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Op-Ed: On the abortion debate

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Terence Zhao’s recent article (“This House would replace the U.S. government with a military junta,” from The Daily on May 31) bizarrely accuses the Stanford College Republicans of “gaslighting” for advocating a pro-life position in a recent debate with the Stanford Debate Society. I wish Terence had attended the debate, because he would have seen that the debate focused on the morality of abortion, rather than mere policy details.

There are two other problems with Terence’s argument, however. First, public levels of support for a policy are not a reliable indicator of the moral truth of the position. For example, support for interracial marriage registered at a dismal four percent in 1958, according to Gallup. Did Richard and Mildred Loving “gaslight” America when they sued Virginia over its ban on interracial marriage? No, they argued for the clear immorality of the status quo, just as the pro-life debaters did last Tuesday. Furthermore, according to a Marist poll, 80 percent of Americans favor limiting abortion’s availability to the first three months of pregnancy, rendering the Stanford Debate Society’s pro-abortion position equally “fringe” (to quote Terence) as SCR’s. Moral issues should be debated on their underlying merits or demerits, not on the basis of popularity. Given that abortion entails the ending of a life, it is plain that this is a morally weighty subject worthy of debate and serious consideration, not dismissal. 

Second, Terence plays with polling data to downplay the support for the College Republicans’ position. As is often the case with surveys, question wording is very important. For example, those who support banning abortion but favor a life-of-the-mother exception would not count among those favoring a complete ban in the cited poll. Further, many also favor legal abortion only in the cases of rape or incest (in addition to a mother’s life) but oppose abortion rights in all other circumstances. Although SCR opposes abortion in cases of rape and incest, as we believe that all human beings have the natural right to life, 99 percent of abortions are not due to cases of rape and incest, and hence, even those who favor such exceptions are aligned far more closely to our position. In fact, according to Gallup, the split between people who identify as pro-life vs. pro-choice is an even 48-48 split.

Ultimately, while one can quibble over the specific details of survey data, it is clear that the debate over abortion is more necessary than Terence suggests. Furthermore, universities ought to be about free expression and evaluating ideas critically, even if they are not popular. Good and true ideas are not threatened by vigorous, open debate. Debates can expose inconsistent reasoning, logical fallacies and other thinking errors that lead to false conclusions on moral questions. Stanford needs more discussion on campus of controversial moral issues like abortion, not less.  

— Kevin Fuhs ’19

Contact Kevin Fuhs at kfuhs ‘at’ stanford.edu.