Abortion debate interrupted by protesters

Protestors interrupt a debate on the ethics of abortion in the David Strong Building at UVic on Fri. Nov. 14, 2014. —Adam Hayman (photo)

Protestors interrupt a debate on the ethics of abortion in the David Strong Building at UVic on Fri. Nov. 14, 2014. —Adam Hayman (photo)

Updated: Nov. 15, 2014 at 00:35

During a Youth Protecting Youth (YPY) organized debate on abortion at UVic on Nov. 14, a group of women, including some students, protested the event with chants of “No Debate” whenever Stephanie Gray, an opponent of abortion, attempted to give her opening statements.

“They were holding signs up and started chanting over the speaker,” said Michael McDonald, an audience member and the vice-president of UVic’s Young Liberals. “[The protest] continued to escalate so they paused the debate and asked security to remove them.” The protesters met the threat of police action with unmoving dedication. The group remained for roughly 20 minutes before they left. Ultimately, they were not forcibly removed.

Gray, the executive director and co-founder of the Canadian Centre for Bio-Ethical Reform (which lobbies against abortion), joined UVic professor Eike-Henner Kluge, who took the pro-choice side. Dr. Kluge, who has been a director of the Canadian Medical Association’s Department of Ethics and Legal Affairs, teaches bioethics at UVic and has advised Health Canada on medical ethics. Neither party supported the chants during the debate’s beginnings. Kluge went so far as to quote German thinker Friedrich Schiller by saying, “against stupidity the gods themselves fight in vain.”

“I’m pro-choice myself, but I certainly believe we should be able have an intellectual discourse,” said McDonald. In a text, he later clarified that “even though I felt the shouting hampered the intellectual discourse, the protestors were within their legal rights to raise their voice, and I would defend their right to do so, even if I disagreed with the shouting.” The protesters thought otherwise. They felt that, as women, their rights should not be under debate. One member, Alexah Konnelly said, “Everybody who is sitting in the audience today was treating this like this was really benign, and really innocent when actually Stephanie Gray’s organization is actively lobbying to restrict women’s safe access to abortion in Canada.”

“She is here with the intent of recruiting people to restrict safe and legal access to abortion and we are absolutely not willing to allow any farce like that to go down on campus,” Konnelly said.

This is not the first debate between Gray and Kluge that has drawn controversy. In October of 2009, both debaters held two events at UVic that attracted protesters with similar signs and stances.

One of YPY’s co-presidents, Adrian Canagasuriam, said, “I think the crowd wanted to engage with the debate and they didn’t want to tolerate obnoxious interruptions. We’re happy that problems were eventually solved and we were able to continue.”

Police did arrive on campus, but there was no word that any charges did or even could have been made. “We went and we shared our message and that’s what matters,” said Konnelly.

Correction: The original article erroneously stated that Michael McDonald was the leader of the UVic Young Liberals. He is in fact its vice-president. In addition, Adrian Canagasuriam is a co-president of Youth Protecting Youth, not a founder. The article has been amended to reflect this.

Update: Additional quotes from McDonald were also included to clarify earlier statements.

30 Comments

Avatar YPYUVic

If you were unable to attend the debate we held on campus a few weeks ago, we have good news! The debate is now available online. It featured Dr. Eike-Henner Kluge – professor of philosophy at the University of Victoria, and Ms. Stephanie Gray representing The Canadian Centre for Bio-Ethical Reform. Please watch and share 🙂 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AWGxFs-T3yI

Avatar Hilda Sweck

Fine. Whenever a woman gets pregnant, we will immediately do a C-section to remove the fetus/embryo from her body, because it is a) stalking her, b) sexually asualting her c) stealing from her, and d) inhabiting her body against her will. After all, we wouldn’t allow a human to walk around stuck inside of another human’s body.
Then, the fetus will die, because it has no capacity for life outside of the woman’s body. Fetuses are not people.

Avatar Jon

My only question: Who did the protesters expect to be moved by repeated chants of “no-de-bate”? The “message” that was given was that the group can’t tolerate the existence of opposing views. Everyone knows there are people on both sides. We get it, you exist. Now let us listen to to professionals present both sides so we can make up our own minds on the basis of rational reflection, rather than mob chants.

I was impressed with the apparently unanimous annoyance that the crowd responded with. Great debate on the whole, though–UVic needs more of these. Controversial debate topics are the most engaging, and last night UVic demonstrated that the majority of us are mature enough to handle it.

Avatar Justin D. Whitehead

I’m pro-choice, and a feminist. However, I too found the protesters to be absolutely ridiculous. They alternated between chanting “FREE SPEECH FREE SPEECH” and “NO DEBATE NO DEBATE” all the while failing to realize the hypocrisy of their own protests.

Yes it was their right to protest the event, but they should have left after they had made their point. Shutting down free speech is not respectful of free speech, nor is it respectful of a pro-choice position.

I was pleasantly surprised at how neutral the Youth Protecting Youth group was in hosting the debate. They even had a “free speech” wall in which they allowed ALL people, pro-choice or pro-life, to post their opinions on the matter beforehand.

As for the debate itself, Kluge clearly won the day. Gray had a great deal of holes in her argument. Kluge pointed out these holes, but she refused to address the issues or answer the questions he asked.

Avatar Noah

I regrettably had to leave after the opening speech by Gray so I’m unclear as to what line of argument Kluge pursued. Did anything stand out, Justin?

Avatar Justin D. Whitehead

Well Gray pursued an argument based on the United Nations Declaration of Universal Human Rights. She made several key errors in its application however. The Declarations specifies clearly that it applies to BORN human beings, and it endows said rights to individuals capable of reason and conscience.

To the issue of BORN human beings, she simply skirted the issue and said that it ‘could’ apply to pre-born as well. Completely defeating her own argument which hinged entirely on that document.

Kluge noted several times that a Zygote has only the potential to eventually possess the capacity for reason and conscience, but that a possibility of X does not equal X.

Gray ignored this argument as well and simply focused on the term “human beings” ignoring both the part about capacities, and having been born. In this, her own argument was torpedoed simply by reading the first sentence of the document she’d based her argument on.

She also used the clause in that declaration which spoke against age discrimination. Stating that it was age discrimination to not give rights to a Zygote. Again though, those rights were never given to the Zygote to begin with so the argument was moot.

Kluge also focused on the standards outlined by the Canadian Medical Association and the Canadian Paediatric Society regarding their policies surrounding abortion. He noted that both agencies will not provide abortions, other than for medical reasons, beyond roughly 20 weeks as that is the point when the brain has formed said capacity for conscience and reason to an extent.

Avatar Jon

But Grey didn’t claim that “the potential to be X was actually X.” She said explicitly in the Q & A that her position was not that the zygote was potentially a human being, but that it was actually one.

Edit: I see. You were referring to “the potential for reason and conscience” rather than the potential to become a human being. That being the case, I think her case involved saying that human rights weren’t conferred on the basis of having those capacities, but on simply being a human.

Avatar Justin D. Whitehead

Right, but the very document she used FOR her argument started off by saying that these rights applied to BORN human beings with the capacity for reason and conscience.

When asked about the BORN part, she simply dodged the question.

You can’t base an entire argument off of a document and then ignore the beginning of that document which outlines WHO the document applies to.

Avatar Noah

What a strange line to take. Not a moral one but a technical one – surely the moral one would be more poignant.

Avatar Noah

Who let the goats into the auditorium?

And how brave of them to scuttle off before the police arrived. Weasels. What I saw were a pack of witless bullies desperate to feel attention. It was clear from the thoughtless incoherence of their ranting that they had zero concern (or comprehension) for what either speaker was actually saying – For Christ’s sake, the only person whose speech they really delayed was the Pro-Choice professor! This was embarrassing to watch if only for stupefying idiocy of the display, and ultimately only served to make their position seem to be more densely populated with pathetic, anti-intellectual fools than it actually is. Zero respect for the University, zero regard for their fellow students and, really, zero regard for women’s rights. This was the acting out of bored children and nothing more. Disgusting.

Avatar Noah

^ There you have it. Look at how deeply the worms have dug. Irrelevant opinion? I beg to differ my human male friend, uniquely privileged though you seem to regard yourself as the only one whose opinion does matter. Could you perhaps be that slight bearded fellow in the corner with that rather badly drawn sign telling the YPY to %$#& off? The article should be corrected to show that it was not only women in the protesting group (although the YPY was in fact only represented by women – much bolder than this anonymous pharisee, that is for certain.

You might also observe that I didn’t present an opinion on the issue of abortion nor what women ought to do with their bodies. This is why you will never amount to anything, my sad little friend. If you wanted the podium, perhaps you should have booked it a little more instead of hanging out with your buddies in the sub during class time. Perhaps then you might even have been capable of intelligible speech.

Avatar Piotr (the one with the sign)

Nope, that wasn’t me, although I agree with his assertion. You clearly have some sort of obsession with replying to any media i am featured in Noah (does this still stem from our disagreements three years ago on philosophy class?)

Instead of hounding me online all the time (it’s fairly annoying by now), why dont you come talk to me in person. Im at the Anti-Violence Project or Uvic Pride most days of the week. If you want to chat, please come in.

Avatar Noah

Not so much an obsession, Piotr, although with the number of causes you’ve collected in an attempt to snowball your way to relevance you’re quite hard to miss. More to the point, my schoolmates and I were looking forward to a stimulating debate between two professionals – an exchange which you felt was proper to interrupt. For why? You will have to enlighten us. I would gladly take you up on your offer to meet, preferably after class, although class doesn’t really seem to be your cup of tea these days.

That said, coffee is on me.

Avatar Wray McOuat

Noah, your comment is remarkably condescending. In so few words you manage to call the protesters goats, witless bullies, pathetic, anti-intellectual fools, bored children; their actions stupefyingly idiotic and thoughtlessly incoherent. But is it ever good to call people goats? If yes, then why?

My suggestion is to put yourself in the protesters’ shoes. To them, it’s as if UVic is hosting a debate over whether or not we should wage jihad, and they want to silence the jihadist argument! The protesters’ particular beliefs and emotions compelled them to act in the best way they saw fit. At least that seems a more plausible explanation than the protest being “the acting out of bored children and nothing more.”

Avatar Mitch C.

Wray, you seem to have missed one of the key points of living in the democratic world. These protesters are certainly entitled to their opinion, and they are more than welcome to express it, as was mentioned in the article. However, the manner in which they chose to express their opinion was belligerent and at the expense of someone else’s ability to exercise the same liberty.

Look to your own comment “and they want to silence the jihadist argument.” While these things are merely arguments in a lecture hall, is it not our job as citizens of a free and democratic society to ensure that no argument or opinion is silenced? If not, who are we to determine which arguments are “right” or “wrong” and thus deserving of free discourse?

Avatar Wray McOuat

Hey Mitch. Thanks for the thoughtful response. I wasn’t trying to take a position on the rightfulness of the protesters’ actions, even though it may have seemed like I was. My only point was that it isn’t useful to disrespect others who have opposing views by calling them goats, pathetic etc. Instead, we should try to understand how other people come to their opinions so as to focus on finding a path forward toward a global civilization of shared values and prosperity!

P.S. But I do find it interesting to ponder the grey areas of free speech being curtailed, which all governments do to some extent (e.g., hate speech). Especially when the ideas are what most civilized people know as totally false and harmful, like nazism, racism, or jihadism.

Avatar Noah

To carry on your analogy of Jihad, Wray, would I be correct in supposing that we should be understanding (I read “accommodating”) to persons who choose to silence Muslim speakers at this University? If you are going to be consistent, I can’t see that you have any other choice.

What would have been more fitting is that the protesters listened politely to both sides make their presentation and then excoriate them with their hard studied and superior understanding of the issue during the question period. I have to wonder, if their position is so patently obvious and reasonable (as they MUST think it is to justify shutting down any further consideration on the matter) why chose they not to do so in favor of the shameful alternative we saw on Friday?

Avatar Vanessa

Noah, when you yelled “go home, losers” was this not a bullying tactic as well? I was disappointed when I saw you do that and now you’re here continuing to call people names (as Wray noted) and saying how they are the ones who are not classy. Two wrongs don’t make a right, so if you feel they are doing something wrong, attack the tactics/opinion, not the people, and it will make your argument stronger.

Avatar Noah

In retrospect, Vanessa, that was poor judgement on my part and was less than charitable. Having acknowledged that, am I a bully? Absolutely not. The people who were heckling the debate and attempting to drown out any discussion that might run contrary to their fanatic doctrine had no regard for either their fellow students in that auditorium nor the rights of the presenters (who by contrast, as noted by Justin Whitehead below, offered significant space for everyone in attendance to voice their views). I am not going to apologize for responding with unpleasantness to a group of lawless, selfish (one particularly gutsy person said “fascist”) bullies who demand a voice but would have everyone else who does not share their hardline views silenced, a peculiarly wicked thing to do when one is both a guest and a student at a university.

Avatar Noah

I’m really not sure I understand where you are coming from, Vanessa. These individuals are the ones who decided to make communication impossible. These people, the ones who you say I ought not attack (and I haven’t – it was they who made the initial offense and there I was merely responding with actually more politeness than they showed everyone else) have attacked everything that a University stands for. The University of Victoria is not a political headquarters, and they should not be entitled to hinder their fellow students who pay as much (if not more) than they to increase their knowledge and become wiser citizens of their country and the world. How dare they tell us what we can and cannot hear, and how DARE they do so in the name of free speech and equality? The only “equality” they will be satisfied with is one in which they are a head above the rest of us, as so despicably demonstrated here. According to what standard of conduct am I out of line in calling down some petty little despots like these? Is it un-Christian of me?
This is pretty cut and dry, Vanessa. If you can’t call out something as disgraceful as this for what it is, than what value are your words really?

(By the way, I’ve never been disappointed by a stranger – have we met?)

Avatar Vanessa

But above, before you edit your comment again, you admit to being less charitable than you should have been. Why would you admit to feeling like this if you didn’t have a tinge of remorse for your actions? Attack the opinion not the person is a phrase that myself and others use for the fallacy ad hominem. I am a peer and don’t mind debate, but don’t think name calling like “loser” and “goats” is constructive. Keep it classy and you will practice what you preach and your argument will be stronger for it.

Avatar Noah

Your criticism is well taken and I agree – note that I am not criticizing their language, I am criticizing what they were doing with it. Telling the YPY to %$&# off is certainly not civil, and more importantly I have never curtailed their ability to express themselves. If the worst thing you can say against me is that I’ve been unduly rude, I’ll consider it a good job done overall.

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