Official comment on Oxford Students for Life debate

I have been asked by several outlets to given an official comment about the Tim Stanley/Brendan O’Neill debate from my perspective of having participated in a previous debate there and being a post-abortive woman. I suspect that the main reason I was not shut down is because I am not a major name. The only slightly sour note from my experience was that Kate Smurthwaite felt unable to accept any hospitality from the ‘anti-choicers’ or even shake hands because to do so would, in her opinion, signify acceptance of those who want to ‘deny women their basic rights.’ I understand the visceral anger, I experience the same thing whenever men attempt to tell me, a pregnant woman and mother of four girls that a mother’s care is irrelevant to the wellbeing of a baby, in order to justify commercial surrogacy and their understandable craving for a family of their own. A dream which once seemed impossible. Just as abortion rights advocates feel that their right to access abortion should not be under discussion, I feel similarly strongly about a mother and baby’s rights to stay together. No-one ought to be debating whether or not it’s acceptable to take a baby away from their mother for the sake of cash or fulfilling a deeply-held desire.

Like abortion advocates I feel this debate threatens female flourishing and indeed my own identity. The difference is however, is that I understand that this is a debate which must take place and have nothing to fear having science, truth and righteousness on my side.

Anyway, here’s the official comment.

“To my knowledge, this is the first time that Oxford Students for Life have hosted a debate surrounding the abortion issue which featured men. Previous debates have featured two high profile adovcates for abortion namely Ann Furedi head of BPAS and comedian and activist Kate Smuthwaite, therefore it is something of a nonsense to claim that a woman’s point of view is not being represented, especially when on both occasions the pro-life side was represented by women.

Moreover this debate had nothing to do with whether or not women ought to be banned from accessing abortion but was focussed on the wider ramifications and affects upon society of abortion on demand; an issue that affects men as well as women. A culture of abortion on demand enables the destruction of children on the grounds of gender and disability and to exclude men is to deny them any opinion as to the potential fate of their own unborn offspring. Furthermore by claiming abortion as being solely about the right of women to choose what to do with their bodies, not only denies the existence of an independent life but it also allows men to abrogate all responsibility for any children they may inadvertently have fathered.

My own experience of debating for OSFL against a vociferous opponent was a pleasant and safe one where both sides were adequately able to expound their points of view and field challenging questions from the floor. There was no antagonism or threat posed from supporters of either side and I felt relieved that this debate was able to be held without the usual culture wars which often follow this issue around. Indeed OSFL are extremely generous in terms of how they extend hospitality to all participants and cordially invite all of the audience to continue discussions in the pub. This is a society who are acting within the democratic traditions that one might expect from the University of Oxford and are not seeking to threaten, intimidate or close down the opposition. It is is sad the same could not be said of those objecting to the debate.

Speaking from the perspective of a woman who has experienced the personal tragedy of abortion, while I have some sympathy with the idea that a man should not tell a woman how she ought to feel about this deeply sensitive issue, I find the idea that my safety may have been compromised, both absurd and patronising. The Student Union’s women campaign seem to be unaware of the irony that they are behaving in an extremely paternalistic fashion. I had been eagerly anticipating attending the debate and am extremely concerned as well as horrified by such authoritarian censorship. Universities need to take urgent steps to nip this serious threat to freedom of speech, in the bud.”

5 thoughts on “Official comment on Oxford Students for Life debate

  1. We’ve missed you. I expect you needed a break after hours and hours of research and writing. Thank you for your fight for right.. no need to reply

    Michael Davidson. I’m on FB.

  2. I taught debate and argumentation at the university level for thirteen years or more. I did not allow the subject of abortion to be debated for many reasons. The first was that most of the university students did not believe or know about natural law philosophy and so there was no common ground, which is necessary in a debate.

    Secondly, as some of the young women had had abortions, they were not objective enough to argue from a standpoint of law, philosophy or religion. Personal feelings and experiences are not part of standard debating rules.

    Thirdly, most students had no moral framework from which to judge the reverberations in a culture or society which allows abortion. They could not objectively see the ramifications to the common good.

    Fourthly, they would have had to learn a complete set of definitions and use language regarding women’s rights which was completely out of their ken. Now, I was teaching the cream of the crop, as most of my students were the top of their secondary school classes. But, their education had not taught the logic, rational discourse or the concept of “rights” vs. “privileges” and so on.

    As my class on debate was neither a philosophy or theology class, although I also taught those at various times, to introduce such a hot topic as abortion was not possible within the time allowed for the syllabus requirements.

    In once debate class I allowed it as the majority of students wanted to discuss it and debate it. To say the least, the debate team for abortion was full of fallacies and the anti-side won. However, such bad feelings among the students resulted that I wisely went back to the no abortion debate stance.

    Until the universities teach natural law philosophy again and the common code of the Ten Commandments, as well as rational discourse and logic, there are some topics one should not debate.

    And, personal experience or subjectivity, do not play a role in formal debates at all, however valuable these are in counseling or personal sharing.

    Until there is the teaching of logic again and real efforts to teach even Oxford students how to think, such a topic will not lead to a decent debate.

    1. This is really commendable. Abortion has been constantly raised throughout my education as the ‘go-to vaguely feminist applied ethics’ topic, with absolutely no sensitivity for the likelihood of it being a very painful and personal topic for people in the class.

  3. I think it would be an enormous advance if pro-life campaigns were to make a conscious and stated effort to prioritise women as their public spokespeople, especially women who’ve had abortions and those who’ve changed their minds on the subject. As you say, there are already far more women holding and expressing this feeling than is generally acknowledged, and of course men live in a society saturated by abortion as much as anyone else, and I don’t want to belittle the pain of men who’ve experienced the loss of a child after a partner terminates, but it would be so powerful if the pro-life movement could concede that pro-abortion feminists are absolutely correct in saying that pregnancy and childbearing affects women in a particularly intimate way, and that the distress and hardship this engenders ought to be faced directly.

    Not holding my breath for John Smeaton to come round to my way of thinking though!

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