The Citizens’ Assembly
Sir, – Breda O’Brien argues that “some of the choices of speakers to address the Citizens’ Assembly have been highly questionable”, referring specifically to the unsuitability of the medical director of the British Pregnancy Advisory Service to participate in this process (Opinion & Analysis, February 11th). However, given that both sides in the abortion debate view the other’s position as based on profound untruths, it is difficult to envisage Breda O’Brien being content with any speaker addressing the assembly in favour of extending access to abortion services. Instead of engaging directly with the arguments in favour of wider access to abortion, as she has done so frequently in the past, your columnist has instead decided to label her opponents hopelessly biased and in doing so misunderstands the object of the exercise.
That individuals advocating a particular point of view when addressing the people, be it in a microcosmic assembly or the electorate at large, are biased is not controversial.
That is precisely the point in having them speak, to put forward one way of thinking so that it can be refuted and contested.
Furthermore, while the Citizens’ Assembly may have its flaws, but one of these is not necessarily that “it is amazingly easy to influence the outcomes of groups,” particularly given that the prospect of any collective democratic choice on the matter carries this risk as well. – Yours, etc,