The debate last night at Dalhousie started off as expected. The posters on the doors had been torn down and crumpled, then were reattached. A small group of people on campus had littered the auditorium with helium filled balloons dangling signs that read: “Access to Safe Abortion On Demand IS NOT UP FOR DEBATE”
But the speakers weren’t discouraged.
For the pro-life side, Stephanie Gray, executive director of the Canadian Centre for Bio-Ethical Reform, began the debate by describing the medical definitions of human being and illustrating how those differ from our current standards of ‘personhood’. Ms. Gray was thoughtful and concise, her points were clear and didn’t fall victim to emotionalizing the debate. Regardless of whether or not one agreed with the CCBR’s controversial methods, they couldn’t help but recognize Gray’s ability to give compelling arguments and coherently question what difference it made to be in the womb or outside it, a few seconds conceived or 20 years old. Was a person not a person regardless of their time spent on earth?
During her opening, a young gentleman had left stink-bombs, yes you read it right, stink-bombs, on a chair in the auditorium which temporarily interrupted the debate while the chair and its smelly protest were removed. Ms. Gray commented, “I thought we were at a university.”
When Dr. Mark Mercer took the podium for the pro-choice argument, he proceeded to follow a Peter Singer train of thought. Dr. Mercer had previously published an article entitled “A Fetus is not a Person” in The Ottawa Citizen, this article has been removed. He argued that ‘personhood’ did not actually occur until around 18 months to 2 years of age, that until a human being was able to rationalize, make plans, be a ‘locus’ of experience, and feel pain and joy, it was not in fact a person. As such, we should not be “morally troubled” by it. He conceded that though abortion was killing a human being it was not killing a ‘person’ and that there was no moral difference between killing a baby in the womb and killing a baby prior to its ‘personhood’. Dr. Mercer, unfortunately, lacked the ability to convey these beliefs coherently to the audience, many of whom actually laughed at some of his remarks.
During the question period, Ms. Gray continued to illustrate respect for her questioners and thoughtfulness in her answers, even though one young woman stormed out just when it was her turn to question yelling “This b*tch isn’t worth my time!”. Dr. Mercer, however, was questioned primarily about why he was even chosen to represent the pro-choice view, as none of the pro-choice audience members believed he was speaking on their behalf. Those audience members even went so far as to claim that Pro-Life at Dal (the group who put together the debate) had purposefully chosen a poor speaker for the pro-choice side, demanding to know who else was contacted about participating.
In my empathy for Dr. Mercer and his obvious confusion to his reception, I spoke to him afterward. He asked me,”What could I have done or said differently?” I offered my opinion that perhaps the pro-choice audience members expected a more ‘pro-woman’ argument to be made. He replied,”But I’ve written numerous times and shown how those ‘pro-woman’ arguments don’t work, they have no basis.” And at that, I was pleased.
Perhaps those who consider themselves pro-choice in the audience might have realized that evening that Dr. Mercer was arguing the morality of abortion without the usual ‘choice’ rhetoric, the rhetoric that abortion should be legal because women will acquire illegal abortions (which Dr. Mercer has shown is not a solid argument). That the pro-choice/pro-abortion philosopher kings, like Dr. Mercer and Peter Singer, aren’t people the general pro-choice population agrees with or even likes. And this is hopeful, because eventually everyone will have thrown off the shackles of ‘choice’ rhetoric and will have to look at abortion as starkly as Dr. Mercer, the man nobody agrees with and who represents no one, does.by