Slavery and Abortion- Appropriate Analogy?


Slavery reveals how anyone, now as well as then, can come to accept, perpetuate, and justify an exploitative system that seems essential and immutable. After all, we live with our own monsters. Alan Taylor

Is abortion the new slavery in America? Perhaps you’ve heard this analogy used in the past few months with the recent controversies surrounding Planned Parenthood and the consequent resurrection of the debates about prochoice and prolife positions. This analogy between chattel slavery and the rights of the unborn is striking and controversial, and I’d like to make some distinctions and examine its merits.

What are the unborn?

The question of the abortion of the unborn and the rights of the mother must invariably turn on the question of the status of the unborn. What are the unborn? Are they living human beings with full rights to life from conception? If we ignore this question and proceed to discuss the bodily autonomy of the mother, the risks and financial hardships, etc. we assume, in advance, the status of the unborn, namely, that they are not human in the same sense as ourselves. This assumption is evidenced when we consider the case of the toddler, and- believe me, toddlers restrict the autonomy of parents. But what of the prochoice advocates who concede that the unborn are human, but who insist that the mother’s right to choose whether she will face supporting a child in severe adversity ultimately outweighs the rights of the unborn?

To free, or not to free…

It is here that I would like to turn back to Taylor’s quote above regarding slavery. To be clear: Taylor was not drawing an explicit parallel between slavery and abortion, but I think it will be clear why the inference is justifiable. From Taylor’s work, it’s apparent that many of the founding fathers, themselves defenders of liberty, found themselves facing difficult choices with what to do with slaves on American plantations. Many of them agreed that black people were indeed men like them, entitled to freedom. Sadly, emancipation seemed to them to carry too great a cost. Many slave owners would lose their livelihood, not to mention that they were unsure how millions of freed slaves, deprived of an education, would be able to provide for themselves. Thomas Jefferson recommended mass deportation. Widowed land-owners would sell slaves (many times splitting up families) to avoid poverty.

I don’t intend to convey by writing this that the early American’s could simply have pushed the ‘fix’ button to make all these evils disappear with no consequences. I want to portray, however, that there were intense sacrifices that they were not willing to make to protect the rights of enslaved men, women, and children. With regard to the life of the unborn, we are in a similar situation. For the prolife position, convincing our hearers that the fetus is a living human being may not be doing enough.

Some (many?) pro-choice advocates acknowledge that the fetus is indeed a distinct, living human being, but that the hardships facing the mother can (and should) outweigh the ‘right to life’ that the unborn may have. As the case of slavery showed, men and women around the globe argued that slavery ought to be abolished, let the costs be what they may. In a similar manner, the prolife cause is backing up its cry for the unborn by seeking to aid these women who courageously chose to bear these children amidst almost impossible adversity. As of 2010, crisis pregnancy centers in the US outnumber abortion clinics 5:1.

Remembering our own monsters

In conclusion, Taylor’s quote reminds us to walk humbly as we fight for the unborn. “After all, we live with our own monsters.” In spite of the founding fathers fight for liberty, many of them considered slavery as an institution that was necessary and immutable. As Christians seeking to be ministers of reconciliation in our culture, bear in mind the sacrifices that we haven’t made for the unborn, and prayerfully consider what changes you can make today.

He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God? Micah 6:8

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