College Republicans and Democrats bring issues of 2021 politics to the University of Kentucky

Audience members listen during the Abortion and Vaccine Mandate Debate between UK College Democrats and College Republicans on Tuesday, Sept. 28, 2021, at the Gatton Student Center in Lexington, Kentucky. Photo by Michael Clubb | Staff

Ryan Brokamp

On Sept. 28, 2021, the UK College Republicans and College Democrats met in the Gatton Student Center Senate Chamber for their first in a series of debates. They were also joined by UK’s political science honor society, Pi Sigma Alpha.

The debate kicked off with remarks from moderator Benjamin Neal, a senior member of Pi Sigma Alpha, who welcomed the attendees and introduced the participants. The College Democrats were represented by University of Kentucky sophomore Jack Dugan and senior Ethan Wallace. On the other side of the table sat Jacob Patterson, chair of the College Republicans, and Samantha Sholtz, vice president of Pro-Life Wildcats.

The debate centered on the pro-life vs. pro-choice conflict, the separation of church and state and vaccine mandates. Questions were presented to members of each side, who offered their group’s stance before their opponents cross-examined them.

The bulk of the testimonies revolved around the contradiction abortion causes between Republicans’ support of a child’s right to life and Democrats’ protection of a woman’s right to liberty. Although the groups’ opinions conflicted, they were able to find common ground in their desire to reduce the harm unexpected pregnancies have on women.

The crest of the debate came after Neal asked if “states should be able to enact legislation that directly contradicts federal cases or statutes.” As an example, he brought up the recently passed Texas Senate Bill 8, a piece of legislation that bans abortions past approximately six weeks of pregnancy.

Wallace and Patterson used the question as a platform to give their party’s perspective on the pro-life vs. pro-choice argument.

The pro-choice movement focused on the idea that abortion restrictions limit women’s personal autonomy. “It is a woman’s unalienable right to govern her own body,” Wallace said.

He supported his assertion by citing case law favoring the legality of Roe v. Wade and stressing the need to reexamine political ethics in the 21st century. The Democrats continued to emphasize that abortion is required to ensure that women and children will will not become stuck in a cycle of poverty in the absence of an adequate welfare, childcare and foster system. 

The Republicans approached the issue in a much more personal manner.“Just because the people in black robes make an opinion about what is legal says nothing about whether it is moral or it should happen,” Patterson said.

Patterson referenced judicial rulings from infamous human rights cases, such as those made in Dred Scott v. Sandford, Buck v. Bell and Korematsu v. U.S.,to support his point. Patterson went on to counter the Democrats’ criticism of the state’s childcare system by referencing Kentucky Republicans’ efforts this year to reform child-placing agencies with House Bill 524, a bill relating to the rights of child-placing agencies and child-caring facilities.

As the debate proceeded, the panelists continued to exchange contrary views on the role religious organizations play in the political process and the ability of the government to regulate citizens’ medical care. The entirety of the evening’s events can be viewed on the UK College Democrats’ Instagram page.  

While the debate was a chance for the opposing sides to challenge the other’s rhetoric, bipartisanship was a focal point of the night. Representatives from the College Democrats offered to assist all members of the audience in registering to vote and College Republicans provided the crowd with refreshments. The debate series is planned to continue with new topics as they drift into the national spotlight.

Neal concluded the event by thanking the clubs and audience for their engagement in civil dialogue.  

“I think it’s a beautiful thing that happened tonight,” Neal said. “This is a great example of how even though four people disagree, they can all sit down and reasonably disagree without fighting, screaming or bashing anyone personally.”