Abortion Rights Panel at Lower Bucks Turns Hectic

Photo+courtesy+Unsplash

Photo courtesy Unsplash

Christian Grosso

A panel of voting rights and abortion supporters as well as foes came to the Lower Bucks campus of Bucks County Community College to discuss the latest rulings on abortion and voting rights, and how they may affect our community.

The panel met on Constitution Day in front of about 50 members of the public and students from Professor John Petito’s class, who were there to get an idea of how recent rulings by the Supreme Court may affect them.

The panel was led by William Pezza, a professor of sociology at Bucks. He began by informing the audience that “our purpose today is not to debate, but rather to elevate the dialog by shedding light on the legal issues involved, and providing useful information about where we have been, where we might be going, and the process involved to get there”.

The first panelist to speak was Petito, who gave an overview of Supreme Court rulings that have impacted abortion rights. He started by asking the audience if “liberty include(s) the notion that people are entitled to privacy, and to make private decisions for themselves without interference from any government?”

He states that this question was answered in the case of Griswold v. Connecticut, which gave citizens the right to use contraceptives. In nearly every Supreme Court ruling since, the right to have sex and bodily privacy has been expanded, but according to Petito, this all changed in the recent overturn of Roe v Wade, the ruling that legalized abortion nationwide.

Mr. Pezza then invited David Style, former state representative, to speak about the evolution of states’ rights. He starts by giving a brief history of the constitution, going on to state that the tenth amendment “reserves to the states the rights of all policies and procedures that are not defined in the constitution itself”. After the civil war, The Civil Rights Act of 1866 was passed in what Style said “created a major shift in individual rights from states to the federal government”.

Patrick Christmas, policy director for the Committee of Seventy, an organization dedicated to voting rights advocacy, was next to speak. On the increasing likelihood of future amendments to Pennsylvania’s constitution, Christmas states that “these proposed amendments have the potential to significantly change the way our state government runs”, including a proposed amendment that could limit or ban abortion.

After a brief video about the impact this midterm election could have, Pezza introduced Melissa Reed, President and CEO of Planned Parenthood Keystone. She gave her view on why abortion should be legal. “When Roe v. Wade was overturned, sadly, we were prepared for it. We knew that our right to bodily autonomy was soon to be stripped from us”.

Discussing the need for proper abortion related healthcare, Reed claimed that “tens of thousands of women will be forced into pregnancy”, and that according to a recent poll, nine in ten Pennsylvanian’s want abortion to remain safe and legal. Emphasizing the need for bodily autonomy, Reed remarked “I don’t consult my state senator when I need a mammogram. It is unconscionable to think that our legislator should have a role in those most deeply personal and complex decisions”.

In reference to the proposed amendment to ban abortion in Pennsylvania, Reed said that “We are going to fight like hell to defeat this ballot initiative”. To close, Reed discussed about how life is like in states that have already banned abortion. “We are seeing people deny a 10-year-old an abortion who has been raped, so she has to travel far away to get the care she needs. These rules are unjust, and cruel.”

Pezza then introduced Marlene Downing, Deputy Field Director for Susan B. Anthony List Pennsylvania and a spokesperson for the Bucks County Pro-Life Coalition. She began by discussing how important the upcoming elections are; that “the reason these races are important to us is because life is on the line”. Downing talked about the reasons women seek an abortion, blaming the media for creating fear.

In remarks just as striking as Reed’s, she explains that “rape is a terrible thing, and people that do those things should be prosecuted… but we’re talking about abortion here. We’re talking about life. We’re talking about life”. Downing explained that the constitution never gave the right to an abortion, leading to the discussion of her own abortion – and the amount of psychological pain she experienced afterwards. “It doesn’t matter what anyone else says. It matters what God says”.

After they finished speaking, Mr. Pezza led the panelists in a limited Q&A, first asking Reed if there are any services that Planned Parenthood offers if a pregnant person decides to keep their child. Reed explained that they should have all of their options laid out for them, but ultimately it is up to them, and they will support them in whatever choice is made.

Pezza then asked Downing her reaction to a mother whose baby who only had half a brain, but was being forced to be carried to term. Downing said that she understands that it would be very tough, and said that even she knew someone whose child was to have birth defects. “The mother told me that there can be a birth that takes place instead of a willful and intentional killing of the child”.

At this point in the discussion, the crowd began to grow angry, some scoffing at her statements. For the final question, Pezza asked to both Reed and Downing was if there was room for compromise in terms of abortion law. Reed said that “as far as I’m concerned, you can’t compromise with a woman’s bodily autonomy. I know that these people who are trying to ban abortion are also trying to ban comprehensive sexuality education, and are trying to restrict access to contraception”.

Downing then responded that “whatever incremental saves we can do is important to us.” “If we save one life, that’s generations”. She refused to compromise on banning abortions after 15 weeks. Pezza assumed that Downing supports an exception to rape, but she responded that she actually doesn’t. Reed then commented that “Science doesn’t show that the baby feels pain after 15 weeks”. Pezza attempted to end the discussion calmly, but the panel came to an energetic close as audience members heckled him as he spoke.