Students Advocating Informed Decisions (SAID) invited Timothy Brahm to St. Olaf on Thursday, April 11 to deliver a talk titled “Understanding and Responding to: My Body, My Choice.” In his talk, Brahm sought to counter two common abortion rights arguments: that the fetus is not a person and that a woman’s bodily rights allow her to terminate a pregnancy.

SAID is an anti-abortion organization which “seeks to provide all St. Olaf students with accurate information regarding their options during an unplanned pregnancy and educate students on issues related to abortion and women’s health,” according to the student organization’s webpage. They are a chapter of Students for Life of America.

Brahm is a former training specialist for the anti-abortion organization Justice for All. He has urged anti-abortion advocates to take greater care in creating dialogue with individuals whose opinions differ from their own.

Brahm began his talk by ensuring that he welcomes both anti-abortion and abortion-rights people to his speech. He granted abortion-rights or “pro-choice” individuals priority by encouraging them to raise two hands during the question and answer section of the talk.

“If you are pro-choice, you are welcome here,” Brahm said in the introduction to his speech.

Brahm also took time to offer his appreciation for the SAID organization at St. Olaf and their work in advocating for informed anti-abortion or “pro-life” decisions.

“St. Olaf has a really good pro-life club here,” Brahm said. “And I don’t say that about every club – I’ve worked with some bad ones. I truly believe you guys have a great presence here at St. Olaf.”

In his speech, Brahm supported the personhood stance, or the concept that a fetus is afforded the same natural rights as any human being, and bodily rights arguments forwarded by abortion rights advocates. In responding to these arguments, Brahm explained the philosophical perspective behind his anti-abortion stance. Brahm also used many different thought experiments to further his arguments.

Brahm argued that an unborn fetus has equal rights to that of a newborn or toddler and  is thus afforded a natural right to life.

“The thing that makes me valuable is the same thing that makes an unborn valuable,” Brahm said.

Brahm divided bodily rights arguments into two distinct categories – sovereign zone arguments, which support the right of all women to make decisions concerning their own bodies, and right-to-refuse arguments, which focus on the rights of physicians to conscientiously reject abortions. Brahm tied many of his personhood and equal rights viewpoints to his bodily rights responses. He argued that no one can choose to abort an unborn unless it is for clear purposes of self-preservation.

“We did not staff the SAID event and to my knowledge, we did not staff the SAID event last year.” – Fred Behr

“We all have a right-to-not-freaking-kill,” Brahm said in his response to the right-to-refuse arguments. “Or, more simply, a right-to-not-kill.”

Due to the controversial nature of the debate surrounding abortion, there were rumors that St. Olaf Public Safety would staff the SAID event with security personnel. Director of Public Safety Fred Behr disproved these rumors.

“We did not staff the SAID event and to my knowledge, we did not staff the SAID event last year,” Behr wrote in an email.

There are certain events across campus for which Public Safety provides security, including the annual St. Olaf Christmas Festival and commencement ceremony, Behr said, but the majority of events held on campus are not staffed directly.

“Very few events are staffed by Public Safety, but we do review each one on their own merit,” Behr said. “For any event on campus, we would respond to any safety issue that is reported to us.”

He concluded that Public Safety looks to ensure security at all events across campus, but creating a safe and secure environment at events is the responsibility of the sponsor or the host of the event and does not exclusively fall to Public Safety.

While the abortion debate is often heated, acrimony was not present at the SAID event. Brahm elucidated his arguments clearly without straw-manning opposing opinions. The audience showed respect during his speech, and raised intriguing questions during the question and answer section.

marand1@stolaf.edu