The Collegian
Saturday, March 25, 2023

UR addresses abortion issues with debate on campus

Rev. John Rankin discusses his pro-life views in a debate about the issue of abortion.
Rev. John Rankin discusses his pro-life views in a debate about the issue of abortion.

Abortion is ordinarily a touchy subject that often sparks heated and unpleasant discussions, but the mood in the University of Richmond's Alice Haynes room on Monday night was light and friendly during the abortion debate, "Women, Choice and Abortion: What are the Issues?"

The Rev. John Rankin represented the anti-abortion view during the debate, and the Rev. Barry Lynn spoke on behalf of abortion rights.

The reverends, who have been friends for more than 10 years and debated together on three other occasions, defended their beliefs in front of an audience of more than 50 Richmond students, faculty and community members.

Rankin, president of the Theological Education Institute, and of the Mars Hill Society in Hartford, Conn., began by pointing out the male chauvinism he saw in the abortion market. According to the Alan Guttmacher Institute, Rankin said, roughly 82 percent of abortions are performed on unmarried women.

"It rips off women, rips off the unborn and allows male chauvinists to run free," he said. "When does a woman choose abortion, other than a health or life issue? If the man who made her pregnant wants to spend his life with her and honor her, and honor the child, it really doesn't happen."

Rankin acknowledged every person's power to choose, but was also careful to point out that nobody would be able to do so unless he or she was first alive.

"So why, therefore, would we use our choice to deny the life of another, an unborn who cannot speak for himself or herself?" he asked. "What we're doing in abortion is we're cutting off a life that would rise."

Lynn, who is both a minister and a lawyer, as well as director of Americans United for the Separation of Church and State, argued that a woman's right to privacy should be respected, citing the landmark 1973 U.S. Supreme Court decision in Roe v. Wade.

More importantly, Lynn said he believed the idea of separation of church and state was an issue as well.

"If you go to those women's clinics that provide abortions on a Saturday, you're going to see a lot of picketers," he said. "A lot of them are, in fact, going to be waving Bibles. They're not going to be waving their state constitutions and they're not going to be waving medical journals.

"I'd say that the anti-choice movement in this country has built an entire movement causing enormous pain to women and loss of liberty to women over decades on an issue that isn't mentioned in the very book that they consider to be the sole source of their moral judgment."

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There are no references at all to abortion in the Bible, Lynn said.

"The closest we get is a description found in the Book of Exodus of the penalties in early Jewish law for killing a woman and then for causing a woman to have a miscarriage," he said. "It was a greater penalty for the former than the latter."

After clarifying that abortion was not viewed as murder when the Bible was written, Lynn provided his theory on what would happen if abortion were to become synonymous with murder in today's society.

Women would be jailed for murder, Lynn said, and more damaging halts would be put on stem cell research. Also, he said, the economic status of women would be severely stifled.

"The availability of abortions has allowed many young women to continue their educations at universities and graduate schools, something often barred in past generations by early pregnancy," he said.

Finally, women would die if abortion were criminalized, Lynn said. Women would seek alternative means of getting abortions, he said, perhaps turning to the homemade abortion attempts that were responsible for deaths during the 1960s.

The reverends also discussed when life begins, and the idea of personhood.

Lynn said he believed the beginning of life was a matter of sentience.

"It's got to do with the ability to have a conscious understanding of the world around you," he said. "But I literally cannot give to a fertilized egg any moral rights at all.

"It makes no sense to me."

But Rankin said a person could not have sentience if they did not exist.

"Every aspect, genetically, that is put in that one-celled zygote is programmed for what?" he asked. "For life."

After the debate, Lynn commented on current college audiences and why it was sometimes hard to believe that things could, in his eyes, get as bad as they used to be.

"They have not experienced what it's like to live in a pre-Roe world," he said, "where your roommate and his girlfriend have to go to England over spring break to get an abortion. That was where I came from ... that would happen all the time ... We have a lot to lose, a lot of rights to find disintegrating if a generation in college now doesn't take the issues seriously and realize that we really are just one Supreme Court justice away from completely overturning not only Roe v. Wade, but also the contraceptive decisions."

The debate marked the first official event put on by Spiders for Life, the university's anti-abortion club. It was co-sponsored by Voices for Planned Parenthood, or VOX, a student organization in support of abortion rights.

"I appreciated how respectful they were," said Kerrissa Richards, a Westhampton College sophomore and Spiders for Life's vice president. "I've seen debates that were on far less sensitive issues go completely crazy in comparison to this debate."

Contact staff reporter Guv Callahan at

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