Students and Staff Engage in Intellectual Discussion About the Morality of Abortion

Students and members of the Colgate community gathered in Donovan’s Pub this past Monday to discuss the hotly contested issue of abortion. The discussion, entitled “Agree to Disagree: The Morality of Abortion and the Dobbs Decision,” featured George Carlton Jr. Professor of Philosophy David Dudrick, Associate Professor of Religion Jenna Reinbold and Vice President for Equity and Inclusion Renee Madison. Sponsored by the Forum on Philosophy and Religion, a subgroup of the Center for Freedom and Western Civilization, this discussion is the first of the “Agree to Disagree” discussion series that began during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Hurley Family Chair and Professor of Psychological and Brain Sciences and Neuroscience Spencer Kelly introduced the panelists and prefaced the discussion with the goal of the event: “to disagree with one another, well.” He highlighted the fact that the panelists were not debating, but rather discussing their personal perspectives and trying to understand one another. 

Kelly originally created the “Agree to Disagree” series as a way to “engage with complex and important issues outside of the classroom,” and he spoke about the importance of engaging in a calm and respectful discourse about difficult topics that often lead to conflict.

“The goal of the evening was to model healthy disagreement on a timely and important issue. It’s easy to disagree poorly, but a lot harder to disagree well,” Kelly said. “Disagreeing well involves humility, empathy, curiosity and care for others. Because the topic was so sensitive, we believed that modeling these values through disagreement would be more effective than a traditional debate format.”

After introducing themselves and giving background to their positions on the topic of abortion and the Dobbs decision, the panelists took turns answering questions from one another as well as the audience. The conversation remained respectful and calm as the panelists attempted to understand each other’s positions. With varying backgrounds in politics, law and philosophy, each of the three speakers approached the topic of abortion from different angles.

Senior Bryn Luedde attended the event and was impressed by the composure and professionalism of both the panelists and audience members when discussing such a divisive topic.

“I appreciated the personal and respectful tone of the discussion,” Luedde said. “I think it is really difficult in our current world to ‘disagree well,’ as [Professor] Kelly put it, and seeing such a great example from our professors and leaders in our community was a really special moment. It was also great to see so many friends and peers there, which makes me feel better about our prospects for this kind of productive conversation moving forward.”

Dudrick, who specializes in philosophy, explained the necessity of those in spaces such as Colgate to engage in intellectual discourse to avoid the conflict that often arises when talking about these topics in the broader public.

“We who have the privilege to be at universities have, I think, the duty to engage in reasoned discourse about difficult topics, and to do so in a spirit of genuine curiosity and truth-seeking,” Dudrick said.

Questions from students and audience members matched the respectful tone of the speakers, and senior Caroline Friedman was impressed by the level of courtesy expressed by everyone involved. She commented on the desire for more discussions like this that encourage intellectual and productive discussion.

“I really applaud Professor Reinbold, Professor Dudrick and Ms. Madison for having the bravery to sit in front of so many people and discuss such a sensitive and controversial topic,” Friedman said. “[There were] points I did not agree with, but I think this allowed me to see from a different perspective and afforded me the opportunity to listen with an open mind to very brave members of our Colgate faculty […] All in all, I would love to see a discussion like this again.”