NECAC Debate, Panel of Six, University of Rhode Island, April 16, 1985

John C. Rankin

The Chi Alpha Group at the University of Rhode Island (URI) , sponsored by New Life Christian Assembly in Wakefield, Rhode Island, sponsored an “Abortion Debate” on April 16,1985. On the pro-life side were three panelists, Stephen Schwarz (I believe he was with the Rhode Island Right to Life), Judy Boss (I believe she was with a Crisis Pregnancy Center) and myself with the New England Christian Action Council. I do not have an advertising flyer from the event (I don’t think I ever did), just an official outline for the evening’s schedule. For the abortion rights side were a Susan Brady and Janet Hirsch (both I believe with abortion advocacy groups of one sort) and URI history professor Robert (Bob) Weisbord.

In my hand written ad hoc notes as the evening progressed, I can make sense of the following:

  • Bob Weisbord spoke of 1500 maternal deaths per year due to illegal abortions prior to 1972 (such high numbers were speculative, and proved in time to be much lower, a painful reality nonetheless, but still, hyperbole serviceable to advancing the cause of legalized abortion, and where the “back alley abortionists” simply became legalized, but were still not the qualified otherwise successful physicians).
  • He spoke of the distinction in size between a fertilized egg and a 5 1/2 old month fetus, as if size equaled a measurement for human worth.
  • He admitted that he did not knowing anything about whether or not “it” exists at conception (biblically, we do not “possess” a soul; rather we are “souls,” so the question is off the mark).
  • He spoke of “women’s rights” sans any sense of male chauvinism/irresponsibility other than indirectly speak of a woman becoming “pregnant against (her) will.”
  • The “best way therefore to prevent unwanted pregnancies” is thus 1) a “contraceptive” mentality (despite later empirical evidence that such a mentality only multiplies sexuality transmitted diseases and abortions); 2) a “sexual ethos apart from marriage,” 3) abortion as a private matter, and 4) “don’t impose morality.”
  • Yet too, Dr, Weisbord later spoke of the need to “promote sexual fidelity.”
  • Janet Hirsch spoke of the history of abortions in 1849ff (probably in line with James Mohr’s 1978 book, Abortion in America: The Origins and Evolution of National Policy,1800-1900, where the case was made for abortion freedom existing before the “restrictive laws” of the embryonic and repressive guild of the American Medical Association came into being); of abortion and infanticide among the ancient Greeks; and that “abortion has increased (the) health of reproductivity” (!).
  • Susan Brady spoke of embryonic human life within a macroevolutionary model, that they have a “tail & gills” like fish.
  • The terms of “contraception” and “abortion” were never defined by their advocates.
  • I have these handwritten notes from my presentation: “Abortion as the ultimate male chauvinism,” the “question of (defining) sexuality,” citing Nathanson and Engelhardt; “Are you pro-choice? If not, why not?”; “positivistic authority: playing God”; “are you Christian?”; “religious coercion?”; ” full pro-life ethic”; “what will history say?”
  • I noted that Margaret Sanger (founder of Planned Parenthood’s predecessor organization) was a fan of the Nazi “super race” in response to some historical comments by Dr. Weisbord.
  • I defined the terms of contraception and abortion, the nature of world views, a definition of redemption, of Abraham Kuyper’s definition of Christ & society, that all laws “impose” one set of morality, of half-empty v. half-full, of freedom within boundaries, the rights of women and the reality of male chauvinism, not an either/or, the license of sexuality, continuum reality in developing human life, origin/destiny and “we were all zygotes once.”
  • These are miscellaneous notes taken during the evening itself, and I am not sure what my original condensed presentation exactly was.

There were over 100 people in attendance as I recall, and many good questions between the panelists, and from the audience. But too, between Dr, Weisbord and my pro-life co-panelist Stephen Schwarz, there were some fireworks of charges and counter-charges, leading to questions over who was being “Nazi,” and who is imposing morality etc. At one juncture I stepped into the fray, pulled away from the accusatory language, and things settled down. As I did, and as I argued for “informed choice” in advancing a true “pro-life” ethic, Dr. Weisbord looked at me and exclaimed, “I wish Jerry Falwell were like you!” Now, this was meant to be an compliment, but it was also unfair to Jerry Falwell, for the major media profiled him in a nasty “shove-it-down-your-throat” light that had no truth in it, but it serves the pro-abortion template well for demonizing the Christian “right.”

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