View from the choir

I am a Catholic layperson and Secular Franciscan with a sense of humor. After years in the back pew watching, I have moved into the choir. It's nice to see faces instead of the backs of heads. But I still maintain God has a sense of humor - and that we are created in God's image.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Civil Rights - Pro-life Parallels

By J.C. Willke, MD

Ever since the Roe vs. Wade and Doe vs. Bolton decisions on abortion by the US Supreme Court in 1973, spokesmen for the Right-to-Life movement have been comparing the abortion issue to slavery. They have pointed to the core analogy of legal personhood for black Americans then, and of unborn Americans today.

The 1973 decision has been compared to the Dred Scott decision of 1857. Its identical court majority of 7 - 2, its holdings, even the arguments justifying it then, find almost exact echoes today in the abortion decisions.

Dred Scott was decided only three years before Lincoln's election and the onset of the Civil War. It attempted to settle, once and for all, the vexing slavery question. In judging the case of Mr. Dred Scott, a black man from St. Louis, the US Supreme Court certainly did clarify the issue. Black people, it ruled, were not legal persons; they were the property of the slave owner. He could buy, sell or even kill them.

Abolitionists had objected. The ruling was outrageous, they said. It was immoral and discriminated against an entire class of living Americans solely on the basis of skin color. None other than Roger Taney, Chief Justice of the Court, and a chorus of others replied to them. So you folks have a different opinion? You object on moral and religious grounds to slavery? That is all right, they said. You abolitionists don't have to own a slave if you don't want to. No one is forcing you to own one, but don't force your morality on the slave owner. He has the "right to choose" to own slaves if he wishes. The Supreme Court has ruled this is a constitutionally protected right. It has so interpreted the Constitution. Slavery is legal.

The Roe vs. Wade decision has been seen as a direct parallel. It too was a 7 - 2 decision by the Supreme Court. It too tried to settle a very vexing and controversial social issue. It too superseded existing state laws. Unborn people, it ruled, were not legal persons. They had no civil rights, no human rights. They were, henceforth, legally the property of the owner - the mother. She had the absolute legal right to keep or kill her unborn baby.

Pro-life people objected. The ruling was outrageous, they said. It was immoral and discriminated against an entire class of living Americans solely on the basis of age (too young) and place of residence (still living in the womb). None other than Justice Blackman, Roe's author, and a chorus of others replied. So you folks have a different opinion? You object on moral or religious grounds to abortion? That is all right. You Right-to-Lifers don't have to have abortions if you don't want to. No one is forcing you to have one, but don't force your morality on the mother (the owner). She has a "right to choose" to kill her developing baby if she wishes. The Supreme Court has ruled this is now a constitutionally protected right. It has so interpreted the Constitution. Abortion is legal.

Tragically, the high court never did reverse the Dred Scott decision. True, it was effectively demolished by the Civil War. Legally, however, it was only reversed by amendments to the US Constitution. The Thirteenth Amendment abolished slavery. The Fourteenth guaranteed civil rights. Finally, the Fifteenth Amendment tried to lock in that guarantee by giving the vote to black men (women could not yet vote).

The parallel today is the Right-to-Life movement's dedicated push for a constitutional amendment to reverse the abortion decisions. Its original hope for an amendment to abolish abortion and to guarantee civil rights to the unborn in a single amendment has given way to the acceptance of a multi-step approach by all but a small minority of the movement. The first step would be to reverse the abortion decisions.

In investigating the analogy between abortion and slavery is to reacquaint ourselves with the history of the time.

Pro-slavery people were deeply indoctrinated with the defense of slavery as a positive good to both races; and firm in the conviction that it must be protected and perpetuated. Further, they were convinced of the biological inequality and racial inferiority of blacks, and held positions as members of Congress, justices of the Supreme Court, and presidents of the United States. They held prominent positions in churches, colleges and political parties. They exercised authority, within their spheres of influence, over the entire nation and helped to determine its policies, educational philosophy and religious doctrines.

One cannot repeat too often that belief in the biologic inequality and racial inferiority of the "Negro" not only sustained slavery, but also determined the attitude of the public, the zeal of law enforcement officials, the reasoning of judicial bodies, the efficiency of administrative functionaries and the definition of policies by legislators. Legalized slavery enshrined this, prevented a practical demonstration of its falsity, and filled public offices and the councils of religious, educational and political institutions with men reared in its atmosphere.

For decades our nation tolerated, indeed stoutly defended, an institution, which embodied the theory that a whole race of people were biologically inferior to others. They formulated ingenious rationalizations for their conduct, devised legal barriers to its correction, and heaped indignities upon those who spoke out in protest. They challenged the right of free inquiry and discussion, and, finally, tragically sent their own men out to kill each other when the political machinery broke down.

But did not a black man bleed if cut? Did not a black woman reproduce if fertilized? Were they not both alive and totally human? Your author is old enough to recall bi-racial blood banks in some states when he was in medical school, even though the pathologist in the laboratory could not tell the blood apart under the microscope.

Is the unborn child not alive? Will he or she not bleed? Is there not a heart beating at three weeks, one that can be heard by us at six to eight weeks? A fully intact tiny human boy or girl from fertilization? Most certainly so! We have no more excuse for calling the unborn child non-human today than our forefathers did for calling a black man non-human then. Yet, today's Supreme Court did just that. Lynn Jackson, great-great granddaughter of Dred Scott, understands abortion's injustice saying, "It is pretty violent, it is a baby and life does begin at conception."

Rightly so, America ultimately came to reject the Supreme Court's flawed Dred Scott decision. Thankfully, mankind, regardless of color, is now protected under our constitution. Not long into the future, America will also ultimately come to reject the Supreme Court's flawed Roe vs. Wade decision. With it will come the constitutional protection of all innocent life from womb to tomb.


I found the above in the newsletter of the New Mexico Right to Life Committee.

The article has at the end -

"For more information on the similarities between abortion and slavery, we recommend Dr. Willke's book, Abortion and Slavery - History Repeats from Hayes Publishing. Contact our office at 513.729.3600 or "

Looks like a book I might want to read.


Blogger GrandmaK said...

My goodness! I had never considered the similarities! Thank you! Cathy

6:40 AM  
Blogger Lee Strong said...

I have been thinking of the abortion/civil rights link, but this article made it so clear.

5:52 PM  

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