Debate: ‘Abortion: Right or Rights Violation?’

by Oxford Students for Life

We’re sorry for the delay on this post! In order to get the best third-party perspective on our recent debate, we’re sharing a piece from a guest writer, who was in the audience:

To begin, Oxford Students for Life must be congratulated in organising this successful and lively debate between two preeminent speakers. This event sent a strong signal to the University of Oxford that the question of abortion is by no means a closed case but one of pressing importance and concern to her students. The venue of Christ Church, renowned as the most prestigious of colleges, crowned this achievement by bringing the abortion debate from the fringes of the University to the echelons of academic power. The professional conduct of the event similarly served to dispel the myth that pro-lifers are hysteric extremists who cannot enter into reasonable discussion on the rights of women. These introductory remarks regarding venue and conduct, not to mention the phenomenal attendance, are important because they signal that the pro-life position has turned a corner in its standing within the University and thus now commands respect in the academic forum.

Sarah de Nordwall presented the pro-life position in an engaging and captivating manner. Whilst Sarah did include many of the philosophical arguments against abortion, the approach taken was one of providing a different perspective on women’s experience of abortion. In the course of the debate, Sarah helped to build up a different bank of stories related to abortion. Being myself from a background of systematic philosophy and theology, I was moved to reflect on why Sarah had emphasised individual experience rather than stick to the clear-cut philosophical truth of the pro-life position. I came to the conclusion that Sarah’s emphasis on individual experiences actually reflected a mature and perceptive grasp of the position of abortion in the UK mindset. Abortion is now so endemic that popular opinions are influenced more by a concern to be non-judgemental of their friend, neighbour or even to validate their own actions. By placing the key questions of ‘when does life begin?’ and ‘whose life has greater value?’ within a series of examples, Sarah was therefore able to present the pro-life case in a way that was sensitive and persuasive. These stories bore the powerful message that positions of power have allowed dictators, colonisers, and even mothers to become the arbitrators of the value of human life. The great triumph of Sarah’s argument was that the human life was recognised by Ann to begin from conception. In doing so, it was obvious to the audience that drawing any distinction in value between human life in the womb, the crib, the sports field, or the care home would signal that the powerful had committed a right-violation of the weak and vulnerable who we have a duty to protect.

It was instructive to hear the perspective of Ann Furedi, head of the British Pregnancy Advisory Service. It was evident that Ann’s support of abortion came from an intention to care for women, to uphold the dignity, and respect the autonomy of women in making decisions that affect their lives and their bodies. The case in favour of a right to abortion was first posed by questioning who else had the right to interfere with the wishes of a woman on her body. If others can interfere with our bodies this would also seem to be a power violation. Perhaps it is because abortion has been so normalised in Britain but it would seem to me that it is abortion that is interfering with the natural processes of the body rather than vice versa. The key question would surely be, who has the right to do violence to their body when another human life is at stake? I was amazed that Ann agreed with Sarah that a human life was indeed at stake and that the choice for an abortion was therefore always a privileging of the life-style or circumstances of the mother over that of the baby. This led to the second key argument, which was maintained to the end of the debate, regarding different degrees of value. Ann held that the mother, fully formed, educated in speech and independent was deemed more obviously of value than the child in the womb. Interestingly, Ann admitted that the newborn that is disadvantaged either through a disability or through economic circumstances is similarly not of a same value level as a healthy or wealthy newborn. I hope that in simply presenting the development of this argument the dangers are obvious. If not, we are really in trouble.

The debate is available for all to watch on YouTube.