Crowd divided on abortion issue

By Mark Gates and Alyce Malchiodi

Getting an abortion is as traumatic as getting a divorce, although some believe abortion equals death.

That was only part of the thought-provoking discussion that hit NIU Wednesday when two nationally known women debated the abortion issue in front of 1,200 people in the Holmes Student Center.

Sarah Weddington, a pro-choice defense attorney in the 1973 Roe vs. Wade case legalizing abortion, faced Phyllis Schlafly, a pro-life attorney who led the battle against the Equal Rights Amendment.

Weddington compared the decision to have an abortion to that of getting a divorce. “I am here to ask you to be for choice,” she said.

“Nobody dies in a divorce,” Schlafly said.

Weddington argued that the unborn have no legal rights because the Constitution only protects the “born or naturalized citizens.” Schlafly said the unborn should have the same rights as citizens, and rebutted Weddington by saying that even non-citizens are not killed in America.

Because of growing conservatism in the U.S. Supreme Court, Weddington joked, “I support mandatory life support systems for Supreme Court justices over 80,” who are pro-choice. Schlafly said the pro-choice argument is weak if it soley depends on the opinions of three men older than 80.

Pro-life advocates base their opinions on religious convictions rather than political reasons, Weddington said. When looking at abortion, Weddington said people often differ. “It’s like looking at modern art. You don’t see the same things as others do,” she said.

Schlafly questioned the difference between a baby an hour before and after birth.

Schlafly said science has advanced, providing more information about fetal development. “The tiny individual” has a heart that beats as well as human features, she said. Whether it is called a fetus or not, there is no better word for it in the English language than “baby,” she said.

The decision to have an abortion should belong to those involved, primarily the woman, and not dictated by the law, Weddington said.

Pregnant women should not be pressured into adoption because many children already up for adoption are older or are “not right” in the prospective parents’ view, Weddington said.

Weddington acknowledged the opposition’s right to express their views, but “you don’t have the right to force it on the rest of us.”

Many in the crowd cheered when Schlafly criticized the use of tax dollars to fund abortions, essentially forcing pro-lifers to pay for what they oppose.

Weddington held a model fetus in her hand, as requested by a pro-lifer, for part of the 45-minute question and answer session. She told the audience that “yes, this is a fetus. These are women and they deserve respect.”

Schlafly compared the 1857 Dred Scott vs. Sandford case in which the Supreme Court ruled slaves were property to Roe vs. Wade. She said Roe vs. Wade was worse because it legalized murdering the fetus, which some pro-choicers call “property.”

With regard to the Dred Scott ruling, Weddington said she “never saw Phyllis Schlafly’s name during the Civil Rights Movement.”