Slavery and Abortion- Appropriate Analogy?

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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

A Time To Protest?

On Saturday morning, I attended a protest. I met with over three hundred people outside the local Planned Parenthood chapter to pray for the end of abortion in our country. I’m aware that this issue is a cultural flashing point right now, so I’m launching into this at the risk of stopping a conversation before it begins. I just ask that you hear me out. Truth be told, I had significant reservations about attending this protest. To be clear, I am committed to the prolife position for philosophical, scientific, and (if allowed) theological reasons. That said, I have avoided participating in events like the protest on Saturday out of principle. In this post, I’d like to briefly describe my initial reservations and then explain why I was encouraged by the endeavor.

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“Us” versus “Them”?

As I have detailed elsewhere, I want to strenuously avoid contributing to the intense polarity that exists in the discourse of such controversial issues today. Too often, these discussions quickly degenerate into fallacious reasoning and name calling all around. The question that must be asked is, doesn’t the very word ‘protest’ imply an absence of reasoned discussion, a capitulation to the ‘might makes right’ mentality? The loudest side wins? I gave this serious prayerful reflection and here is why I don’t think that protesting equals the forsaking of reasoned communication.

Brokenness with a Message

Simply put, Christians are called to speak out against the darkness that exists in our world. The trick is, we need to remember that this must be done in light of the darkness that exists in each of us. Ultimately, our message must fundamentally expose our own brokenness. We urge people to change their actions with humility because we know we are only broken tools. We are not pointing to realities that we aren’t fighting against ourselves. So, is there a time and a place for protest that can take into account this understanding of who we are? I think our protest on Saturday was an attempt at this kind of communication.

The Protest 

The primary goal of this protest was to pray for an increased awareness of abortion in our nation and to speak out against the treatment of the unborn in clinics like Planned Parenthood. There were many people, like myself, who had never participated in anything like this, but who wanted to visibly demonstrate their commitment to engaging this issue in our culture. As we talked and prayed together, we saw the need for a holistic grassroots fervor to shape our interactions with the uninformed and the apathetic alike. Many were visibly shaken. I heard a man ask God to forgive his complacency and commitment to worthless pursuits. Yes, there were a few (for lack of a better term) ‘patriots’ who came out to protest with animosity and a demonstrably different agenda than the others. These were by far in the minority.

To everything a season

What struck me during this gathering and afterwards was the beautiful fact that God, in His sovereignty, is calling each of us to do certain things at certain times. Indeed, there is truly a season for everything: weeping and laughing, speaking and keeping silence, singing and clinching our fists. We cannot make a lifetime of protesting. We are not made to perpetually bear the weight of the suffering and brokenness that exists in our world. Remember though, there is a time for prayer and fasting. If this doesn’t impress upon you the intense need that we have for wisdom in this age, nothing will. Think of it. At this moment around the world, the mosaic that is God’s church will be weeping, laughing, praying, singing, feasting, and fasting all at once. What is He calling you to do?

Let me know your thoughts about the prolife/prochoice debate in our country today. Are activities like the recent protests unwise choices for Christians attempting to winsomely engage the wider American culture?