August 14, 2016


Abortion as a Positive Good: How the Abortion Movement Echoes Radical Slavery Rhetoric (Miles Smith, August 3rd, 2016, Public Discourse)

In February 1837, South Carolina Senator John C. Calhoun changed the tone of the cultural, religious, political, and social war over slavery by declaring human bondage a "positive good." Most members of the generation of Americans who created the United States government, by contrast, saw slavery as an unfortunate legacy of the colonial period. A few in Georgia and South Carolina were indifferent to its moral status but committed to its economic benefits. Many others hoped that the new government might eventually put slavery on the road to extinction.

During the debates over the federal constitution, even members committed to allowing the retention of slavery argued against provisions that might affirm the morality of human bondage. William Paterson of New Jersey, for example, opposed representing slaves in the Congress because it might afford "an indirect encouragement of the slave trade," an institution seen as wicked even by many slaveholders. And in 1790, when Quakers presented a petition to Congress arguing for the abolition of the slave trade, Virginia planter Josiah Parker thanked them for "attending to matters of such momentous concern to the future happiness and prosperity of the people." Parker, like Washington, Adams, and scores of the revolutionary generation, hoped eventually to eradicate chattel slavery from the new United States. Richard Henry Lee, another slaveholding Virginian, called slavery a moral blight. Even as late as 1820, when Congress argued over slavery's expansion into federal territories and the new state of Missouri, South Carolina's virulently pro-slavery Senator William Smith could only offer an anemic moral defense of slavery when he called it a "necessary evil."

Calhoun's radical embrace of slavery added to the dehumanization of African-Americans and departed from long-held moral and political understanding of slavery in American political life. In our own time, modern-day John C. Calhouns make up the abortion lobby in American politics. [...]

Abortion activists couch their arguments in the language of absolute individual autonomy. A woman, they declare, has a right to do what she pleases with her body. No one--not her husband, parents, family, faith community, or society at large--has a right to tell her what to do with it. In an interview in April 2016, Planned Parenthood President Cecile Richards exasperatedly told the audience that she and women around the country were "so sick of men telling us what to do with our bodies." But Richards wasn't just sick of men coercing the individual will of women to spare the life of the unborn. She was sick of churches, families, local communities, state legislatures, and any other human institution. Her will should be absolute over theirs even in the case of the life or death of a human being. The DNC crowd cheered when Ilyse Hogan invoked the same idea. In so doing, they cheered nothing less than the tyrannical disposition that dominated the psyches of antebellum slaveholders.

A popular antebellum argument against abolition and emancipation foreshadowed the current abortion narrative in its emphasis on total autonomy. John Townsend, a southern pamphleteer, published a virulently pro-slavery tract during the 1860 election titled The South alone, should govern the South: And African slavery should be Governed by Those Only Who are Friendly To it. That southerners alone--without the influence or interference of natural law or revealed religion--should govern slavery was a very new idea, even for slaveholders. Patrick Henry, a slaveholding Virginian, believed that slavery was "repugnant to humanity . . . inconsistent with humanity, and destructive to liberty." Townsend and the slaveholding generation of 1860 rejected any and all cultural, legal, political, and religious restrictions on slavery--much in the same way their latter-day analogues have done with the killing of the unborn. The tyranny of the individual is as complete with abortion activists as it was with slave owners.

Both slavery and abortion defenses often use the language of submission. Abortion supporters argue that women should not have to submit themselves to the state or any other mediating authority, such as churches and family. Not even the father of the unborn child has a say. Similarly, Townsend angrily denounced those who would allow authorities other than the individual to determine the moral rightness of chattel slavery in the United States. "Submission," cried Townsend, remained intolerable because it abrogated the individual slaveholders' ultimate and final authority over their human chattel. In the same way, modern abortion advocates have viewed any obstacle to abortion-on-demand--including waiting periods and parental consent for minors--as an entirely unwarranted invasion of women's totalitarian authority over their unborn children.

Posted by at August 14, 2016 6:41 PM