Skip to comments.Professorsí abortion debate attracts hundreds at University of Colorado
Posted on 01/22/2008 6:58:59 PM PST by Dumb_Ox
Boulder, CO, Jan 22, 2008 / 03:11 am (CNA).- A Catholic-sponsored debate about the ethics of abortion packed hundreds into an auditorium on the University of Colorado campus in Boulder, CO this past Friday night. The debate featured two prominent philosophy professorsDrs. Peter Kreeft and David Booninwho defended their views on the ethics of abortion.
Listeners filled all 288 seats of the auditorium, while others sat in the aisles. Still more sat in the overflow seating in the basement hallway, and even crowded the stairs leading up from the basement, a total audience easily surpassing 400 in number.
The debate, sponsored by the Thomas Aquinas Institute for Catholic Thought, addressed the question "Is abortion morally justifiable?" Dr. Peter Kreeft, of Boston College, answered that it could never be while Dr. David Boonin of the University of Colorado argued that abortion was sometimes a moral choice. Both professors offered many reasons and counterarguments defending their position.
The professors are both prominent in their field and in the public eye. Kreeft has authored more than 45 books dedicated to defending Christian beliefs and understanding suffering, morality, philosophy, life, and God. Dr. Boonins 2003 book A Defense of Abortion won an honorable mention from the American Philosophical Association. Boonin is also the chair of the University of Colorado's philosophy department.
Dr. Kreeft opened the discussion with an "intuitional" appeal, saying "more people in fact are convinced by seeing, by experiencing, than by arguing." He noted that people usually change their minds through personal relationships rather than through strictly rational analysis. He advised the audience to listen to the "inner shock" of conscience.
Shifting to an explicit rational argument, Kreeft took the position that a human fetus is a person possessing many rights, including the right to life. He also argued that people cannot rationally deny the right to life of the unborn without denying the right to life of newborns.
He recounted how he once discussed abortion with "some very intelligent feminists," claiming that they had no argument justifying abortion that would not also justify infanticide.
"After the argument they came up to me and said 'Congratulations, professor, you changed our minds. We didn't think you could do that.'"
"'Oh, good,' I said, 'you're pro-life now?'"
"'No, we're pro-infanticide'," Kreeft finished, prompting surprised laughter from the audience. "So logical consistency can be a two-edged sword," he noted.
Even someone who was unsure if an unborn child is a person, Kreeft argued, would in the absence of certainty have to refrain from having an abortion. To kill someone without knowing if they are human is still homicide. To act in a rash manner that could kill someone, such as poisonously fumigating a room without being sure it was empty of people, would amount to criminal negligence. Barring certain knowledge that an unborn human is not a person, abortion similarly would be blameworthy even if the human fetus were not a person with the right to life.
Dr. Boonin began his remarks with a general comment criticizing the belief that the only arguments against abortion are religious arguments. "In fact, there are a number of distinct arguments, potentially quite powerful arguments," against abortion that do not refer to God and rely on reasonable premises that people on both sides of the abortion debate would accept. He said Kreeft's opening remarks were examples of such reasoning.
Boonin then presented criticisms of some general pro-life arguments and raised some philosophical concerns about Kreeft's arguments. Boonin said that it was "implausible" to many people that human membership automatically entailed having the right to life. One such case is that of an individual whose capacity for consciousness is lost when most of his brain is physically destroyed.
Boonin suggested that Kreeft's argument that any moral uncertainty about moral status of the unborn child meant all abortions were at minimum morally blameworthy could have radical implications if applied consistently. This "appeal to uncertainty," as he called it, could require pacifism, vegetarianism, opposition to capital punishment, and the advocacy of a moral imperative to give all of ones excess income to those in need.
Boonin went on to argue that "the right to life is not the right to be kept alive by somebody else." If all human beings shared the same right to life, abortion could be justified using this distinction. Proposing a thought experiment, Boonin suggested the audience imagine being kidnapped and forced to donate bone marrow.
"Suppose you walked out in the park yesterday and a doctor caught you and conked you on the head and knocked you unconscious. You wake up, and the doctor has hooked you up to a bone marrow extraction device. The bone marrow is extracted from you and pumped into me. You ask 'What's going on?' The doctor says 'Don't worry, stay hooked into Professor Boonin for the next nine months, he'll be fine. Disconnect yourself now, because of a bone marrow disease, he's going to die.'"
Most people, Boonin thought, would agree that in this case a person would not have a right to be kept alive. He argued the situation was analogous to abortion. "The fetus isn't just sitting in a lounge chair somewhere," he said, but is in the body of a woman who doesn't wish to be pregnant.
Closing the evening, Boonin thanked the Aquinas Institute for hosting him. "There is something quite extraordinary about the fact that the Aquinas Institute invited me to speak this weekend, giving me equal time with a national representative of the views that obviously they are passionately committed to."
Father Kevin Augustyn, pastor of St. Thomas Aquinas Parish, closed the meeting with a description of the lecture series aim.
"Reason can lead to the threshold of faith, and once across that threshold of faith, then reason still has a role for us to understand God's word and God's ways in our lives. The Aquinas Institute for Catholic Thought exists for that reason, for the search for truth."
Speaking to CNA at a post-debate reception, Father Augustyn further explained the institutes goals.
The Aquinas Institute for Catholic Thought is basically our arm for outreach to both Catholic students that come to us, and the university at large. We're trying to engage an important secular university with the Catholic faith. How do you do that? You begin with dialogue, and what we have in common, and we believe reason is on our side, he said.
Many in attendance found the high turnout remarkable. The debate had been advertised in flyers, mailing lists, and in the diocesan paper and website. Social networks also spread the word. The events Facebook.com page on Sunday evening reported 96 confirmed guests and 48 who said they would possibly attend.
Seth James DeMoor, a University of Colorado senior studying history and education, estimated 600 people heard the debate.
The room holds 300 people, and there were at least 300 people outside the room. This issue is the issue of the generation, and I think the proof is in the numbers. It just shows that this issue is at the forefront of American culture, DeMoor said.
I would be interested what side the turnout supported.
Boonin’s arguments are juvenile. I hope the other guy took the time to destroy them.
I am stupefied. Am I to understand that the University of Colorado actually allowed students to be exposed to pro-life arguments from a university professor?
“the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness”... am I missing something? Well, of course you know the Dims support abortion, ‘for the children’.
Should have left half the seats empty for the students who were aborted.
That's the rebuttal????
So how is inflicting pain and death on an innocent, helpless human being for profit, moral?
Kreeft and Boonin have debated at Yale. See ISI's video of the debate.
Academia favors the highly motivated, and it just so happens that Boulder's Catholic student organization is enjoying a Catholic renewal. If more pro-life students were active and engaging the community, these debates would be much more frequent.
The problem, of course, is that a Mother and her child are not strangers to one another. It would be unjust to insist that you keep a stranger alive at great inconvenience to yourself. It is not unjust to insist that you keep your own offspring alive. In fact, law, custom and morality all insist that we do keep our offspring alive.
You don’t have to take in the homeless man on the corner merely because the night is bitter cold. But if you lock your child out on the same night, you’re going to jail.
The Professor’s argument is nothing more than a non sequitur in fancy dress.
remembering the college protests during the gulf war, i was sickened to think of protestors disrespecting our men (and women) in uniform.
turns out that it was an anti-abortion rally surrounded by dozens of students talking, accepting literature, and actually reading it as they left.
and, it was a peaceful rally (1 or 2 kooks)
it gives one hope.
Dr. Kreeft is a favorite of mine... good writer, excellent thinker.
I am just delighted that there was a debate, a free exchange of ideas and that the pro-life position was heard and that neither side was shouted down.
His argument is more subtle, and far more idiotic, than that. In essence, it's nothing more than a bait-and-switch.
He equates pregnancy with being knocked on the head and being forced to keep somebody alive for nine months -- as if the pregnant person had no say in her condition. But in the vast, vast majority of cases, pregnancy comes as a result of knowingly and willingly participating in the act of impregnation. It's a completely different scenario than the "thought experiment" he puts forth.
At most, this works as an argument for the "rape" exception, but it goes no further than that.
“The problem, of course, is that a Mother and her child are not strangers to one another. It would be unjust to insist that you keep a stranger alive at great inconvenience to yourself. It is not unjust to insist that you keep your own offspring alive. In fact, law, custom and morality all insist that we do keep our offspring alive.”
I would also submit that in the case of having to keep a stranger alive for nine months against one’s will, in the case of a pregnant woman, at the end of that nine months, there is no requirement that the woman keep the child against her will. She has the option of putting the child up for adoption. Thus, with the exception of the “inconvenience” of having to carry the child to term for approximately 9 months, the inconvenience ends when the baby is born and put up for adoption if the mother does not want that child. She can then go on her merry way.
I am in constant wonderment at the selfishness of women whom allow themselves to get pregnant and then can’t even bear the inconvenience of waiting only 9 months in order to get rid of their unwanted child. That the woman would rather kill it than carry it to term and give the child away, alive, to have its chance at life.
The pro-abortion people have consistently denigated adoption as a kind of abandonment of one’s own child, something which resonates emotionally with many people. Then there is also the sense of futility of a nine-months preganancy with no child at the end of it all. Abortion is then offered as the lesser evil, but the second best thing is supposed to be keeping the child, although it imposes a heavy financial burden on the mother. There is, of course, an unstated purpose of the planned parenthood types, which is to prevent the bringing into the world unnecessary children, to place a general burden on society. This has morphed into a sense of duty to “the earth” not to overpopulate it.
Truth is a remarkably transforming agent. Good article and I'm glad this event happened.
Actually another rebuttal is even stronger than yours.
The infant’s situation is *created* by the mother!
The infant did not put himself in the situation that would require sustenance from the mother. The mother did.
The analogy would be if you, hit somebody on the head that put him in a coma, and it just so happens that your blood is also the only one is the world that matches his so you are the only one who can keep him alive. Do you have a moral obligation to hook your body to his to keep him alive for the 9 month it takes for him to come out of the coma.
Even common law recognizes this. This is normally no duty to rescue someone else, except if it’s your action that put the person in danger, in which case there is a duty to rescue.
Just think, we shudder at the thought that infants were tossed in to fire as sacrifice for Baal in ancient times, thinking we are so much more civilized above such ancient barbarism.
But instead all we do is sacrifice even more babies than they did at the altar of casual sex. The same evils that haunted humanity then still haunts us today. We’d like to think we’ve come a long way, instead all we have done is gotten better at closing our eyes and hiding from the evils we commit.
Good story. Surprising venue, with super-star Catholic thinker in Kreeft.
In the ordinary case you are quite right, but this is sometimes a matter of dispute. Feminists claim that, having taken due precautions, women shouldn’t be morally responsible for unintended conception. An accidental pregnancy in the absence of any negligence isn’t even remotely analogous to your hypothetical which involves an intentional tort. Sometimes conception occurs as a result of rape or where a woman is otherwise not reasonably able to avoid it. But even when a woman hasn’t chosen to conceive and hasn’t even been negligent about contraception, she and her child are not strangers.
Mother and child are bound by the closest family connection which imposes serious responsibilities on the Mother. Family ties (other than marriage) are not chosen. They aren’t a matter of contract and they don’t fit into the categories of tort law.
This, fundamentally, is what all the philosophical defenses of abortion miss.
Something else to consider -- if for some reason, a stranger got hooked up to a life support system in your basement, you would not be allowed to pull the plug.
But you would be allowed to evict the interloper, even if moving him would be fatal. You own your home and you can exclude strangers from it even if they can’t survive without your hospitality. Defenders of abortion rely heavily on this point. They often compare the child within to a trespasser and abortion to eviction.
Sadly for them, the categories of property law are just as useless in a discussion about the ethics of abortion as the categories of tort and contract are. We don’t own our bodies in the same sense that we can own real estate. A pregnant woman has no better claim on her own body than the child she is carrying does. Each of them acquired their title to that body in the same way from the same source. There is no rational basis for concluding that the woman’s claim should be preferred to the child’s.
A Mother’s obligation to her child is not based on contract. It is not grounded in the obligation we owe every human being to avoid doing harm intentionally, recklessly or negligently. It is not limited by any ownership interest the Mother may have in her own body. It is the most fundamental family obligation and there can be no sound moral justification for repudiating it.
This is the basic truth that those who spin sophistry to justify abortion can never confront and deal with.
Not if it would be fatal.
THIS is what colleges and universities are for.
Insane viewpoints are fine - as long as they can be debated openly and honestly.
This would be someone inflicting the situation on you through no act or decision of your own.
Pregnancy involves a conscious decision to engage in behavior that leads to pregnancy.
Oh, there is always their OTHER argument -
“I couldn’t bear to give away a child I’d carried for 9 months.”
No, but KILLING IT seems to be OK, right?
Any comments on the thread about the line
“now we’re pro-infanticide”
If only all abortion supporters were this honest.
Most of the time you get “I will not discuss this - a woman has a right to choose. Period.” (accompanied by lowered eyes and a hand interposed between you and the speaker)
Your moral position in the hypothetical case is another question. Most of us would probably feel some qualified obligation to shelter the interloper just because he is human and he is there. But some wouldn’t, which is why the pro-abortion crowd relies so heavily on the interloper scenario to defend the indefensible.
The principle problem with the interloper argument isn’t that we are morally required to sustain the interloper. It is that a child is never an interloper in its Mother’s body.
Did a transcript of the debate get posted somewhere?
Touching a trespasser, who presents no immediate threat to you, in such as way as to cause his death would likely be involuntary manslaughter.
If you see a trespasser injured on your property and you fail to act and he dies, there is a pretty good chance you won't get in trouble. OTOH, if you drag the trespasser off your property and he dies, you got a problem.
In my extreme example where someone sets up a hospital ward in your basement without your knowledge, and you go down and rip out the IVs of the patients and throw them out and they die, you will also have a problem.
It’s almost not fair to put a guy like that up against Peter Kreeft. I wish I’d known he was that good when I was at BC all those years ago.
I've posted my extended summary at GoogleDocs.
My own response to the debate is here, I should have posted that in my first comment.
“If you see a trespasser injured on your property and you fail to act and he dies, there is a pretty good chance you won’t get in trouble. OTOH, if you drag the trespasser off your property and he dies, you got a problem.”
But you won’t have a problem if you call the police and EMT’s have them haul him away. If you have any reason to believe that the trespasser is dangerous, you can, in most jurisdictions, kill him and call for the authorities to pick up the carcass. In some situations self help might get you in trouble, but when you want to eject a trespasser from your property, the authorities are generally your friends, and they should be.
When a woman wants to eject a child from her womb, OTOH, neither the authorities nor the medical profession should be on her side, precisely because the child is not analogous to a trespasser. The situations are fundamentally different. Comparing them only plays into the hands of the abortion boosters.