By John Connolly

TORONTO, March 5, 2008 ( – An abortion debate was shut down on February 28 by a student federation at York University on the premiss that abortion is a non-debatable right.

The York University Student Centre cancelled the debate, entitled “Abortion Debate: A Woman’s Right or a Moral Wrong?” a mere two hours before it started. As a result, dozens of students were turned away at the door. The debate was to have been between pro-abortion atheist Michael Payton from Freethinkers, Skeptics and Atheists at York, and Jojo Ruba of Calgary’s pro-life Canadian Centre for Bio-Ethical Reform. It was intended to be a balanced debate on abortion, moderated by the York Debating Society.

“We would not have a debate over something that is racist or homophobic,” said Gilary Massa, vice-president equity of the York Federation of Students. “This debate is sexist … when it comes to free speech there is a line. … They are talking about taking away women’s rights. We would not allow a debate asking if women beating should be allowed.”

“I was told in a meeting by members of the York Federation of Students that debating abortion is comparable to debating whether a man should be allowed to beat his wife,” said Margaret Fung, President of Students for Bioethical Awareness, an official York University club and co-sponsor of the debate. “They said that there is freedom of speech to a limit, and that abortion is not an issue to debate. They demanded that the event not take place and shut us down.”

Fung was present with Jeremy Salter, Executive Director of the YFS, Fuad Abdi, VP of Operations of the YFS and the Secretary of the Executive Committee of the Student Centre, and Amir Mohareb, President of the York Debating Society when the debate was shut down.

“The Student Centre has made sure that anyone with different views than theirs can’t express themselves, even if both points of view are represented,” said Fung. “They don’t seem to understand that we live in a free, democratic society. A university is supposed to be a marketplace of ideas not a propaganda machine for political extremists.”

Robert J. Tiffin, vice-president of students, emphasized in his letter to the National Post that the cancellation of the debate was done without the knowledge or consent of York University, but was rather done by students who ran the Student Centre.

“A debate on the subject of abortion was cancelled at York University by the student executive of the Student Centre, without the knowledge or participation of the university,” he wrote. “York encourages civic participation and open debate on issues of local, national and international importance. The fact that both sides of the debate wanted to proceed and were prevented from doing so makes the incident all the more regrettable.”

The National Post has reported that the York University administration is currently working on a compromise that will allow for students to use some on-campus venue where such a debate can happen in the future.

Contact Students for Bioethical Awareness for more Information:

Margaret Fung, Co-President:
  Phone: (416)650-8870
  E-mail: [email protected]

Maria Smolkova, Co-President:
  Phone: (647)654-6023
  E-Mail: [email protected]