Avoiding the abortion controversy

Chapel Hill Herald, Saturday, April 02, 2005

The Carolina Women's Center's annual Women's Week, which concluded Saturday, covered a lot of topics: violence against women, gender-bending, women and war and mentoring, to pick but a few. The topic that stands out for its exclusion is abortion. This omission represents a significant decision by the Women's Center given the importance of reproductive freedom for college-age women.

Abortion has not always been kept off the program. In 2003, for example, there was a Women's Week forum on "The Abortion Pill: The Clash of Science and Politics."

This year, however, the desire to avoid controversy has left the issue entirely off the agenda.

The problem with this policy of avoidance was well-expressed by geography professor Altha Cravey: "Questions of choice should be front and center; women's control over their own bodies should be front and center.

The center should not alienate women, but the center should stand for something, and those two things are very different." Cravey also serves on the Women's Center's advisory board.

By contrast, the center's Director Diane Kjervic was less than convincing when she explained "we can't please all women. We have hundreds of student groups here that work on their own issues and concerns. I see a need for parts of the campus that don't take positions."

Surely Kjervic recognizes her understatement in implying that abortion is merely an issue for some of the "hundreds of student groups." Reproductive freedom in general and abortion in particular are of concern to anyone involved with women's rights.

It is also odd to suggest that the Women's Center might be a part of campus that doesn't take positions. Its mission statement asserts that "the mission of the Carolina Women's Center is to empower women and promote their equality in all spheres of life."

Thus, the center is inherently an advocate for the rights of women. It should not avoid the question of whether women can be free without control over their reproductive destinies.

Supporting Kjervic's position, Associate Provost Steve Allred said, "The university doesn't take an official position on abortion, period. That has nothing to do with what the controversy du jour is. And it doesn't mean the university doesn't advocate for academic freedom. But if the university were to say we are pro-choice, how would that stand with our students and faculty who are not?"

Allred embarrasses the UNC administration by using the dismissive phrase "controversy du jour" for an intense decadeslong debate on an issue of vital importance to women. Moreover, the university has a diverse student body and, no, it does not "stand with" all of them.

For example, although there are surely students who hold to the creationist position, the university still teaches evolution in its science curriculum.

From Allred's comment, you might be surprised to learn that the UNC School of Medicine provides training in abortion.

According to descriptions from Medical Students for Choice, at UNC "all residents have a choice to provide abortion services. There are no punitive measures toward those who participate or do not ... . Of course, if they do not want to do abortions, they do not have to."

Thus, it would appear that, despite Allred's claim, UNC does indeed have an official position on abortion, if perhaps only a de facto one. The medical school program leaves the decision on this part of the curriculum entirely in the hands of the individual student. This is the essence of the pro-choice perspective.

This stance is entirely appropriate for a public university.

The pro-choice position is based on sound public health policy, personal responsibility, well-established medical practice and constitutional law -- all principles that the university embraces.

If the UNC Women's Center is, to use Allred's phrase, to "stand with" women, it must be a place where women's rights are discussed freely and openly. Religious conservatives may want to censor that debate but it is not the place of the university to do so.

This is the most disturbing aspect of the Women's Center decision: that in the face of controversy, the university would choose silence. Such self-censorship is a de facto collaboration with those who would set women's rights back half a century to a time when these matters were just not discussed.

The endorsement of self-censorship by the provost's office is particularly inappropriate. It is not the job of the university administration to resolve either intellectual or public policy debates.

But it must work to maintain an atmosphere conducive to the free exchange of ideas and information.

The UNC Mission Statement asserts a commitment "to intellectual freedom [and] to personal integrity and justice." Self-censorship in the face of controversy is antithetical to those principles.



Dan- Great post. Good companion piece to the recent article in the Independent. http://indyweek.com/durham/2005-03-23/triangles.html

I know what has happened behind the scenes in the past as a former member of the women's week planning committee-- The CWC has fallen prey to the unfortunate fallacy that all issues must be presented "fairly" allowing equal time for opposing viewpoints. Saying that all choice programs have to be "balanced" by anti-choice speakers is like demanding that an organization invite a KKK member to speak everytime they have an anti-racist program. Or that a program on women & careers be balanced by a speaker who believes women should stay at home. By avoiding any choice programming this year, I'm sure they were trying to avoid any controversy at all.

The difference is that the KKK's goal is to hurt people. Pro-lifers' goal is to stop people from getting hurt. Wish we could say the same for pro-choice folks (or maybe I'll call them anti-lifers since y'all seem dead set on calling my camp anti-choice)....

The only "innocents" or people for that matter killed have been doctors murdered by perversely self-described "pro-lifers." Obviously these people are in no meaningful sense "pro-life." I call them anti-abortion which is accurate if perhaps too kind.

"The only “innocents” or people for that matter killed have been doctors murdered by perversely self-described “pro-lifers.”"

So Dan, a fetus that is sucked out of a mother's womb was somehow guilty of something?

Terri, is this the kind of public dialog that the university is trying to nurture?

"Why is it always men who find abortion to be the “hot” topic? It's a women's issue and I think women are inherently capable of dealing with the aspects of it, without you bible thumping men getting involved. If it's your child, discuss it with your woman, otherwise, Butt-out!

Comment at 8:47pm 4/5/2005 by Will Shooter"

Aborted children aren't people?

You know, the Nazis dehumanized the Jews in order to justify the Holocaust. Slaveholders didn't see blacks as people, either.

Saying that someone is not a person is the first step towards justifying evil towards them. And yes, evil is the correct word when you kill someone who isn't convenient to your life plan.

So think about that next time you say that aborted children aren't people. It sounds an awfully lot like Nazism or the slavery days.

I'm not sure what you mean by an "aborted child." How would a child be aborted? Can adults be aborted in the same manner? Doesn't make sense to me.

Oh, and next time you have a weak argument, be sure to trot out some hysterical analogy to the Nazis!

So Dan if I punch a pregnant woman in the gut and she loses her baby, no harm no foul?


I would tend to say that any discussion that deals with the killing of innocents or oppression (depending on which side of the argument you're on) is everybody's business. If you were being killed/oppressed, wouldn't you want other people to get involved to stop it?

From Feminists Students United...

Wednesday and Thursday, the "Genocide Awareness Project," which some of you may remember from a couple of years ago as the anti-choice group with the huge glossy pictures of "aborted" fetuses, is coming back to Polk Place. It is important that we make known the strong pro-choice presence on this campus. It is too late to get a permit to rally so some students are working to mobilize a quiet campaign to leaflet passersby with information on reproductive issues including but not only abortion. Please come to Polk Place anytime during the day today and tomorrow and help hand out leaflets or just be in solidarity.

Why is it always men who find abortion to be the "hot" topic? It's a women's issue and I think women are inherently capable of dealing with the aspects of it, without you bible thumping men getting involved. If it's your child, discuss it with your woman, otherwise, Butt-out!

Public institutions should not be using my taxes to advocate the killing unborn of children.

But at the same time they shouldn't be dead against it either, publicly since there is a significant minority in the state would would support it. Just as we wouldn't ask the University to have a position on the death penalty, war, or any other life or death issue with lots of controversy, it is unfair to condemn them for not supporting the dogma of one side or the other.

I've never heard of any organization that advocates killing unborn children, let alone one that uses taxpayer dollars. Did you mean that you don't think public institutions should be using your taxes to advocate for a woman's autonomy over her own body? Is there any situation in which government tries to regulate men's control over their bodies?

Webster's says an abortion is the "termination of a pregnancy usually resulting in the death of the fetus." Fetus is then defined as a "developing human."

But that's not really the point. The point is that public institutions should not be expressing stances on issues such as abortion, capital punishment, etc simply b/c they are life and death issues and the public is very divided on the subject. How would you like it if the University used your tax dollars to say what I think about abortion? You'd be pretty unhappy I'm sure.

So it's not unreasonable for the University to adopt a neutral position.

Well, it's a better choice than what they did last year, which was to prevent the pro-life side of the discussion from even occuring. Their decision doesn't surprise me in the least, given the flap they encountered over that.

"How would you like it if the University used your tax dollars to say what I think about abortion? You'd be pretty unhappy I'm sure." You're wrong Chris. I think it's the university's obligation to bring up these difficult /unsolvable issues and to nurture public dialogue around them. I think the university should bring speakers and sponsor events from the anti-choice folks as much as they do the pro-choice group. That doesn't mean they have to advocate for either side. Critical thinking requires that we know enough about all sides of an issue to make informed decisions. FYI--that's why I don't understand the flak about taking money from Pope (http://orangepolitics.org/2005/03/pope-proposal/).

I didn't say they couldn't present both sides of the issue. I just meant that they shouldn't be criticized for not taking an official stance.

No Bill--I would hope that the university was able to facilitate a conversation in which the parties afforded one another some respect. Disagreement can be enlightening. In any conversation where people disagree (and retain respect for one another) individuals may leave the discussion with a slightly different understanding. On volatile issues such as abortion, I wouldn't expect anyone to convert to the other side, but understanding the basis of the disagreement would be a positive step forward as would a willingness to agree to disagree without labelling the other side as 'bad', an interest in looking for what can be agreed upon and trying to take action there. In this instance, the parties could come together to discuss the role of the university in the discussion. Disagreement doesn't have to be as polarizing as we too often make it.

Bill, A woman certainly has the right to carry her pregnancy to term without unwanted interference from others. So, yes, if you assault a woman resulting in the loss of her pregnancy, you have indeed harmed her. She should be compensated for the loss and the harm she suffered when her choice to continue a pregnancy to term was frustrated.

To get back to the original point. Here we are freely debating these points. It's wrong for UNC's Women's Center to censor this topic.

But Terri, don't we already understand the basis of the disagrement--pro-lifers think that abortion is murder and pro-choice people think that a control of a women's body trumps all other considerations?

Please note that I used the repectful "pro-choice" and "pro-life" monikers rather than what I consider to be the disrespectful terms both sides use--pro-abortion and anti-choice.

The term pro-choice is accurate. It respects the woman's right to choose whether to continue a pregnancy. To be pro-choice is not necessarily to be pro-abortion.

On the other hand, pro-life is sentimental code for a position that is anti-abortion (i.e. abortion must not occur) and therefore anti-choice (i.e. a woman should not be allowed choose to have an abortion).

Pro-choice, anti-abortion, and anti-choice are accurate. Pro-life is PR drivel, albeit effective, widely accepted drivel.

I've always liked Bill Clinton's position on abortion--That it should be "safe, legal, and rare."

One would think that the people who want to eliminate abortions would be VERY pro-birth control--but frequently the same groups are the ones pushing abstinence-only education policies.

Makes no sense to me.

Bill,there is no "pro-life" movement, because "life" does not end at birth, and yet the same contingency that wishes to protect the unborn are perfectly happy with inadequate health care, health threatening pollution, and of course, the death penalty. So there is perhaps a "pro-birth" or even "anti-abortion:movement, but not pro-life.

However, there is no such thing as "pro-abortion". I've lived as close to a "Sex in the City" life as anyone before moving to Chapel Hill, and I promise you, a group of girls never get together, have a few margaritas, and go out for abortions. It's a ludicrous term, like the "clear skies" initiative, although somehow I can't blame Karl Rove for this one.

That said, this thread makes me furious. I can't believe this is still even an issue. I actually support the University's decision. . Abortion is legal. 70+ % of all Americans want it to stay legal. The University teaches abortion procedures, as it should. The University's position is clear.
I hate it when women are reduced to walking uteruses, as if there aren't enough issues to cover at women's week. We have the president of Harvard saying we can't do math. We have 60+% of black children born out of wedlock. One in five American children live in poverty. What can we, as a society, do to help and support young single mothers so they can finish their education and end the cycle of poverty. Women are the peace keepers ( well except Condi Rice) and the glue of society. Women's week should be about current issues. Right now, at least in Chapel Hill, abortion isn't an issue.

I agree with the sentiment of "“safe, legal, and rare". However, I find the practice of abortion disgusting and believe that there should be limitations on abortion. Does that make me pro-life or pro-abortion?

Dan, I'm going to guess you don't think "pro-abortion" is accurate?

Folks, this is not a productive venue to debate your views on reproductive rights, and you are obviously not convincing anyone to change their mind. If you can't limit the discussion to the subject of the original post, I will close comments on this thread.

Please also keep in mind that you are not required to respond every time someone posts things you disagree with. The only way to discourage trolls is to ignore them. Please try to.

In response to the posts by Chris and Bill. Thank you very much for making my point.

I think Dan Coleman has thrown out some red herring in making his point.

Evolution v. Creationism is not an apt analogy. Evolution is a scientific theory, which is tought in science courses. To teach creationism in a science course would make no sense. To teach creationism in a world religion course would make sense. Thus, the University does not support one or the other, it simply teaches them in an appropriate way. The Instructors are another story.

As for the medical school teaching abortion, what does that have to do with an official position from the University? Abortion is legal, no matter what we might personally think of it. Abortion is performed in cases where a fetus is beyond hope for survival, but a mother is not. Therefore, it is a viable medical technique, which can under some circumstances save the life of a mother. Again, the University need not take a position, this is a viable technique which you may or may not enroll in learning.

Controversy du jour is also an appropriate, even if naive, thing to say. Today's controversy is abortion, tomorrow homosexuality, the next evolution, racism, holocaust revisionism, Japanese treatment of prisoners, political correctness in public schools, overweight children, soda in schools, etc.


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