Are abortion advocates convinced that they have won the public relations battle, or do they fear public confrontations with today’s confident pro-life defenders?

These were the questions on the minds of students at the University of Western Ontario in London as they went about organizing a March 9 debate on the morality of abortion. Western Life, a pro-life group at the university, invited Scott Klusendorf of the California-based Stand to Reason organization to represent the pro-life view.

Klusendorf, a veteran pro-life educator, recently addressed students at the National Campus Life Network (NCLN) annual symposium in Toronto.

According to Western Life president Theresa Picard, finding a pro-abortion opponent for Klusendorf to debate proved more difficult than first imagined.

“We were so inspired by Scott that we decided to stage a debate to promote interest in the abortion issue,” Picard told The Interim. “The issue that held us back was actually finding an opponent …. We contacted CARAL, the Women’s Issues Network, and the National Action Committee for the Status of Women, but with no success. They told us the issue was pointless to debate and that we should rather celebrate the fact that women have the choice to have an abortion.”

Picard said Western Life eventually looked to the university’s professional debating society, which provided two speakers to argue against Klusendorf.

More than 500 students attended the debate, during which Klusendorf argued that the humanity of the unborn child is the central issue in any discussion of abortion. “All our opponents must do is demonstrate conclusively that the unborn are not human and I will walk away from this debate forever,” Klusendorf said, “and so will every other pro-lifer.”

Although the debate was a success, students at Western Life are concerned that abortion activists have adopted a new policy of rejecting all invitations to debate pro-lifers in a public forum. Such a tactic might stem from the fear that open, honest debate of the abortion issue will sway public opinion in favour of the right to life view.

Furthermore, some abortion proponents may see increased debate as counterproductive to a movement based on falsehoods and distortions.

Just prior to his appearance at Western, Klusendorf was scheduled to debate feminist professor Eileen McDonagh of the University of Illinois. When informed of the upcoming debate, pro-abortion groups on campus set about undermining Klusendorf’s credibility, by attempting to link his Stand to Reason group with violence against abortion providers.

The tactic led to McDonagh’s abrupt withdrawal from the debate. Not only were students at the University of Illinois denied a chance for an open forum on abortion, they were also subjected to ongoing attacks on the credibility of the pro-life movement.

Writing on the experience, Klusendorf offered the following perspective: “Instead of addressing my facts and arguments, abortion advocates in Champaign (Illinois) attacked me personally – a classic example of the ad hominem fallacy. We will see more of this faint-hearted behaviour. Pro-abortionists do not want to defend killing babies, so they do everything possible to shut down debate – including accusing their opponents of clinic violence.”

The Interim asked Marilyn Wilson, an official with the Canadian Abortion Rights Action League (CARAL), if the pro-abortion organization has a policy about accepting invitations to debate pro-life groups.

“CARAL does not have a general policy on this as it depends upon the circumstances,” Wilson said. “However, in universities, it would be sensible to engage in a debate, as long as it is properly moderated.” She also said that pro-abortion arguments need to be heard in the public square.

In spite of her apparent openness to invitations to debate, however, Wilson herself seemed to want to shift focus from the abortion issue itself to the alleged violent tendencies of pro-lifers. She indicated such alleged tendencies should be taken into consideration “when trying to debate the issue in an objective and rational fashion.”