A he said, he said abortion debate comes to campus
Every second of the two-hour time slot was used Thursday night as philosophy professor John Miller and anti-abortion activist Scott Mahurin came together to debate the morality of abortion.
The community room in Harbor Hall was packed to capacity. A group of young women wearing “Should women debate the morality of circumcision?” t-shirts stood near the back of the room. In the fourth row sat a blonde woman with a shirt that read, “Pray to end abortion”.
“A fertilized egg is not a person. An embryo is not a person. A fetus is not a person, it’s a fetus,” began John Miller, kicking off his opening argument.
“There can be no morality of any kind that excuses the act of abortion,” Mahurin said confidently in his opening statement.
Mahurin, the director of Florida Preborn Rescue, an anti-abortion activist group based in St. Petersburg, thanked Miller for agreeing to argue the issue of abortion after answering to a post by the activist group that said:
“Mahurin is interested in having a debate with a local professor on the abortion issue. Florida Preborn Rescue will provide a cash honorarium for any professor willing to have a 90-minute public debate on the abortion issue with Mr. Mahurin.”
“I offered this opportunity to over 500 professors/instructors from around Tampa Bay. John answered with the most interest. In fact, many females responded that they were not interested due to the fact that I am a man. No one is being excluded from this debate. I am happy to come and discuss this issue with a female professor of your choosing anytime. There will also be a Q and A time for at least 20 minutes after the debate concludes. Hope to see you there.”
As part of his opening argument, Mahurin said that, throughout history, humans have been “really bad at protecting other human beings.” Miller answered with the assertion that the beginning of human life is only experienced when one is born and that a fetus does not have the same rights as a human being.
“All men are created equal, not all fetuses,” Miller said. “It seems perfectly reasonable and logical, to me, to say that you women in the audience are more important than a fertilized egg.”
Mahurin argued that a person attains their human rights immediately after conception. He added that one’s definition of existence comes from the basis of competitiveness values, a process that, according to him, originates from power over the vulnerable.
“Something nonhuman can’t become a human later,” Mahurin continued. “I know that science can tell us that a baby is a human, but morality can tell us that it’s a valued life.”
As the debate progressed, the heads in the crowd moved back and forth, up and down, in a series of nods and shakes.
“You have a right from that moment not to be killed,” Mahurin said. “You are a separate individual from your parents, and you have been since you were conceived.”
Mahurin attributes his beliefs to the Bible, saying if “there is no God there would be no morality.” He also cited Exodus 20:10 “Thou shalt not murder” to explain why women should not get abortions.
“If a woman has any property at all, it’s her body. And any legislature to take away that is simply immoral,” Miller said on the subject of overthrowing Roe V. Wade.
He also added, “Women, if you want Roe V. Wade to be kept as it is, and it starts to be threatened, withhold sex from men.”
After the speakers finished debating, it was time for a Q&A with an audience who was more than ready to speak. An audience member made a comment about considering the wishes of people who spend their life looking to adopt an unwanted child, and she was met with agreement from Mahurin.
“I will devote my life to finding those families,” Mahurin said.
“That’s very admirable,” answered Miller.
A large crowd stayed behind after closing arguments and chatted amongst themselves.
“I thought it was good for the school to bring a topic like this because they’ve never done that as far as I’ve seen since I’ve been a student here,” former USF student Madeline Seiberlich said.
Close to her, St. Petersburg resident Karen Harvey shook hands with people and handed out flyers with a picture of the All Women’s Health Center on Central Avenue and a sentence above it that read, “Dear God, please close this clinic.”
Harvey, who identified herself as a big supporter of Mahurin’s work, was one of the last to take part in the Q&A.
“Why would someone go through so much to care for a child when so many want to discard it? The answer is love,” Harvey said.
Moreover, Senior Studio Art student Faith McLaughlin was grateful that she and three other protesters voiced their opinions on the issue of women’s absence in the debate.
“It should have centered more around the issues of women’s rights rather than the morality of when life starts because our main argument here was that women didn’t have a voice in the conversation,” McLaughlin said. “And we really just wanted it to be focused around the experiences of women, not to invalidate men’s experience of the two, but it’s definitely never going to be exactly the same.”
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