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University of Toronto Students for Life: [Debate] Abortion: Human Right or Human Rights Violation?

This post was written for University of Toronto Students for Life by Blaise Alleyne. It does not necessarily represent the views of NCLN.

We’ve uploaded video from Monday’s debate between Stephanie Gray and Donald Ainslie.

Unlike Stephanie’s opponent at Dalhousie, Ainslie did not argue in favour of infanticide, and in fact argued against the notion that abortion should be a morally trivial matter. Professor Ainslie affirmed that, from the point of conception onwards, there are deep moral issues at stake.

He said in his opening statement:

We think of people as one of a kind, as irreplaceable. When an egg is fertilized there is a biological creature that’s one of a kind; there won’t be another one of those. And so the loss of that person, either spontaneously or… in an abortion, makes the world somewhat less. That’s one thing that the world doesn’t have anymore. . . . [it's] the loss of something with intrinsic value, something that’s irreplaceable, something that won’t be around again.

But Ainslie’s main argument was that, although the moral status of the pre-born is not insignificant, the pre-born doesn’t have the same moral status as you or I until some undefined later point in pregnancy (between conception and birth, which he labelled as two extreme lines to draw). Therefore, he argued that abortion is justified in some circumstances, that all abortion is morally significant but not inherently wrong. He argued that, though the pre-born has intrinsic value, that value might be outweighed by other considerations which justify abortion. Further, he argued that though there may be moral questions involved, the legal questions are separate, and since reasonable people could disagree on the moral question, abortion should be legal. In essence, he affirmed the intrinsic value of the pre-born, but put it on a sliding scale of lesser significance than the intrinsic value of you or I until some undefined point between conception and birth, of a lesser moral status meaning that some abortions are justified and that the law should leave the possibility of abortion open.

In one sense, Ainslie’s argument was weak insofar as he purposefully avoided making any claim of where or why or how the pre-born child would attain a greater moral significance at some arbitrary part along the human continuum of development between conception and birth. This is a classic case for the SLED argument.

But in another sense, I believe his argument is challenging because — despite avoiding the question of why size or level of development (essentially, our age) should determine our value — many people simply agree with this type of argument. They often can’t articulate a reason for it, but they’ll deny that abortion is inherently wrong in the first trimester while being uncomfortable or opposed to it later on, because they believe there is a greater moral significance as the pre-born child gets older.

To respond, I think we must highlight the fact that our age does not increase our value or our moral significance, and make the pre-born child more and more visible, using images of prenatal development that bring to light the undeniable humanity and intrinsic value of the youngest human beings, and images of first trimester abortions that bring into the light the horrible injustice and violence of abortion even at an early stage.

Well, that’s my take. Watch the debate for yourself on YouTube in two parts (an hour each):


Read the comments at the University of Toronto Students for Life website.

In their own words

By Rebecca Richmond

These comments were made in Toronto by pro-choice activists at a rally, underscoring the importance and the impact of campus pro-life activism.  Watch the clip here.  In their own words: “We can’t let our guard down”

To better appreciate what they’re saying, I have included a transcript (with my own comments and corrections in line).

“They are heating up their end of things.  They are mobilizing wherever they can to challenge pro-choice forces.  And they are trying to do it a lot on campus.”

Is there any better place to discuss and debate controversial issues and challenge the status quo than on university campuses?

“There’s been a lot of stuff at U of T.”

Go U of T Students for Life! Keep up the great work!

“Coming up on March 14th, there’s going to be a debate at the University of Toronto.  The anti-choice is organizing with a woman from this group called the Centre for Bio-Ethical Reform, I believe it’s called.”

Yes, there will be a debate and I’m looking forward to it!  Stephanie Gray will be presenting the pro-life position and she is the Executive Director of the Canadian Centre for Bio-Ethical Reform .

“Basically it’s the GAP, the Genocide Awareness Project, what they call it.”

The Genocide Awareness Project is one of the educational tools that the Canadian Centre for Bio-Ethical Reform uses.  However, the debate in question is not GAP but, as the title suggestions, a debate.  A debate is defined as a formal, regulated discussion of an issue with two opposing views presented.  This debate will, as such, present both sides of the issue of abortion: pro-life and pro-choice.

“Which is these big, monstr – you know, giant-sized signs that they display on campuses and that are so offensive and that are just so horrible.”

The signs are offensive and horrible, but that is because they accurately reflect the offensive and horrible reality of abortion.  To quote pro-choice feminist Naomi Wolf: “The pro-choice movement often treats with contempt the pro-lifers’ practice of holding up to our faces their disturbing graphics….[But] how can we charge that it is vile and repulsive for pro-lifers to brandish vile and repulsive images if the images are real? To insist that truth is in poor taste is the very height of hypocrisy.”
-16 Naomi Wolf, “Our Bodies, Our Souls,” The New Republic, 16 October 1996.

“So they’re going to have a debate on campus with a doctor I’ve never heard of, but I think, if people are interested (and we’ll send out an email about that), it’s on March 14th, I think pro-choice supporters should show up en masse and we should support anybody who’s on campus who’s standing up for choice. “

First off, the ‘doctor’ in question is Doctor Ainslie.  The speaker may not have heard of him but he’s certainly more than qualified.  Professor Ainslie is the chair of both the Department of Philosophy in the Faculty of Arts and Science and the Graduate Department of Philosophy.  In January he was named principal of University College.  One of his major fields of study is bioethics.

Second, I hope pro-choicers show up with open minds and with respect for the debate.

“Because they’re trying just basically to populate the campus with their activities and their things.”

We’re trying to save lives and change hearts and minds.  Having activities, events and an active presence on campus are means to accomplish our goals.

“For many of us, we thought we had sort of won this battle many years ago and clearly it’s not, it’s not something we can ever let our guard down.”

Clearly.

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New Pro-Life Job Opportunities

By Rebecca Richmond, NCLN Executive Director

Prior to graduating and prior to my present job, I attended NCLN’s National Symposium as a student.  One of the last talks of the weekend was given by Jose Ruba, the co-founder of the Canadian Centre for Bio-Ethical Reform.  I can’t recall everything he said but one line jumped out and stayed with me: “there are more people working full-time to kill babies than there are people working full-time to save babies.”

That statement stirred my heart and was a definite factor in deciding to pursue this job with NCLN.

On this note, our Pro-Life Jobs page has been updated with three opportunities for pro-life job positions in Alberta and British Columbia.

Click here to view the page.

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Media Advisory: Controversial Pro-Life Lecture Comes to UVic

MEDIA ADVISORY:

CONTROVERSIAL PRO-LIFE LECTURE COMES TO UVIC

On October 26th, 2010, Youth Protecting Youth (YPY), the pro-life club at the University of Victoria, and the Victoria Right to Life Society will host Jojo Ruba of the Canadian Centre for Bioethical Reform to speak on the issue of abortion.

Jojo’s lecture, entitled “Echoes of the Holocaust,” exposes the dehumanization of victims throughout history, and explains the parallels between the unborn children who are killed by abortion today and the victims of historical genocides.

While the presentation has been delivered at many universities across Canada without incident, in early 2009 the presentation was disrupted by unruly protestors at both St. Mary’s University in Halifax and McGill University in Montreal.

In both instances protestors shouted slogans and chants, preventing students from hearing Mr. Ruba’s presentation; campus security failed to stop these protestors from disrupting the lectures (footage of the incidents can be found on Youtube). In each case, the university administration later apologized for the disruptions.

As a club that has recently struggled to be treated with equity on campus, YPY recognizes the absolute importance of freedom of speech. YPY welcomes debate on the issue of abortion, and encourages all who are interested to come to the presentation, and participate in the question period following the lecture.

The “Echoes of the Holocaust” presentation will take place at 5:30pm on Tuesday October 26, in room SCI B150 (in the Bob Wright Centre) at the University of Victoria.


Contact:

Anastasia Pearse, President, YPY &

Catherine Shenton, Vice President, YPY

youthprotectingyouth@gmail.com

www.youthprotectingyouth.com


-30-

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Tonight: Carleton Lifeline to host controversial talk

By Rebecca Richmond, Executive Director


Despite being arrested on October 4th for attempting to put up a pro-life display, the students of Carleton University’s pro-life campus group are continuing to be active as a club.  Working to engage their campus in dialogue on the issue of abortion, they will be hosting a controversial presentation called “Echoes of the Holocaust” tonight.

This presentation, given by Jose Ruba of the Canadian Centre for Bio-Ethical Reform, draws attention to the similarities between past atrocities and injustices, such as the Holocaust, and abortion.  It was shouted down last year at McGill University as well as St. Mary’s University.

Ruth Lobo, one of the students arrested, made the following invitation in an article by Patrick Craine of Lifesitenews.com,

“We’re inviting anyone who’s heard about the controversy over our arrest and who wants to know why we are so willing to speak up for the unborn, to hear the presentation…We know that we won’t be able to reach as many people from a closed room—which is why we’ve been fighting so hard to get the debate out in the open—but we want people to hear our side of the story.”

The talk will be held tonight, Monday October 18th, at 7 p.m. at Carleton University,  Tory building, room 360,

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Youth Protecting Youth: Nazis?

This post was written for Youth Protecting Youth by ypyinfoofficer. It does not necessarily represent the views of NCLN.

On Tuesday, October 26th, Youth Protecting Youth (YPY) will host a speaker from the Canadian Centre for Bioethical Reform (CCBR) who will compare abortion to genocide.

YPY held a debate last October which also featured a member of CCBR. The debate included discussion surrounding abortion and graphic media showing it, and was difficult to watch. Outrage, conflict and controversy accompanied the event, and YPY’s club status was revoked (it has since been reinstated[1]). But subjecting oneself to such controversial views and unpleasant material is important because this inflammatory comparison is worthy of critical, reasoned academic consideration.

Exploring emotional responses to vocabulary is a good place to begin. The ability to talk about things constructively is affected by individual emotional responses to them. For example, words like “Nazi,” “genocide” and “abortion” appearing so closely after one another may elicit emotional responses that can blind people to the content of a message and prevent critical consideration. Different ideas about the words’ meanings can also prevent a reasoned exchange; the words “Nazi” and “genocide” are associated with universally deplored, horrible situations involving large loss of life, but we can’t immediately understand the subtleties of what is (or isn’t) implied by their use unless we continue listening. Looking beyond the words and the distress they cause enables deeper investigation of the ideas they attempt to describe.

When someone refers to genocide, it is often assumed that because the speaker is describing a terrible crime against humanity, he or she is implying that its perpetrators are pure evil. That isn’t always the case; genocide is simply a word, coined in 1944 by Raphael Lemkin as a tool of language to describe the Holocaust. It has undergone minor changes in meaning[2] but it is well-described as the intent to destroy an identifiable group systematically. The use of the term “genocide” doesn’t immediately imply that its perpetrators are extraordinarily terrible people. Indeed, those involved in it are usually normal people:

In the 1960s, researchers at the University of Yale carried out a now-famous set of experiments to test the effect of authority on people’s consciences and decision-making. The experimental psychologist, Stanley Milgram, explains:

In the basic experimental designs two people come to a psychology laboratory to take part in a study of memory and learning. One of them is designated a “teacher” and the other a “learner.” The experimenter explains that the study is concerned with the effects of punishment on learning. The learner is conducted into a room, seated in a kind of miniature electric chair, his arms are strapped to prevent excessive movement, and an electrode is attached to his wrist. He is told that he will be read lists of simple word pairs, and that he will then be tested on his ability to remember the second word of a pair when he hears the first one again. Whenever he makes an error, he will receive electric shocks of increasing intensity…

The teacher is a genuinely naive subject who has come to the laboratory for the experiment. The learner, or victim, is actually an actor who receives no shock at all. The point of the experiment is to see how far a person will proceed in a concrete and measurable situation in which he is ordered to inflict increasing pain on a protesting victim.

The results of the experiment are well-known. Contrary to the researchers’ expectations, the majority of subjects continued to administer shocks right up to the supposed maximum voltage, by which time the “learner” had ceased screaming in agony and was silent as if unconscious.

The ethics of doing this research were contested, but the results were even more controversial. The experiment, carried out shortly after WWII, was conducted with German citizens’ submission to Nazi authority (and American citizens’ susceptibility to similar coercion) specifically in mind. Milgram states:

Ordinary people, simply doing their jobs, and without any particular hostility on their part, can become agents in a terrible destructive process. Moreover, even when the destructive effects of their work become patently clear, and they are asked to carry out actions incompatible with fundamental standards of morality, relatively few people have the resources needed to resist authority.[3]

In conclusion, the perpetrators of genocide need not be evil incarnate – coercion and the reassurance of being in accord with authority alone are enough to suppress most consciences. When women are confronted with an unplanned pregnancy, they can be coerced into choosing abortion by society’s failure to support them. They can be reassured about its legality and safety by practitioners, who are medical authorities. Having been deceived and possesing no malignant intent, they fall prey to promptings to abort in the same way that the “teachers” of Milgrams experiment relinquished responsibility for their actions and cached in their consciences when put under pressure.[4]

Pointing this out isn’t meant to excuse genocide. Nor does YPY condone abortion. It is meant to show that comparing abortion to genocide doesn’t necessarily involve condemning the women who choose it.  Indeed, it shouldn’t; YPY doesn’t believe in condemning people. A crucial distinction must be made between condemning actions and condemning people, and recognizing this distinction is central to being pro-life.[5]

An echo resembles its origin but remains distinct. Many similarities exist between abortion and widely recognized instances of genocide, as do some differences. These can be brought forth and examined critically – in the spirit of inquiry that is so important at university – if there is room for compassion and careful understanding of language and ideas. At this year’s fall presentation, these similarities will be explained and their substance revealed. Take action to consider the urgent consequences for our society if such comparisons do have merit, and make an informed decision by attending “Echoes of the Holocaust” and preparing for the question period that will follow.

Presentation will take place Tuesday, October 26th at 5:30 pm in the Bob Wright Centre: SCI B150.


[1] http://youthprotectingyouth.com/2010/07/19/uvic-pro-life-students-settle-out-of-court/

[2] http://www.unmaskingchoice.ca/genocide.html

[3] Milgram, Stanley. (1974), “The Perils of Obedience.” Harper’s Magazine. Abridged and adapted from Obedience to Authority.

[4] It is worth pointing out that YPY believes men to be just as vulnerable to the destructive forces described above as women are. The pressures that society puts on women in such situations are immense, and attempting to sympathize about the anguish of these women doesn’t presume them to be weak or incapable of choosing life.

[5] http://youthprotectingyouth.com/help-for-crisis-pregnancy/


Read the comments at the Youth Protecting Youth website.