In abortion debate, distinguish between method and message

Column by Tim Riley

There are many difficult challenges a person can undertake. You can run a marathon. Write a doctoral thesis. Or if you really want to take on the impossible, attempt to make someone switch sides in the abortion debate.

Trying to pull off the above feat will make sending a man to the moon seem like a simple science-fair project. Abortion is a difficult issue with many complex argumentative foundations, but it shouldn’t allow unrelated issues to become intertwined and influence each other.

There are abortion arguments, and there are proper public-display arguments, and they are not the same.

As everyone knows by now, there was a large display of graphic pictures on campus this week promoting the view that abortion is genocide.

The reactions to this event varied and came from many different angles. Some felt it was wrong to show such images in an unavoidable public display. Other felt it was a poor way to argue an issue. Many others simply disagreed with their message. Meanwhile, a large number of other people agreed with the message and means of conveying it.

Who is right or wrong on these different issues can be debated ad nauseam, but what is clear is that there are two separate issues at play.

An easy way to win a debate is to convince your audience that one generally agreeable issue is linked with your separate issue of contention. For instance, one could claim that it must be reasonable to support abortion rights if you do not like staring at images of aborted fetuses. So if you think such a display should not be allowed, then clearly you also support a woman’s right to choose.

This is obviously a flawed argument. They are not one and the same, and one could easily feel different ways on the two unrelated topics.

Some have linked the issues so far that they claim that by allowing the display on campus, UK is somehow taking a side on the abortion issue. This leap of logic has no basis in reality.

As a public institution, UK cannot pick and choose which legal, peaceful protests it will allow on campus based on the views that are expressed. When someone holds an Iraq war protest, it doesn’t mean that UK supports such a message; it only means that the university is following its civic duty.

In fact, the university is bound by the Supreme Court’s 1982 ruling in Perry Education Association v. Perry Local Educators Association, which limits the ability of any state to limit expression in areas commonly allowed for assembly and debate. That is, the same Supreme Court that allows abortion also provides the right of the group to protest it in such a manner that took place on UK campus. UK cannot simply offer a polite “no” when deciding whether or not to allow a display unless it wishes to violate the law.

The entire idea of any protest is founded on the principle that people cannot simply say “no” and move on with their day. It is perfectly fine to disagree with the message and method personally, but the university’s actions cannot so easily be dictated by whatever it may or may not agree with.

The dual arguments coming forth in the last week should not be intertwined because that would do a disservice to both. Abortion is a serious issue, and it deserves to be debated by both sides in a fair, logical manner. It should not be tied in with ancillary topics to the point where the implication is given that two separate subjects have one logical conclusion.

Whether or not you believe that the protest was justified on either ground, what should always be kept clear is that they are not one and the same. If there is a valid argument to be made concerning abortion from either side, then it most certainly doesn’t need to include the use of twisted logic that masks truth for the sake of a nominal victory.

Tim Riley is a mechanical engineering junior. E-mail opinions