.

One student asked, “How can the situation be handled if the father of the baby wants the baby to be born?”

Soon after, another asked, “What about aborting a baby just because she has a disability?” (Doctors have the ability to check for physical disabilities in the first and second trimesters of a pregnancy.)

The Roe v. Wade debate has taken center stage of the political landscape in recent months because of John Roberts’s successful nomination to the Supreme Court and the pending nomination of Samuel Alito. Both men are considered conservatives, but Alito would replace Sandra Day O’Connor, who has been a reliable pro-choice vote, on the bench. Alito’s nomination hearings will take place in front of the Judiciary Committee in the middle of January.