By Chris Smelser
GAINESVILLE, Florida (FR) – Phyllis Schlafley, a conservative columnist most famous for her speaking tour which helped stop the passing of the Equal Rights Amendment, and Sarah Weddington, a lawyer who gained notoriety for arguing in support of the “right” to abortion in the Roe vs. Wade case, debated women’s issues in front of a very partisan crowd at the O’Connell Center at the University of Florida in February. As all women’s issues discussions do these days, the debate eventually turned into a supercharged session focusing on abortion.
With rare originality, Schlafley likened the modern debate on abortion to the historical debate over slavery. Schlafley made the comparison based on the arguments of a woman’s right to choose to have an abortion and the state’s right to choose to permit slavery. Weddington based her argument in support of abortion on the right of privacy. The surprise of the evening was Weddington’s self defeating argument for abortion in which she acknowledged that abortion is murder. Weddington said that government sanctioned killing is perfectly ethical, citing the death penalty and war as other examples.
The behavior of the crowd was perhaps the most interesting aspect of the debate. Of particular note was the rudeness of a group of lesbians towards Phyllis Schlafley. After any statement which they did not approve of they laughed quite loudly, even laughing after a mild Schlafley comment that not all men are sexual harassers. I saw the lack of tolerance many a pro-choicer has toward those who disagree with them through the words of a young lady seated in front of me. In reaction to the standing ovation Phyllis Schlafley received after predicting the imminent reversal of Roe vs. Wade, she said: “That is so sad. I cannot believe there are people like that.”
Perhaps the most substance of the evening came with the debate over Anita Hill vs. Clarence Thomas. Weddington informed the crowd that even though she has no evidence, she is sure Thomas is guilty on all counts of sexual harassment. Schlafley countered that she finds it hard to believe that Anita Hill, being a lawyer, did not have the strength to stand up to an alleged attack of dirty words. In hinting that the Hill story was a Democratic conspiracy to keep Thomas from being confirmed, Schlafley asked the audience if they had heard of the new Anita Hill doll. Apparently you pull her string and ten years later she talks.