Is the pro-abortion pro-slavery analogy valid?

13 Dec

What is the slavery-abortion analogy argument?  Allow me to quote from a previous post of mine:

Pro-choice argument: “Few people are ‘pro-abortion’.  But we recognize that abortion is a necessary evil.  Besides, not everyone agrees right now that fetuses are fully persons.  Further, there are just not enough resources to go around, to cover the burden of millions of new sickly or unwanted babies.  Aborting them in the womb is more humane that letting them live and watching them struggle with hardship and survival.  It’s just to simplistic to say, let em all live.  Maybe there will come a day when abortion is no longer necessary, but in the meantime, we must keep it safe, legal, and rare.”

Pro-life Response: Many people were not “pro-slavery” either.  They said, “We are not “pro-slavery” but we recognize that slavery is a necessary evil.  Besides, not everyone agrees right now that Africans are fully persons.  Further, there are just not enough resources to go around to cover the burden of millions of new free blacks. Keeping them enslaved is more humane than freeing them and watching them struggle with hardship and survival. It’s just too simplistic to say, let em all go.  Maybe there will come a day when slavery is no longer necessary, but in the meantime, society must work to keep it safe, legal, and rare

How valid is this argument?  From University of Missouri Political Scientist Justin Dyer:

Analogies between slavery and abortion are frequent in American politics. In his recent decision in Planned Parenthood v. Abbott (2013), federal district judge Lee Yeakel joined the long list of people who insist that abortion “is the most divisive issue to face this country since slavery.” Politicians and pundits from Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush to Alveda King and Laura Ingram have invoked the history of slavery when speaking about abortion. Mike Huckabee and Paul Ryan are the most recent conservative figures to make headlines for drawing analogies between these two issues.

Commentators on the left invariably denounce such comparisons, yet many show very little familiarity with the arguments they are denouncing. In a recent article for the Daily Beast, for example, Jamelle Bouie offered a confused commentary directed at Huckabee and Ryan. “That slaves, unlike embryos, were fully autonomous doesn’t seem to occur to either,” Bouie writes, “nor does do [sic] they seem to understand that the earliest abolitionists were slaves, a far cry from anti-abortion activists, who—from what I can tell—aren’t fetuses.”

Although pro-life activists—like all adult human beings—once were human beings in the fetal stage of human development, this is completely irrelevant to the actual points of the comparison. The analogies between slavery and abortion are made to highlight some legal, moral, or political principle thought to overlap both issues. There is certainly room to criticize and debate the merits of these analogies, but critical engagement first requires understanding.

Basic Moral Principles

The most frequent comparison between slavery and abortion is made at the level of basic morality. Slavery and abortion, many insist, each violate the basic moral principle that persons ought never to be treated as things to be used or discarded. In preparation for the 2005 Senate Judiciary Committee hearings on the legacy of Roe v. Wade, the original plaintiff in Roe, Norma McCorvey, submitted a document summarizing this point of comparison. “When slavery was constitutional,” she insisted, “we treated one class of humans as property. We are treating the humans in the mother’s womb as property and less than human when we say it is OK to kill them.”

Pro-lifers often argue that the social and linguistic dehumanization of enslaved human beings in nineteenth-century America is eerily similar to the dehumanization of human beings in the womb today. In Abortion: The Clash of Absolutes, liberal legal heavyweight and Harvard Law Professor Laurence Tribe conceded this possible moral connection between the two issues. Noting one feminist legal theorist’s contention that “fetal life has value when people with power value it,” Tribe responded that “the same thing was once said of slaves: the value of black Americans was less than the value of white Americans in the view of people with power.” Although Tribe is pro-choice, he at least acknowledges that the comparison between abortion and slavery on the level of basic morality is not groundless.

In reality, philosophers and legal scholars have been debating whether slavery and abortion are morally analogous for the last forty years. Two years before the Court rendered its decision in Roe v. Wade, Michael Tooley began an article in the prestigious journal Philosophy & Public Affairs “by considering the similarity a number of people have noted between the issue of abortion and the issue of Negro slavery.” Tooley’s article offered one of the first moral defenses of infanticide, and Tooley tried to distinguish the structure of his argument from the arguments once made in defense of slavery.

Read the rest here

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