Just days after Yale officials threatened to ban a Yale senior art major’s final project involving “self-induced miscarriages,” abortion has become something of a touchy subject on campus.
But Yale Political Union members aimed to prove otherwise at Monday’s debate.
In front of 125 banging and hissing students and recently admitted high school seniors at Sheffield-Sterling-Strathcona Hall, Amherst College professor and noted pro-life activist Hadley Arkes spoke out for scientific analysis and discussion of the legality of “protecting an innocent life” in his affirmative speech for the resolution, “Abortion Should Not Be Legal.”
But in the course of the debate, a more local abortion issue sidetracked the students.
In their speeches, members of the audience barely responded to the resolution and instead focused on the art project of Aliza Shvarts ’08, who claimed to the media last week that she has self-inseminated and then regularly performed “self-induced miscarriages” over the past nine months.
When Arkes was in his late 20s, he began, he saw an image of a growing fetus and noted that it looked “like a tadpole.” When told by a doctor that he was nearly identical genetically to the zygote, he said he came to a conclusion — that religion aside, a developing fetus has a life with future “allergies, coloring, likely height” that should not be “extinguished.”
Arkes ultimately tried to address this belief in a legislative act, the Born-Again Infants’ Protection Act, which he wrote for former President George H.W. Bush ’48 in 1988. In the act, he explained, he sought a means to protect “a child” that survives after an abortion attempt by making subsequent attempts illegal.
“It was the most modest step of all to make for abortion [policy],” Arkes said.
With the passage of the act, “we may be able to save a handful of lives,” he added.
The act ultimately failed during Bush presidency, but the act was written into law by President George W. Bush ’68 in 2002.
Later in his speech, Arkes stressed that he wanted to encourage discussion over the abortion issue, not the resolution posed.
The philosophical question posed by the resolution — whether abortion is unquestionably legal or illegal — cannot be answered definitively, said Arkes, who called for a “conversation” between pro-choice and pro-life supporters in order to settle on a mid-point that all people accept.
Both the left (which he said “cripples itself with moral relativism”) and right (which has “lost [the ability to] pick a fight”) should try to engage in political discourse, Arkes continued.
When students came to the stage, they did not hide their preoccupation with the art project scandal that has ended with a standoff between Yale officials and Shvarts.
“Any other week, I would start my speech with a thought experiment,” Liberal Party member David Broockman ’11 said in his speech for the negative. “Why is this week different from all other weeks?”
Broockman continued by voicing his opinions on Schvarts’ project — that it is not her supposed abortions that disappoint the left, but rather what he called her “sacrifice of dignity.”
“Ms. Schvarts has done no more than what pro-lifers have done for decades,” he continued. “Her dignity has been inextricably bound to the community of women. … There is no objection to abortion, but rather the discomfort of using dignity as a tool.”
But, in the affirmative, Party of the Right member Philip Olson ’08 argued that the principles pro-life supporters advocate for will better the general society.
“I am willing to admit that what a lot of pro-lifers do is wrong,” he conceded. “But that doesn’t mean what they are advocating is wrong.”
Olson added that both Shvarts’ project and the pro-life movement both aim “to talk about … human life.”
Despite the two-hour debate that ensued over the abortion debate, some attendees — like the fresh faces that came to campus on Sunday — were not so excited.
As many pre-freshmen, eager to see other events of the nights, left in flocks throughout the course of the debate, Arkes stopped his prepared speech, unable to continue.
“It feels like Bloomingdale’s on a Saturday,” Arkes said about the exodus after he composed himself. “Is there a sale going on?”
Arkes wrote the most recent of his five books, entitled “Natural Rights & the Right to Choose,” in 2002. His book describes the process by which he helped create and advocate for the Born-Again Infants’ Protection Act.