Thursday, November 18, 2010

On Abortion, Slavery and Censorship

Abortion is one of the most challenging and troubling moral issues of our times.  We should not be surprised, as is the case for most great moral challenges, that there are deep and powerful psychological pressures which work against abortion being openly considered, discussed and named for what it is. 

I am convinced that if most Victorians reflected, on the basis of accurate factual information, on what late-term or even mid-term abortion consists of, as an actual medical procedure, from the perspective of the unborn child, they would be repulsed. We do not desire to undergo this dark act of contemplation, so instead we avoid it at all costs.  We also banish contemplation of what it does to medical staff who are required to perform 'termination of pregnancy' procedures on a regular basis. 

We have found many ways of censoring our thoughts on the subject of abortion.

One way is to accuse those who wish to raise the issue of being disgusting, dishonest, misrepresenters of the truth, fanatics, extremists, or some other cowardly label of abuse. The resistance against having the discussion is so great that it is more convenient  to mount an attack against those who would bring the matter to our attention. 

The main part of this is fear – fear that we will find ourselves to be barbaric. 

Another way of silencing is to banish all concessions to the humanity of the unborn child from our thoughts.  This is why Victorian abortion laws make no provision for pain relief for foetuses being aborted – despite  evidence that they suffer pain – and we have no law which specifically protects the right to life of an aborted baby who has the misfortune to be born alive.  The USA has such a law, brought in as result of evidence  that such children were just being left to die – or worse, being killed – in America's hospitals.  The censoring of compassion is all about aborting our mental acts – banishing anything from our thoughts which might cause us to look upon the unborn child as a human person.  A a result, a newborn kitten has more legal rights in Victoria than an unborn human child: more right to live, more right to protection from physical harm, and simply more right to being treated with dignity.

Another censorship technique is to use the same old linguistic tricks which always cover over the shedding of blood. We prefer not to refer to foetal deaths, let alone killing the unborn, but instead speak of a 'common procedure',  to 'terminations of pregnancy', or even more clinically just to "TOPs".  Thus we tame with out tongues what our minds refuse to contemplate. 

I have found it deeply disturbing that when I rose to speak on this subject at two Melbourne Anglican Synods, I was prevented from speaking each time because members of the synod introduced procedural motions to stop the debate.  But I will not be silenced.  I will not simply shut up and simply submit to the fact that that my own church has rendered itself officially voiceless on this subject. We Melbourne Anglicans, as a denomination, have blood on our hands.  On my hands, if I remain silent.  This is why I am writing now. Out of a sense of communal guilt.

The reasons for having the discussion are compelling.  We repress them at our moral peril.

In this connection, I have been pondering the legal debates over slavery in American in the nineteenth century.  It is striking that the arguments for slavery back then seem so eerily parallel to arguments for abortion today.  Augusto Zimmerman has written persuasively on the subject:
In a famous case decided in 1857, the US Supreme Court declared that black people had no human rights and, therefore, were entirely subject to the rights of slave-owners. A century later, in 1973, this very court also decided that unborn children had no human rights and, therefore, were entirely subject to the rights of women. Similarities between both sentences are too obvious to be just ignored. One of the justices who gave his dissenting vote on the abortion case declared quite prophetically: "From now on, women are free to abort for any reason and for no reason at all."

In 1857, the U.S. Supreme Court, in its famous Dred Scott case, defended slavery in these terms: 1) black slaves belong to their masters; 2) black slaves are not human persons before the law; 3) black slaves can only acquire human rights if they become free individuals; 4) those who think slavery is morally wrong do not need to have slaves, but shall not impose their 'personal' opinion upon others; 5) masters have the right to do whatever they want with their property, including black slaves; 6) slavery is better for the black people. Otherwise, they would have to face complex moral choices which their so-called 'inferior' condition not allow them to resolve satisfactorily.

In 1973, the U.S. Supreme Court, in Roe vs. Wade, employed these arguments to decriminalise abortion: 1) unborn children belong to their mothers; 2) unborn children are not human persons before the law; 3) unborn children can only have human rights if they are born alive; 4) those who think abortion is morally wrong do not need to have an abortion, but shall not impose their 'personal' opinion upon others; 5) women have the right to do whatever they want with their property (bodies), which includes unborn children; 6) abortion is better for unwanted and/or disabled children. Otherwise, they would suffer on account of maternal rejection and/or mental and/or physical condition.
As can be seen, the U.S. Supreme Court adopted a similar reasoning in order to decide on both cases of slavery and abortion, with judges denying the moral status of black people and unborn children. If we compare the arguments used by the court to justify slavery and abortion, it becomes clear that unborn children were regarded as the same beings of an inferior order as black people from a century earlier.
The comparison was put movingly by former African-American US presidential candidate Alan Keyes, in a speech given in San Francisco on March 4, 2000:
See, people wonder why it is, Alan, everywhere he goes, he always brings up this issue of abortion. And I never go anywhere without mentioning it. Why? Because abortion is to our time what slavery was to the 19th century. If anyone of conscience went anywhere in the 19th century and did not confront the American people with the evil of slavery, then they were not doing what statesmanship required. Slavery was what discarded and rejected and denied the fundamental principle of right and justice in America. And what was done in the name of slavery then is done for the sake of abortion now. The paradigm of it is quite clear.

What is it that is the argument made in favor of abortion? You can see it in Roe vs. Wade and everything else. It's a privacy argument. And privacy based on what? "Well, this is the woman's body and she has the right to decide what goes on with it." You start from that. And this child, this babe, this fetus in the womb, what is it? "Well, it's a part of her body, utterly dependent on her body, not viable apart from her body. She has, therefore, absolute power over this being, and given that absolute power, she has the absolute right to dispose of it according to her will."

We don't recognize what that's saying. What that's saying is that power makes for right. Might makes for right. If I have you in my power, I may dispose of you and your life according to my will. And if that argument is now accepted and we have embraced it as a fundamental principle of law, then we have rejected the right principle. For, if our most basic and conditional right, the right to life itself, comes to us not from God but from our mother's choice, then there is no human right that transcends in its claim human choice and human power. Abortion is the paradigm – the ultimate paradigm – of despotism, tyranny, oppression, slavery, holocaust.

And I see this all the time. I was down in South Carolina not long ago, and a young lady comes up to me, after I had given a talk just like this, and she says, "I was listening to your speech, and I want to know how come you can prefer the rights of potential persons to those of actual persons." I'll never forget that moment, because she was the very paradigm. If you want to think of some little slip-of-a-thing that projected the very wonderful wholesome air of American womanhood--and she was speaking to me in, what? In the chilling language of holocaust and atrocity. And she didn't even know what she was doing.

I looked at her and I said, "You know, I have a 17-year-old son. How old are you?" And she said, "19." And I said, "You know you make a very rash assumption in what you ask me there," and she looked at me quizzically. And I said, "Because, given my experience with my 17-year-old son, I have to tell you, there are many days on which I'm not entirely sure that people of your age are actual persons at all."  
And then to drive the point home even further, I looked at her and I said, "And I hope you don't think that I will hear those words and forget that 120, 130-odd years ago, Frederick Douglass had to go in front of audiences with a speech entitled, 'That the Negro is a man,' to prove that he and others like me were 'actual persons.'"

See, why do people forget this? They speak this cold-blooded language to people like myself, as if we're too stupid to remember that the day before yesterday we were not considered "actual persons," and that if today we deny the principle on which we stood in order to demand respect for our humanity, if we deny it to those human beings in the womb, it will be denied once again to us and to others. Because then it just becomes a matter of who you can get on your side to draw the line between humanity and non-humanity, personhood and non-personhood. And then the majority can oppress, and the powerful can abuse, and those who end up on the wrong side have nothing.
Of this I am convinced, that future generations will look back in horror upon us, and wonder at our callous cruelty.  This is how I regard the state of Victoria today, at the present time.  On this issue, our moral state is comparable to that of slave owning societies in North America before the civil war.  No, it is worse.  Their moral crimes resulting in the imprisonment of human beings.  Ours result in deaths.

Not for the sake of politeness; nor for the sake of being well thought of by my peers; nor for the sake of avoiding offending the sensibilities of others; nor for the sake of wishing to appear 'moderate' – not for any of these reasons will I remain silent about abortion in this state.


  1. We have not met but I was at the New Cranmer pre-synod meeting where you outlined your abortion motion.

    Thank you for your latest blog post, ever since I first heard of the fact of abortion (over 20 years ago while in my teens) I have been horrified by societal attitudes to it. Unfortunately I have never had any idea how to do anything positive.

    I recently came across something called 'The Babes Project' based in Melbourne, I am hoping that may be one way I can get involved.

    One thing that particularly disturbs me is the way that even people who are opposed to abortion refuse to speak openly because they know people will be offended or hurt. It astounds me that otherwise 'right thinking', orthodox Christians will censor themselves rather than cause offense. If the offense was needless I would understand but not in this case.

    Once more thank you, and if you have any suggestions for how ordinary people like myself (and my wife) can make a difference in this situation please let me know.

  2. Dear David, the site gives information on how to vote prolife and assist prolife candidates at the election this Sunday.

  3. It is encouraging to hear you standing firm for the most vulnerable in our society.

    I must admit I find it really discouraging when even our churches fail to make a stand against abortion. You mention the Anglican church, but they are hardly the only one with their head in the sand. What price is our society paying in the spiritual realm based on our slaughter of so many babies.

    Our society spouts on and on about rights, tolerance, respect, equality, etc, and yet is willing to kill tens of thousands of babies each year in Australia. We are an awfully sick society.


  4. I am outspoken on this topic too (particularly on facebook), and I get called nasty names even by Christians. It might keep me quiet for a little while while I recharge my batteries, but it doesnt shut me up. But I do find it amazing that people can be so cruel and disparaging to me, who is trying to be kind and stand up for the innocent. I cant understand that they can look at videos of actual abortions, and view pics of aborted babies, and tell me to mind my own business, it's a personal choice...

  5. God bless you for speaking out in defense of the defenseless!


  6. I am interested to know if you are against abortion in all circumstances. A woman who has been placed in such a situation, as a result of sexual abuse for instance, cannot be denied the right to choose. A 13 year old girl who becomes pregnant as a result of a sexual assault does not have the emotional stability or maturity to deal with such a horrific and scarring experience, let alone to live with a reminder of that experience, and cannot provide adequate care to give that child quality of life.

    I am a little alarmed at your encounter with the 19 year old woman. I believe her point may have been how can you prefer the rights of a ‘potential person’ to an actual person, say a young girl who has been through a severely traumatic experience such as sexual assault. To deny any woman of her right to choose flies in the face of your main argument. Yes, unborn children are humans. African-Americans, or ‘Negroes’ are humans. WOMEN are humans. And sometimes humans are placed in unthinkable circumstances. The decision to terminate a pregnancy is a very personal, individual one, as are the reasons for doing so. Women do not make such decisions en masse – it is not a societal epidemic. Each individual case is different and should be treated as such, rather than judged in terms of a blanket moral code.

    I am also critical of your response to the young woman, “there are many days on which I’m not entirely sure that people of your age are actual persons at all”. What are you actually saying here, that an embryo or unborn fetus is more of an ‘actual person’ than a young adult who is still discovering their place in the world, who they are, who they want to be? Your lack of faith in young people is disheartening. You make it seem as though young people are the only ones who have, are in favour of, and are flippant about, abortions. What would you say of a middle-aged woman who makes the decision to terminate a pregnancy? Is she an ‘actual person’? What is it about 17- and 19-year olds that does not make them an ‘actual person’? These decisions are not only made in young adulthood.

    Like you, I welcome discussion of such topics in public arenas, however I find it interesting that you condemn a decision that you yourself will never have to make. I also find it interesting that two of your readers who left comments are also male. Peter, you say that our society ‘spouts on and on about rights, tolerance, respect and equality’, how about showing some for the women and young girls who may one day have to go through such a traumatic experience?


  7. Dear Melissa - thanks for your response and questions.

    I am not opposed to abortion in all circumstances.

    You wrote "I am a little alarmed at your encounter with the 19 year old woman." Please do not be alarmed. If you re-read the post carefully, you will see that this was not my encounter, but a meeting between Alan Keyes, an Africa-American former presidential candidate, and a 19-year old person.

    Re: 'I am also critical of your response to the young woman, “there are many days on which I’m not entirely sure that people of your age are actual persons at all”.'
    I think Keyes (not me) was trying to challenge the young person into thinking through the implications of presuming to decide whether someone else is a person or not. As she is willing to do this for the unborn, what principled objection could she have to someone else presuming to decide whether she herself is a person or not?

    I don't think Keyes was implying that only young people support abortion. Nor was he saying that younger people are less human because of their age: quite the opposite in fact.

    Re: "I find it interesting that you condemn a decision that you yourself will never have to make." Sometimes when people say something is 'interesting', what they really mean is that they don't like it. It seems you dislike men expressing a negative opinion about abortion.

    First, your argument is just like the argument used to support slavery - see point (4) above in the Supreme Court case about slavery. Point (4) was: "those who think slavery is morally wrong do not need to have slaves, but shall not impose their 'personal' opinion upon others". Your logic, applied to slavery, would imply that someone who does not own slaves should not criticize someone who does.

    Second, around 50% of aborted babies (less in China or India) are male. This fact alone makes abortion a men's issue. (You insist on seeing this solely from the viewpoint of the mother, not from the child.)

    Third, all aborted babies are human. I too am human. I presume to express opinions about the human rights of others, and not just my own personal human rights, or the rights of groups I belong to. Justice could never be achieved if people were only allowed to speak up for their own personal rights.

    Fourth, I am interested to explore how rigorously you apply the principle that only those who make a decision should be permitted to express critical views about it. Should women who are unable to become pregnant also be denied an opinion on abortion? And do you equally object to men being pro-choice, on the grounds that this is not a decision they have to make?

  8. Thanks, Mark! You're right, few people in Victoria actually realise how terrible our current laws are. At first, when I chat about the state of our current laws, I'm greeted with skepticism, but I'm finding if I follow up with a few interesting links, people are coming back amazed and appalled. They had no idea! Then they start to talk to their friends and so on. Things that are so obviously wrong, such as the denial of the right to pain relief for an unborn baby, and late-term and partial-birth abortions are great starting points.
    Keep up the great work. God bless you.

  9. Mark;

    I am glad that there are many people out there that will stand up for the weak and unprotected.

    Your comment about having blood on our hands is chilling, unless we stand up and protest. God had the same charge for the watchmen of Israel. The Anglican Church (which we are members of) is not alone in refusing to take a stand, but I wonder if it is heading the way?

    As an American and personally involved with abortion (in the past), I can see a process happening that also seems to reflect what happened in America in 1860: Civil War. How many millions of people died and/or were severely affected by the single decision to support the individual choice over moral considerations? Will the civil war start in Victoria with similar effects? If so, would the real Christians be the first to volunteer for front-line conditions (with resulting casualities)?

    Keep up the excellent, GOD-inspired rebellion!

    Robert Wickstead

  10. Thank you for your frank and open discussion. As you mention this is not a subject people want to talk about. Some people are ignorant of the problem of abortion through lack of information, others choose to ignore the available information. If we (pro-life) can make ourselves as knowledgeable about abortion as possible and are willing to discuss it with as many people as possible we have the chance to change society. I read Melissa's post above with some alarm. I am a woman with 3 small children. Before the Victoria legislation was passed I was neither pro-choice or pro-life , it was simply not something that I had not thought deeply about- I respected the choice argument though I valued human life. For over 18 months I have researched abortion- pro-life, pro-choice arguments, read testimonies, talked to woman and families affected by abortion and unplanned pregnancy. I have become strongly pro-life. I would challenge any other "fence-sitters" to do the same. Abortion is not a choice most woman want to make. Statistics show that over 60% of women who have abortions are coerced into having them and 80% do not receive counselling. There is a real need for women (and their partners and family) to be protected from abortion. The unborn child is not the only victim of abortion.

  11. Kirsty - I agree with you. Women are also victims. I am so glad you have devoted time and care to thinking deeply about this important issue.

  12. Mark, I was interested to read you are not opposed to abortion in all situations. If you are willing to share I would be interested to know in what situations you think abortion is justified.

    Also, Melissa wanted me to show some tolerance and respect I think for mothers going through an abortion. Well, that statement could be thrown back at mothers; when are they going to show some tolerance and respect for the unborn human beings?


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