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JANUS Forum discusses the future of abortion in the U.S.

Due to inclement weather in Kansas, Grisham joined the debate via Zoom.
Due to inclement weather in Kansas, Grisham joined the debate via Zoom.

After the Supreme Court ruling of Dobbs v. Jackson, which overturned Roe v. Wade in June 2022, the topic of abortion was a motivation for many voters in the midterm elections. 

In some states like California and Michigan, voters approved constitutional protections, but in other states like Ohio and Florida, lawmakers are in the process of determining new restrictions.

In 2019, Ohio's Governor Mike DeWine signed a ban on abortion after six weeks. A lower court in Ohio has currently blocked the ban.

With the fate of abortion in Ohio still undetermined, students packed Miami University’s Taylor Auditorium on Nov. 15 for the fall 2022 JANUS Forum, “Life After Roe: What Happens Next?”

The JANUS Forum, hosted by Miami’s political science department, invites two individuals with opposing views to come together and discuss their opinions.

 The forum invited Johanna Maska, the director of Press Advance under former President Barack Obama, and Stephanie Grisham, the White House Press Secretary and Communication Director under former President Donald Trump. Due to inclement weather in Kansas, Grisham joined the debate via Zoom.

“They were two very prominent White House staff [members], and I feel like it's good to get their input on the issue,” said Autumn Marshall, a senior political science student who attended the debate.

The debate, moderated by Cameron Tiefenthaler, a junior political science and business analytics double major, began with opening remarks from each speaker.

Maska shared a personal anecdote about her mother, who found out she was pregnant at a young age. Her parents decided to give the child up for adoption, and when Maska was 21 years old, her brother entered her life to thank her parents for their decision. Maska said regardless of her parents' decision, they had the right to choose if they wanted to carry out the pregnancy or have an abortion.

“My mom has always been a staunch proponent of the right to choose, and I continue to be a staunch proponent of the right to choose," Maska said. "It is such a personal decision that someone will live with for the rest of their life.”

Grisham followed Maska’s remarks with her own personal story. Grisham was young when she became pregnant with her first son. Newly married and not financially stable, Grisham decided to carry out the pregnancy.

“I would be lying if I didn’t say that the thought of abortion didn’t cross my mind,” Grisham said. “I would echo Johanna's thoughts; unless we can understand the concept of walking in other people’s shoes and understanding everybody’s different ways, I don’t think we’re going to come to a good, moderate debate."

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Throughout the forum, Grisham and Maska discussed the significance of the Dobbs decision diverging from the precedent of Roe v. Wade.

“There are many people in this country, who for their moral convictions, believe that there should never be abortion at any point in time, no matter the viability,” Maska said. “Once that egg is fertilized, it should not be aborted or there should be no change. I do not believe that that is the majority opinion, and we are seeing that over and over and over in all the states that are voting on this.”

Despite their political ideologies differing, Grisham agreed with Maska that the overturn of Roe v. Wade was impactful.

“It was huge for the Dobbs decision to come down, and I have to be honest, even though these judges were appointed during my time in the Trump administration, I was disappointed,” Grisham said.

Grisham followed her statement by saying that she believed women should have a choice up to a certain point in pregnancy but did not clarify when she felt abortion should be prohibited.

During the forum, the women discussed how to expand the conversations surrounding abortion beyond women and healthcare workers and whether the government should have a say in the matter. Grisham said laws are necessary to determine at what age children should be allowed to have an abortion, and Maska said it depends on how much power voters want to give the government.

They ended the forum by advising the younger generation of voters to vote.

“At the end of the day, the beauty of democracy is listening to the voters,” Grisham said. “I think it’s beautiful that people have spoken out against how divisive things are, and I think it’s great that we’re hopefully kind of course-correcting ourselves.”

Maska said the midterms clearly showed that a younger generation is eager to get involved in politics, and she hopes they inspire the current generation of administrators in politics.

“I think every generation is a little bit more liberal than the next one … and I love that this younger generation is going to solve all of our problems,” Maska said. “We’re going to try to get there too. We’re going to try to get involved in that.”

Adrian Dooley, a first-year political science and data analytics double major, and Duke Buckalew, a first-year business analytics major, came to the debate after the midterm elections to hear opposing views on abortion.

“We just watched the midterm, and it was a very interesting and somewhat unexpected result,” Dooley said. “I wanted to get an insider perspective, especially from Stephanie Grisham, on what she thinks the GOP will do from here concerning the [midterm] results.”

Both Buckalew and Dooley agreed that there wasn’t much controversy between the speakers and felt it was a productive conversation.

“It did not feel like a debate, but I kind of liked it that way because I feel like I got a lot more information out of them than I would if they were debating,” Buckalew said.

After the event, Tiefenthaler agreed that there wasn’t much debate, but the conversation represented what discussions should look like.

“It was a very productive conversation about abortion in the U.S., and thankfully it did not get too heated," Tiefenthaler said. "I think it’s reflective of the conversations we can and should have in the U.S. regarding a woman’s right to choose.”