“The Insistent Analogy to Slavery”

Just a heads up – this particular post might arouse some vitriolic feelings in a reader. Before continuing, please understand this is merely a discussion of a recent article I read. I am not espousing any particular view on abortion, nor am I the least bit interested in getting into a debate on the morality of it. I have my views, your have yours – just leave it there. 

I recently read an article by Michael Stokes Paulsen called “The Insistent Analogy to Slavery.” While a very interesting read in many respects, the article was perhaps difficult to read, as it seemed to me that the author made no attempt at objectivity. Quite the opposite, he states from the outset that his views on the issue for discussion have been long held and oft written about (by him). The view he espouses is the notion that the moral framework and arguments in favor of pro-choice are the same as those pro-slavery arguments made in the antebellum south. Furthermore, the article calls into question the so-called ‘shaky constitutional ground’ upon which Roe v. Wade, and Planned Parenthood v. Casey stand.

Naturally, after browsing through the article’s Abstract, I couldn’t not read it. It seemed to me that it would be a perfect supplement to the slavery discussions we have had of late.

The author places primacy upon the “moral status” of the party being harmed. In the simplest of terms, the author makes the claim that those who are pro-choice are of the mindset that the fetus to be terminated is less than human, in much the same way that the pro-slavery argument presupposed – according to the author – that persons of color were less than human. Conversely, the author makes the point that the opposite is true of anti-abortion and anti-slavery arguments.

This is the portion of the argument that interested me most – in fact the rest of the article was a disappointingly biased tirade. But this notion of the sub-human argument put forth here demands some discussion, on the slavery point of view, and not the abortion point of view. We can see through an honest reading of our own history that slaves were not considered human in the eyes of the law; rather they were classified as chattels. However, as discussed earlier, there were certain oddities in the slave codes that seemed to recognize, on at least some fundamental level, that this classification of humans as property was an untenable denigration – and not necessarily (certainly less so over time) of some divine origin, as the article suggest.

The very fact that the slave codes were written in such a way as to make illegal the teaching of slaves to read, or the provisions forbidding trade with slaves, or all manner of provisions that made menacing actions by non-whites of either slave or free status punishable by death, was testament to the fact that those writing these laws recognized the humanity of these individuals. Note, I said recognized not respected; the two are wholly distinct in nature, and while one is a necessary condition for the other, in no way is one a sufficient condition for the other.

How do these laws recognize the humanity of these individuals? The simple act of creating laws that suppress the likelihood of slave revolt, on a scale unheard of since Spartacus, is testament to the fear that was felt in relation to this possibility. It was known then, as we assume now, that humans, forced to endure too much, and having the capacity to organize, will do so and will do so by force when necessary.

Perhaps more on this tomorrow, unless I find something more interesting.

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2 thoughts on ““The Insistent Analogy to Slavery””

  1. That is an interesting concept.

    To the leading discussion about abortion. In the past I had pointe out the contradictory attitude of our population on the matter. It is true that a woman may have an abortion and it does appear to be true that the justification is that the fetus/baby is subhuman. Yet, if a woman is pregnant and has not yet given birth nor had an abortion and someone brings her harm that causes miscarriage this is considered an attrocity. To the degree that I have read of people being charged with murder or double manslaughter after hitting a pregnant woman with a car. (Notice I said charged I do not know if they were convicted).

    That being said, society cannot have it both ways. Either a fetus is a human an a woman committing murder when she destroys it, or it is not a human and hitting a pregnant woman in the stomach with a baseball bat is nothing more than aggravated assault.

    Or we can make a new argument.

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