Bowling Green – Well over 400 people packed the Olscamp conference room on Bowling Green State University’s campus Thursday March 29th to see the abortion debate held by Veritas, a Catholic student organization. The theme of the night was “You decide” and those words were emblazoned on the flier that each attendee received upon entering.
With the rows and rows of seats entirely filled, participants were left with standing room only, and many lined the corridor into the main hallway of the academic building.
Booths were set up along the perimeter of the ballroom and different groups, like the Pregnancy center, passed out information and gave short prepared speeches to college students huddled around.
The atmosphere around the debate was ripe with apprehension from the anti-abortion exhibit that members of St. Thomas More University Parish put up a few days prior. The exhibit which was titled “Cemetery of Innocence” featured approximately 3,500 wooden crosses in Carillon Park, beside the Education Building on campus.
The exhibit sparked protest of students on campus and even prompted one student to rip the crosses out of the ground late one night.
The tension in the room before the debate began was almost palpable and attendees nervously shifted in their seats with bated breath, waiting patiently for the opening remarks.
Deborah Novak, assistant dean of students at the University, opened the debate.
“I am not taking sides on this issue,” Novak declared from the podium on stage. “However, I do feel that this is a great opportunity for different beliefs to come together.” The two belief systems certainly came together, but perhaps not as diplomatically as Novak would have hoped.
As to be expected there was some mud-slinging between the two sides, and backhanded compliments were hidden behind fake, toothy grins of the speakers.
The speaker for the pro-life side, Scott Klusendorf, is the founder and president of the Life Training Institute in Atlanta, Ga. His opponent James Croft, vice-president of the Humanist Graduate Community at Harvard, spoke for the pro-choice stance.
Croft spoke first and he made his two points clear to the audience from the beginning:
“a zygote or fetus is not a person, or a member of the human species and secondly, that women matter.”
The reason Croft gave for the argument that zygotes are not people, hinged on the fact that, “personhood is based on personality, and fetuses do not have a personality.”
Because a fetus has not developed a cerebral cortex, Croft assimilated it to a brain dead person that, “cannot be killed because is already considered dead.”
Croft added that a fetus is, “not worthy of the same moral concern.”
In conclusion of his opening remarks, Croft said that the pro-life side often overlooks the existence of the pregnant mother, who risks her life during pregnancy, according to Croft.
Klusendorf walked to the podium following Croft and asked two main questions of the audience: “What is the unborn? And do only some human beings have a right to life?”
During the first 15 minute segment afforded each speaker for opening remarks, Klusendorf showed a video clip of the aftermath of abortions.
“It is necessary to use something this provocative to make a case,” Klusendorf said of the video.
Klusendorf argued that from the earliest stages of development, one is a unique individual.
“It begins at fertilization,” he said.
Klusendorf concluded his opening statement by saying that Croft’s argument states that, “only some humans have the right to life.”
During their rebuttals, each speaker used metaphors, corvettes being assembled in a factory and cake’s baking, in an attempt to paint a picture in the minds of the audience.
At the end of the rebuttal period, Croft said that Klusendorf was avoiding one of his main points about women.
“What are the rights of women?” Croft asked. “Scott systematically avoided this question.”
Klusendorf called Croft out for an ad hominem, or attacking the person, fallacy and in closing said, “being pro-life does not mean I hate women.”
During the question and answer period, a long line of college students and community members snaked to the back of the conference room. However, the was only time for a handful of people to get their voices heard.
While Deborah Novak implored attendees to, “refrain from applauding or booing” at the beginning of the debate, the question and answer portion evoked some loud jeers and disagreement from the crowd.
When the debate concluded, many attendees remained in the conference room, and the babble of discussion rose to a crescendo as the speakers left the stage.
“I think [Scott’s] argument kills at the Iowa caucus,” Craig Flack, assistant pastor at Brookside church said. “It’s not going to work on a college campus.”
Bryan Mcgeary, a student at the University, was also underwhelmed by Klusendorf’s performance in the debate.
“I was disappointed with Scott,” Mcgeary said. “I felt like he repeated a lot of the same points. Rather than addressing James, Scott was evasive about the equality of women.”
Stephen Duraney, on staff with St. Thomas More, helped to organize the debate and helped to bring Klusendorf in to speak on the pro-life side.
“I am pro-life,” Duraney said. “But James did a really good job. He responded more to Scott and you could see his emotion.”
Duraney also said he was disappointed with Klusendorf’s performance.
“When you don’t tailor your message to the situation, your answers don’t seem relevant,” Duraney said.
[View the story “Abortion Debate ” on Storify]