On Wednesday October 24th, King’s Libertarian Society hosted an Abortion Debate at the Strand Campus. The debate called upon two prominent speakers: pro-life Anne Scanalan, Director of Education and Media at the Life Charity and head of the Life Matters Campaign, and pro-choice Ann Furedi, Chief Executive of the British Pregnancy Advisory Centre and author of “The Moral Case for Abortion.” Around 40 students attended the event.
The question of abortion is not only political, but also moral, ethical and personal. Danny Al-Khafaji, president of the KCL Libertarian Society and chair of the event, said that we should not ‘duck and hide’ from controversial issues, but face them instead. By hosting this debate, he said he wanted to create an environment where students could make up their own minds, rather than force feeding them a narrative.
The debate consisted of a handful of questions presented by Danny towards both women, from which they would lead their own discussions. In her introductory speech, Scanalan expressed her gratitude for being able to speak at the debate. She said, “Pro-life voices are silenced on many campuses. My opinion is not popular, but I am proud. I appreciate that this debate was organised as it has given me a chance to express my position on the issue.”
She then went on to say, “Stories convinced me that abortion is not in a woman’s best interest. Women get abortions because they feel like they have no choice. […] Abortion puts women at war with their bodies. When you pit a mother against her own child, you pit against human nature.”
In contrast, Furedi began her introductory speech by highlighting her belief in #TrustWomen. She said, “We believe that the woman should be the one making the decisions about the abortion. […]
It is her body in which the foetus resides; that primitive form of human life does not know it is alive yet. It is her life I prioritise. I value our freedom to make these decisions for ourselves more than I value the biology of a life that does not know it’s alive.”
As Furedi continued to talk about the foetus “not knowing it’s alive” and stressed upon prioritising the mother’s life, Danny asked her a question. He claimed that according to the law, the murder of a pregnant woman is considered double homicide, and asked how, given this information, one should only think of the mother’s life while considering an abortion.
Furedi responded to this by saying that the aforementioned law was American, not British. She said, “The law in Britain is different. It does not recognise the foetus as a person, and to be honest, the law is a little beside the point. […] There is a huge difference between ending a pregnancy unwillingly for woman and her doing it by choice.”
It didn’t take long for the debate to get heated, with Scanalan saying, “I’m sure that Ann thinks that abortion is truly what is best for women, but remember that abortion is a profitable industry.”
To this, a slightly offended Furedi replied, “We provide 70,000 terminations a year. We specialise in late abortions that other providers refuse to do, and I can assure you, we are genuinely not for profits.”
The topic of debate eventually became whether two people should accept responsibility for the consequences of having sex. Scanalan said, “When we sleep with someone, we know that unwanted pregnancy might be a result. It doesn’t matter if I show a picture of what a baby looks like to you, you don’t care what it looks like, you just want to take it away.”
In response, Furedi said that every act of heterosexual sex can put a woman at risk of pregnancy. According to her, “Contraception lets women down, and that is why they need abortion as a back-up for that. It is too difficult to plan your life around the possibility of becoming pregnant at any point. […] The fundamental question is whether or not you think woman should be able to have the ability to end the life of a foetus at all. You don’t think we do. You think a woman should take responsibility for pregnancy by giving birth.”
She continued her speech by mentioning that there are many women who want to sleep with men but do not want to have children. In a shocking response to this, Scanalan replied, “I would just have myself sterilised. I wouldn’t keep risking the lives of my children.”
At one point during the debate, a question was posed to Scanalan, asking her thoughts on women who were raped/abused and wanted abortions. She replied to this by saying, “Do I fully understand why a woman would want abortion in that situation? Yes. Do I think it would be morally acceptable? No.”
Scanalan also repeatedly said that a woman who wants an abortion should just “give birth and give the baby away”. Furedi was mortified by this, and exclaimed “Do you think compelling a woman to go through labour and then giving away the baby is a humane alternative?!”
In an immediate response to this, Scanalan asked Furedi if she believed that a woman’s right to convenience trumped a child’s right to life. Furedi, affronted, replied, “Most women don’t get abortion due to “convenience”. It’s because they do not think it is possible for them to be a good mother or bring a child up in a good way.”
As the event drew to a close, it was time for concluding sentences.
Scanalan said, “I am passionate about women’s rights. Being a woman does not give me the right to take away the life of a child. My child. Open your eyes, open your minds, open your hearts, and you would all be pro-life.”
In her concluding sentence, Furedi continued to speak about prioritising a woman’s life above all. She said, “There is a real approach, a standard that we have in society, that our body is our own, and we cannot use our body to satisfy the wants of someone else without our consent. […] Why should we draw the conclusion that every pregnancy should result in a born child when that is not what the mother wants? […] When we talk about abortion, we think we’re talking about hapless women who don’t know what they’re getting into, when fully half are over 40, have children already and know full well what they’re doing.”
Thus, the controversial debate ended with both sides making their points very clear. The audience thought that the event was very successful and informative, but could not decide upon a ‘winner’, although they were majorly supportive of Scanalan throughout the debate. Joshua Halcro, a member of the audience, said “I think the pro-life woman was more persuasive in her arguments than the pro-choice woman because when you are so strict in your beliefs it’s easier to be more persuasive. When you pivot to the other side it becomes a bit of a gray area.”
Fellow spectator Karen Ní Loidéain said that the debate was ‘very balanced’ and that it was “very thought-provoking to listen to both sides, especially for students living in this era”.
Reporting by Petra Lindnerová, Halim Kim, Tara Sahgal, and Isabel Veninga