On February 22nd, the Daily Pennsylvanian published a column criticizing Quakers for Life and making factually incorrect statements about their activity. The following piece, which was refused publication by The DP, is published below to set the record straight.
In his recent Daily Pennsylvanian op-ed, Dylan Reim made reference to a “chalk fight” between abortion-rights and anti-abortion groups on campus in which “every day, one group would scribble out or deface the other’s messages”. (The column contained on-campus photos of people with whom Quakers for Life has partnered, as well as images of the chalking events QFL has organized at Penn.)
It is true that Quakers for Life’s chalkings have frequently been defaced and scribbled over with pro-choice slogans. However, it is not true that Quakers for Life ever defaced pro-choice messages.
We do not seek to stifle open debate or silence those who disagree with us. To the contrary, we invite and encourage free debate on the issue of abortion.
Over the course of the past months, QFL has reached out to various specific student organizations at Penn (such as Penn for Reproductive Justice) with the intent of holding a student debate, available to the public, on the issue of abortion. Our group has also issued broad invitations to the student body on the junior and senior class Facebook pages to produce a student leader willing to participate in a public debate.
Ironically, on the very day that Reim’s column was published, The Statesman published a forum featuring ourselves and Penn professor of psychology Dr. Jonathan Baron in careful, reasoned discussion of abortion. We continue to search for Penn student leaders willing to engage in a formal in-person debate of this kind.
Reim criticizes the approach of those, like QFL, who claim to know the truth on moral issues: “We should never declare the very essence of those we disagree with as wrong, and should never be so vain as to believe we have the ultimate truth in the bag” – but rather, we should “take a breath and realize none of us holds the truth in our hands.”
Of course, it is wise for all sides to take a position of intellectual humility when speaking on complex moral issues. Yet this does not mean that objective moral truth on such topics is unattainable. On the contrary, it is because we know objective moral truth exists that we advocate for intellectual humility – to be arrogant is to decrease one’s chances of discovering the truth.
Additionally, Reim’s claim that none of us holds the truth is itself a claim to truth, and the statement that no individual should declare the essence of those with whom one disagrees as wrong is itself a claim that those who do this are wrong .
Even further, Reim implicates that his proposed way of thinking about nuanced moral and philosophical issues is objectively correct. Put differently, by this standard it is nothing more than narrow-minded arrogance to presume that one holds the truth on the specific issue of abortion, yet it is astute open-mindedness to suggest that one’s way of thinking about all issues (including abortion) is correct.
Evidently, no one can ultimately escape making truth claims. Thus, it is not prima facie evidence of the stifling of discourse or of narrow-mindedness for one to simply come to a conclusion on a contentious moral matter.
Naturally, such conclusions must be judged by the listener to be valid or invalid based on the merits of the arguments and evidence from which they are derived.
With respect to the abortion debate, the conclusion that abortion is immoral for the reason that it is the intentional killing of an innocent human being should be judged on the basis of the answers to two questions. First, is it wrong to intentionally kill innocent human beings? And second, does abortion truly kill an innocent human being?
We happen to believe—and are willing to make the case publicly—that it is wrong to intentionally kill innocent humans (due to the moral principle of human equality), and that abortion does truly kill an innocent human being (due to the science of embryology).
Our listeners must judge our case based on the evidence we present. But clearly, our goal is not to shut down debate. Rather, it is to invite discourse, just as QFL has done in the past and will continue to do.