Who does choice speak for?

April 14, 2016

The Philodemic gather to debate Resolved: Pro-choice is pro-women. On the affirmation, Vice President Allie Little (COL ’16) of Switzerland and Ms. Molly Cooke (COL ’19) of Pennsylvania, making her induction. On the negation, Ms. Katherine Landau (SFS ’17) of New York and, making her induction, Ms. Madison Ferris (COL ’19) of Virginia.

 Ms. Cooke began by asserting that women get choices about their bodies, including the decision whether to abort a pregnancy, and that people can’t inflict those beliefs on others, particularly old, rich white men in Congress inflicting their beliefs on women. She linked the pro-choice movement with feminism, casting the pro-life movement as anti-women, labeling it ‘anti-choice.’ She summed up her argument as pro-choice = feminism = pro-women.

Ms. Ferris argued that the affirmation prioritizes an ideology over the lives of real women, asking why the pro-choice movement excludes certain women who are pro-life. She argued in favor of a society that supports women in all their decisions, throughout their lives with programs like equal pay, childcare, and better contraception. This would actually improve the situation instead of offering women abortions because they have no other options. 

Vice President Little noted the very recent history and current existence of sexism in our society, asking if the pro-life movement was really feminist. Citing advancement in medical technology that enabled women to be sexually liberated, she called the idea that abortion is emotionally devastating an idea implanted by culture. In contrast, the pro-choice movement does not practice religious intolerance, prioritizes women, and speaks for women.

Ms. Landau put the burden of proof on the affirmation to show that one needs to be pro-choice to be pro-women. She argued that our present gender roles place the choice for pregnancy on women while both parties to it are equally culpable. Ms. Landau called for a lifting on the sole burden for that decision on women to a more holistic approach. She wanted men to be held accountable for what they have done, and noted that the debate was not a pro-choice/pro-life divide.

Opening the floor, Ms. Hu located the pro-life movement as favoring the status quo while Mr. Marrow denied that women should be pro-choice solely because of their gender. Ms. Weissman supported pro-choice because it allowed her to make her own decisions. Yet Mr. Schafer argued that feminism was about achieving equality, not strictly abortions. Mr. Hinck posited that of two logically separated positions, the pro-choice argument most favors women today. However, Ms. Cuppari, speaking against her mentee, located herself in the feminist movement as a pro-life woman. Mr. Fletcher, speaking on behalf of Mr. Shuman, Ms. Ferris’ mentor, described a decision between having ‘big-tent feminism’ vs one that prioritizes women. Ms. Haag emphasized the importance of including every woman possible in feminism. Mr. Willis countered that including people opposed to the goals of the movement served no purpose. However, Ms. Hernick recalled that the pro-choice/pro-life debate began within feminism. Ms. Burke, emphasizing the ever-present possibility of pregnancy, stridently argued in favor women being able to make their own choices.

In non-member speaking time, Ms. Elizabeth Bujwid (SFS’ 18) claimed the ‘right to have a child.’ while Ms. Katherine Cienkus (SFS ’18) countered that the pro-life movement makes it much harder for women to choose. Ms. Julie Rider (NHS ’17) emphasized that the pro-choice movement does not give much support to adoption. Mr. Rahul Desai (MSB ’16), citing his own mother’s struggle with professional success and children, argued that the pro-choice movement serves women’s interests.

Returning to member time, Mr. Tu posited that the abortion places the onus of decision on women solely wheras President Thanki argued that feminism can speak for women because it comes out of a history of oppression of women, and now the pro-choice movement speaks for those who do not have a voice. However, Chancellor Whelan countered that we should employ the Jesuit value of presupposition to think that others are coming from the right place. Yet for Ms. Kurek, this relied on patriarchial views that women are defined by childrearing. Mr. Kiley made a bold moral claim in asserting that the pro-life movement protected unborn women, and Ms. Ludtke refocused the debate on women, arguing that a pro-life women who respects others who get abortions is actually pro-choice. Mr. Musgrave used his mother’s success to give an example of a pro-life feminist. Chancellor Ringwald claimed that feminism was not about equality, it is about liberation, focusing on the pro-life’s movement’s denial of seriousness to women considering abortion and argued that pro-choice meant fighting patriarchy and capitalism. Mr. Perez-Reyes asked if the negation really wanted to own its position of imposing pro-life views on others as Mr. Graff closed the floor by moving past this question to castigate the sexist view that women are supposed to have children.

Ms. Landau closed briefly by qualifying that the negation supported feminism, but that it called for the greater inclusion of men into a conversation that they have excused themselves from. As it is today, there are possibilities that a pro-life woman could be a feminist. Vice President Little called this a debate for the women in the society, and focused the debate on the question of does the pro-life movement respect the views of pro-choice women? She answered in the negative, arguing that the pro-choice movement was pro-women because it provided fully equal opportunities to all.

Ms. Ferris cited the ‘desperate circumstances’ of many women who turn to abortion because of restrictive laws. She argued that the pro-life movement does not want to punish women who have abortions but that men should be included in the conversation. She posited that the pro-life movement continues past bodily autonomy to argue for autonomy throughout life. Ms. Cooke closed by thanking all who came to see her, including her family. She asked everyone to walk in women’s shoes (no thanks, I can’t do heels) and argued that the pro-life movement was hurting women who need feminism the most. Considering the efforts of the pro-choice movement, it best moves towards feminist goals.

With a vote of 40 negating, 2 abstaining, and 47 affirming, this resolution is affirmed!

The Society then inducted Ms. Cooke and Ms. Ferris. Congratulations on keynoting such a contentious and passionate debate!


Garrett Hinck

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