College Democrats, Republicans debate abortion, drag bans and health care


Romita Das | Senior Staff Photographer

Two students from the College Democrats and College Republicans debate in the William Pitt Union Monday night.

By Alexandra Ross, Assistant News Editor

One of the most contentious issues at a debate between Pitt’s College Republicans and College Democrats on Monday night came when College Republicans vice president Joshua Minsky and College Democrats president Amanda Thornton debated whether abortion is a human right. 

Minsky said he “[has] absolutely no problem” with abortions in the case of rape, incest or when the life of the mother is at risk, but condemned abortions resulting from consensual casual sex. 

“Control yourselves,” Minsky said, referring to casual sex, saying that “hookup culture” and the “sexualization of society” have led to increased abortion rates. 

“Society has become extremely sexualized,” Minsky said. “Everyone is having sex with everyone, I mean, it’s just true. Look at Tinder … I’m sorry if there is a problem in society and I’m simply saying it out loud.” 

Thornton called Minsky’s responses “insensitive” and “disrespectful to women.” 

“Everyone has the right to control their own lives,” Thornton said. “Having reproductive health care is a basic human right and we need to make sure we support the right to choose and work towards a world where reproductive autonomy is respected and valued, which clearly you don’t.” 

Students filled the William Pitt Union Assembly Room Monday night to hear some of the University’s most politically active students debate the issues. Two panels of speakers representing College Democrats and College Republicans answered questions on abortion, health care, the Second Amendment, minimum wage, immigration and climate change. Audience members could also ask questions for the final half hour of the event. 

An audience member asked the clubs to speak on recent efforts from Republican politicians to ban drag performances. Minsky said drag shows are “objectively … extremely sexual” and drag bans do not target adult-oriented drag shows, but rather drag performances in public schools. 

“It’s extremely disgusting,” Minsky said. “Children should not be exposed to that type of stuff.”

College Democrats member George Begler argued against the bans, and questioned Minsky’s statements that he had seen evidence online of drag queens performing sexually explicit shows in front of children. 

“If you don’t like drag, don’t go to a drag show,” Begler said. “It’s that simple. It’s really not rocket science … What we are seeing is an attempt to criminalize the existence of LGBT people.” 

Another audience question centered on making universities more accessible to marginalized communities. Thornton said reducing testing requirements and tuition rates can make college more accessible. 

“Unfortunately, tuition is very expensive for a lot of people, especially marginalized communities, and a lot of them cannot afford it,” Thornton said. 

Minsky argued that colleges should eliminate general education requirements and liberal arts education to reduce the number of credits students must pay to take. He also argued against affirmative action. 

“The highest dropout rates in places like Harvard and other elite universities tend to come from marginalized people because they cannot handle the curriculum because they came from a bad school district,” Minsky said, adding that “this has nothing to do with their intelligence.” 

In response to a moderator question about the minimum wage, College Republicans president Dylan Mitchell said raising the federal minimum wage would disproportionately harm small businesses, without resulting in any real wage gains for workers after inflation.

“Whenever you raise that wage, those low income, minimum-wage workers … are going to get laid off,” Mitchell said. “Many of them get laid off completely, and those that don’t, their hours are slashed so bad that they’re not actually making any more money, and they can no longer find work because you’ve damaged the economy by killing all those small businesses.”

In response, College Democrats member Thomas Ross said raising the minimum wage consistent with inflation rates would not reduce the purchasing power of workers.

“If we’re able to raise the wages of minimum-wage workers … it’s going to contribute to more growth in the economy, it’s going to lead to better outcomes for Americans … it’s going to be better for the economy as a whole,” Ross said. 

Begler and College Republicans member Heather Wright debated the adequacy of the American health care system. Begler argued for a movement toward single-payer or universal health care, in order to increase accessibility of health care to low-income Americans. 

“We are the only industrialized country to not guarantee health care as a right. That is unacceptable,” Begler said. 

Wright argued that a move toward publicly funded health care would worsen health care outcomes, namely by increasing wait times. She said low-income individuals can still go to the emergency room to seek treatment and can’t be turned away. Wright also argued that these individuals can “send $1 a month” toward their medical debt without the government taking action against them — giving her own mother as an example. 

“My mom’s hospital bills equate to over $100,000,” Wright said. “My mom works at Giant Eagle now because of her injury, but yet they haven’t come after her. She has far more medical bills than any person that I know so far, but they haven’t come after her.”

A rare moment of agreement came when an audience member asked about nuclear energy as a viable solution for climate change. Both Minsky and College Democrats member Henry Cohen said they support the use of nuclear energy to reduce reliance on fossil fuels. 

“Nuclear power is the number one tool in our arsenal, and we have to use it,” Cohen said. “It’s incredibly powerful, it’s safe and, most importantly, we can do it easily.” 

According to Jack Ruotolo, the president of BridgePittsburgh, the debate is a tradition that pushes students toward dialogue, transpartisanship and inclusivity. BridgePittsburgh hosted Monday night’s debate.

“By upholding the ideals of dialogue, empathy and ideological discourse, we are able to … bring politics back to the people, where real change can be made,” Ruotolo said.