Tag Archives: pro-life

(Some of the Reasons) Why Slavery Has No Place in the Abortion Debate

Laurie and Debbie say:

As the battle for women’s reproductive rights heats up to even more insane levels, certain right-wing anti-abortion fanatics are comparing the rights of fetuses to the rights of slaves. (Never mind that some of these same people also want to repeal the 14th Amendment, which freed the slaves. We’re not going there.)

We found this through a superb post from scatx at Speaker’s Corner, which we’ll quote from as we go along. But read the whole post and the comments.

Rick Santorum, former United States senator and a probable Presidential candidate in 2012 (!) has said:

For decades certain human beings were wrongly treated as property and denied liberty in America because they were not considered persons under the constitution. Today other human beings, the unborn of all races, are also wrongly treated as property and denied the right to life for the same reason; because they are not considered persons under the constitution.

Simplistic fanatical claims like this one can sound almost convincing until you take a minute to notice that they are looking at an extremely narrow slice of what is always an extremely complex story. The simplification usually involves taking into account a tiny fraction of the viewpoints involved, and acting as if many of the central people and forces in the story simply don’t exist.

Santorum didn’t invent this analogy and he’s not the first prominent politician to use it, by any means. Ta-Nehisi Coates has one response which we think is particularly important.

The analogy necessarily holds that the enslaved were the equivalent of embryos–helpless, voiceless beings in need of saviors. In this view of American history, the saviors, much like the pro-life movement, are white. In fact, African-Americans, unlike, say, zygotes, were always quite outspoken on their fitness for self-determination. Indeed, from the Cimaroons to Equiano to Nat Turner to Harriet Tubman to the 54th regiment, slaves were quite vociferous on the matter of their enslavement. It is simply impossible to imagine the end of slavery without the action of slaves themselves. And it is equally impossible to say the same about the end of abortion, if only because fetuses are generally incapable of egressing from the womb and setting up maroon societies, publishing newspapers or returning to the womb to “liberate” other presumably endangered fetuses.

So one thing Santorum and his ilk are doing is erasing the agency, desires, and struggles of slaves.

Another thing they are doing is erasing the question of lives inevitably linked to other lives: notice the absence of mothers from this argument. Coates speaks to that also in an older post on the subject:

If you’re going to compare abortion and slavery, then, by God, understand that whereas mothers choose every day whether to bring children to term, no slave-master ever chose to have his slave escape. (To say nothing of comparing mothers with slave-masters!! Fuck, my brain is hurting.)

Scatx takes yet another tack, by pointing out and examining the role of slave women in this analogy and in the real world:

This reading of history removes the enslaved female all together (which is, incidentally, how much of the history of the enslaved is written – “the enslaved” is assumed to be male unless otherwise noted. …)

When people talk about slavery and abortion as if they existed in two separate realities, they are ignoring so much and giving enslaved women very little credit and no agency. At the same time … having a child as an enslaved woman was not the wonderful thing we like to imagine motherhood and childhood to be. I think that is really important when we think of the institution of slavery, abortion nowadays, and the history of enslaved women.

Here’s more from scatx:

… looking back through the lens of history and the eyes of enslaved women, the intersection of slavery and abortion doesn’t teach us that abortion is wrong and evil and inhumane. Instead, it teaches us that the lives of women are complicated, often dependent on resources and support beyond themselves, dictated by people whose interest in their bodies are divergent from their own and callously so. Also, it shows us that the moral arguments around abortion often exist in direct relationship to larger ideas about economics and who has the right to a woman’s body.

If you do take the time to understand the intertwined history of abortion and slavery, it becomes painfully difficult to assert that abortion is wrong. Because then you must defend the slaveholder who wanted the enslaved woman to birth that child so that he could enslave them both (even as he probably used religion and morality, rather than economics and labor, as his excuse and defense for why one shouldn’t turn to abortion). Who would be willing to fault the enslaved woman who aborted her fetus because she didn’t want that child to be a slave? Who would be willing to fault the enslaved woman who aborted her fetus because she physically could not bear the burden of labor and pregnancy? Who would be willing to fault the enslaved woman who aborted her fetus as a punishment to the man who raped her, barely fed her, barely clothed her, denied her religion, denied her liberty, and whipped her when she worked too slowly, made a mistake, or attempted to flee? Who would be willing to fault the enslaved woman who aborted her fetus to protect her life and to save the evils of her life from those of her child? To include the history of enslaved women in the history of slavery and then compare that history to abortion is not easy.

To equate abortion to slavery involves at least three viciously dehumanizing oversimplifications: you have to forget or ignore the fact that slaves had agency and were capable of independent thought and action; you have to forget or ignore that there are living human mothers involved in the futures of fetuses, and you have to forget or ignore that there were enslaved women who were also living human mothers. These are only three of the dimensions you have to ignore to take this analogy seriously.

Thanks to Stefanie for the pointer!

Sarah Palin: Stick to the Real Issues

Laurie and Debbie say:

Sarah Palin is a terrible choice for vice president. To pick just a few reasons: 1) she’s vehemently anti-choice; 2) it seems likely that she pulled strings to get her sister-in-law’s ex-fiancee fired (and at least one other public figure got fired along the way); and 3) she reportedly believes in banning books from libraries.

These are good reasons to oppose Palin. We are, however, disturbed by the media focus on her family life, her children, and her parenting, just as (even though neither of us were Hillary Clinton supporters), we hated to see the way her political enemies and the media kept creating criticisms based on her being a woman.

People are not consistent and people’s private lives are their own. It is virtually impossible to sort out the mother/daughter interactions of the people you know best, to be sure (for example) which actions reflect parental guidance and which reflect adolescent defiance.

And if you believe that a woman’s body is really her own, then you have to believe that having children at 17, or raising a child that might have been borne by your daughter (which it seems very clear that Palin did not do, but many other women have) is a woman’s private choice. If you believe that Bill Clinton’s behavior with Monica was either not an issue or “only an issue because he lied about it,” if you believe that Larry Craig had every right to be doing whatever he did in that men’s room in Minneapolis, then pointing fingers at Sarah Palin for her reproductive history and that of her daughters is hard to justify.

Both of us despise “abstinence only” sex education. However, we’ve known young women to get pregnant after every kind of sex education and parental intervention under the sun. Debbie can name you a case where the parents left condoms out for their three daughters with a “we’ll shake the box, refill it if it’s empty, and otherwise never look” deal and two of the three girls were pregnant out of wedlock before they were 18.

The same goes for how big a family “should” be before a mother “has” to stay home (or how able the children have to be). It even goes for “exposing your poor children to public scrutiny.” Hell, Chelsea Clinton was exposed to years of completely inappropriate fat jokes and other nastinesses, and is still a John McCain cheap-shot target, and even at the worst times of Bill Clinton’s presidency, there was no groundswell of “he’s a bad father because of what he’s doing to Chelsea.” If Barack Obama had an unmarried pregnant daughter, his political enemies and the media would be having a vicious field day that makes any controversy over Sarah Palin look like a polite disagreement at a formal wedding.

The litmus test is actually simple: can you imagine anyone criticizing a man because he accepted the vice-presidential nomination even though he has a child with Down syndrome? No? Then you know what that criticism is worth.

Men get criticized for who they have sex with, and when, and where, and whether or not they tell the truth about it. Women get criticized for how they deal with the results of sex. We say: attack Sarah Palin, and Larry Craig, and Dennis Vitter for their positions, not their behavior. Given who these people are in their public life, it shouldn’t even slow us down much.