The Pomona Student Union hosted a debate exploring the ethics of abortion Feb. 25 at Rose Hills Theater.
The debate featured professors David Boonin of the University of Colorado, Boulder, and Patrick Lee, director of the Institute of Bioethics at Franciscan University of Steubenville in Ohio.
Lee spoke in defense of the pro-life movement. He said his argument would not be based on religious principles, but rather on the premise that the fetus is both a distinct human organism and a bearer of rights. Lee said the personhood of the fetus is determined by its uniquely human nature rather than its capacity to perform human functions.
In response, Boonin said that, even if the fetus’ right to life were accepted, that right does not equal or entail the right to life-support by the mother. He gave the example of a patient in need of a bone marrow transplant with a single matching potential donor, arguing that the donor does not have a moral obligation to undergo a painful bone marrow extraction process to save the patient’s life.
The debate was followed by a discussion on Mar. 1 between students and professors designed to broaden the conversation.
Pomona professors Erin Runions and Julie Tannenbaum, of the Religious Studies and Philosophy departments, respectively, were in attendance, as well as Claremont McKenna College Professor of Government Jon Shields.
The informal conversation touched on numerous aspects of the abortion debate, ranging from the nuances of the language that has shaped the national discourse on abortion to the evolution of the issue.
Rebecca DeSmidt PO ’11 helped organize both events. She said she was inspired to put together the debate after taking a CMC class last year called “American Culture Wars.”
“I thought it would be interesting to bring to campus the speakers [whose works] I had read in my class to engage in a dynamic debate on a topic that we don’t discuss very often at Pomona,” DeSmidt said. “What struck me is that although most people have some degree of awareness about the debate over reproductive rights, fewer students are familiar with the ethical arguments on either side of this divide.”
Regarding the follow-up discussion, DeSmidt emphasized the importance of looking at the issue from beyond a theoretical standpoint and talking about it in the specific practical context of the 5-C environment.
“We attempted to bring in multiple perspectives for a multidisciplinary examination on the topic of abortion that complemented and expanded on the issues discussed during the debate,” she said. “It also provided an opportunity for us to discuss the issue more thoroughly…and to involve students directly in a conversation in a way that is not always possible at a debate by itself.”