DENNIS GARVIN: Abortion and Slavery

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There is no greater hot-button issue in the United States today than abortion.  In the middle of the nineteenth century, there was no greater hot-button issue than slavery;  and, like the slavery issue, the current debate reflects a hardening of positions and a heating of rhetoric.

I part company with the extremists on both sides, for they refuse to acknowledge any issues of extenuation.  Historical reflection, however, may serve to guide us.  The following is a paraphrase of the Santayana aphorism:

He who does not learn from history is doomed to repeat it.

The Dred Scott Supreme Court of 1858 decision might be instructive.  Scott was an African-American slave whose owner took him from the state of Missouri (a slave state) into Missouri territory (a free territory).  Scott sued for his freedom, maintaining that his time in a free territory negated his slave status.  The case ultimately came before the Supreme Court, which decided the case against Scott and in favor of his owner.  Among other comments in the majority decision, we find such statements as:

…{ black people} “are not included, and were not intended to be included, under the word ‘citizens’ in the Constitution, and can therefore claim none of the rights and privileges which that instrument provides for and secures to citizens of the United States.”

Scott could not sue in federal court because neither slaves nor free blacks were citizens. At the time the Constitution was enacted, Chief Justice Taney wrote, blacks had been “regarded as beings of an inferior order” with “no rights which the white man was bound to respect.”

The Dred Scott decision also addressed the Missouri Compromise of 1820.  The Missouri Compromise of 1820, a congressional act, sought to reconcile the slavery issue by creating states that were Slave and those that were Free.  The Dred Scott decision rendered the compromise unconstitutional because it violated the 5th amendment, considering that freeing of slaves was equivalent to depriving owners of property without due process.

This Supreme Court decision is identified by historians as one of the leading causes of the Civil War.  Abolitionists correctly saw this as labeling slaves as property and with no greater redress of grievance under the law than livestock.  Slaveowners, of course, viewed the decision as an affirmation of slavery.  It meant that if one was born a slave, neither the passage of time nor the change of geography would alter that.  The only way a slave could become something other than a slave was if the slaveowner freed him, although that still did not grant him citizen status.

The recent New York abortion law is a restatement of the same proposition, changing the language from slave to fetus.  A fetus is a ‘being of an inferior order.’ The moment of birth, separation of fetus from the uterine cavity, no longer confers citizenship or ‘personhood’ upon the child.  It has no right to citizenship until the mother (or, lest I offend the abortion crowd, the ‘formerly pregnant human’) decides it is a person.

Let’s see some parallels:

  1. Abortion is a convenience today; slavery was a convenience for the slaveowner.
  2. Abortion is advocated for reasons, among others, of economics; so was slavery.
  3. Abortion is advocated for the health of the mother; depriving a slaveowner of his slaves would have been hazardous to his mental health.
  4. Abortion is advocated to avoid adverse impact on the mother’s health; any slaveowner, deprived of his slaves and forced to do the work himself, would have suffered adverse impacts on his health.
  5. Abortion advocates maintain that male opponents of abortion have no right to an opinion on an issue that is purely a female phenomenon. Southern slaveowners screamed just as loudly when northern abolitionists opposed slavery, arguing that northerners had no right to intrude into a strictly southern economic model. If men, like myself, have no right to oppose abortion, then 19th century abolitionists should have had no right to oppose slavery.
  6. Our country prides itself on being a modern sophisticated nation. Why, then, do we not have a definition of when life begins? In the case of the New York law, where does abortion leave off and infanticide begin?  Our legal system reflects a level of cowardice that makes the Dred Scott decision look like altruism.

I doubt that either side of the slavery issue, in 1858, foresaw a Civil War that would lead to nearly 750,000 combat deaths.  Ironically, abortion produced 750,000 U.S. deaths in 2010 alone.

I am sure that this editorial will prompt the usual keyboard dysentery from the pro-abortion crowd.  How ironic that the Democratic Party, now the pro-abortion party, was also the slavery party in the 19th century.

Equally ironic is that, for all the intelligence and capacity for reflection available in our country today, we are once again headed for a confrontation.  The pro-life advocates have tolerated abortion as legal, then abortion as a right/entitlement subsidized by tax dollars.  Companies have been taken to court for opposing employee access to abortion medication.  Planned Parenthood has made money selling fetal organs and has escaped prosecution; yet the abortion crowd screams when defunding is proposed.

However, this is not enough; now the absolute power of life or death extending beyond the birth process is being legislated on behalf of the possessor of the  involved uterus.  I make this observation because the law says ‘up to the time of delivery.’  That is open to interpretation.  Babies are born head first.  If the baby’s foot remains in the uterus, is delivery complete?  How about if the placenta has not yet been delivered and the baby is still attached to it by the umbilical cord?

Will there be a second American Civil War?  Probably so, and for strangely similar reasons. The extremists of the 19th century now walk among us.

Dennis Garvin / Roanoke