HOME WELCOME ARTICLES ARCHIVES BIOGRAPHY FEEDBACK BLOG LINKS Abolition Then and Now: Abortion, Slavery and the Status Quo

February 3, 1995
Alan W. Dowd

The 1990s are beginning to resemble the turbulent 1850s, during which the moral-political debate spawned by slavery exploded into a violent clash of ideas and men, of abolitionism and plantationism.

A similar dynamic is at work today in the abortion crisis, which was sparked twenty-two years ago when the Supreme Court acted beyond its constitutional authority by making law. Roe vs. Wade, the Court’s means of legislating and nationalizing abortion, gave birth to a moral-political debate paralleled in its divisiveness only by the question of slavery. The fate of Roe and perhaps millions of children could be decided in the next decade; indeed, the collapse of the abortion status quo is within reach.

This conclusion deserves consideration not only because of the historical similarities between abolitionism and the anti-abortion movement. Equally important are the similarities between the respective reactions of the status quos--how the abortion advocacy’s reaction to the pro-life movement mirrors the slavery supporters’ reaction to abolitionism.

Consider the history of the abolitionist movement. Free men and women, most of them white, set out to reverse a horrible injustice and to change a policy that permitted slavery throughout the southern US. But before the abolitionists could change policy, they first had to change the hearts of those who were willing to perpetuate the status quo--those who occupied the political middle-ground. There would be no overnight success in this struggle. In fact, the American abolitionist movement toiled for twenty years before any significant gains were made in changing the hearts of American moderates.

In 1850, just a decade ahead of Lincoln’s election, nearly four million slaves supported the South’s $18 million tobacco and cotton industries. Abolitionist sermons against this peculiar institution had little effect, until first-hand accounts of slavery’s wickedness began filtering out of the South in the early 1850s. Uncle Tom’s Cabin, published in 1852, provided an early description of how the slavery status quo had destroyed entire families; how beatings and killings were common practice among plantationists; how the slave system had legitimized the dehumanization of millions of people. Thanks to Stowe’s work, the old order of slavery was increasingly seen as barbaric and backward.

However, the government supported the old order by passing fugitive slave laws, which enabled plantationists to pursue the death penalty against those who aided slaves in fleeing the South. US marshals often intervened on behalf of slaveholders in protecting the awful status quo of slavery, as slaveholders grew even more vicious in meting out punishments against runaway slaves.

Slave-owners in border states quieted dissent and intimidated thousands of abolitionists by calling the entire abolitionist cause violent and unconstitutional. By 1856, anti-abolitionist legislators were passing harsh pro-slavery laws. One such law made it a crime to "agitate against slavery." Another proscribed any written or verbal protest against slavery. In 1857, the Supreme Court affirmed the slavery status quo by declaring in the Dred Scott decision that slavery could not be outlawed or reversed.

It was this harsh and rigid reaction--along with countless stories describing slavery’s inhumanity--that finally exposed the slavery system as an evil that had to be exorcized, thus changing the hearts of those wedged between the abolitionists and plantationists.

Some key aspects of the abortion crisis indicate that we are in the midst of a similar moment--that we are even now witnessing the collapse of the abortion status quo. In fact, the very same agent that changed America’s heart in the 1850s and buried the slave system with the elections of 1860 is responsible for the impending demise of the abortion industry.

This powerful force is information. More first-hand accounts of the mechanics and consequences and costs and waste and violence and profitability of abortion are available today than at any time in the past two decades.

Above all, these accounts illustrate that un-born children are not the only victims of the abortion industry. Scores of studies--often suppressed by the media and dismissed by the abortion advocacy--trace cancer and infertility to abortion. Like weary soldiers recounting the horrors of combat, women who have had abortions are warning their sisters not to follow their path. Their psychological and physical scars expose the truth about abortion. According to these survivors, neither euphemism nor appealing slogans can ease the pain that remains after abortion.

Medical researchers edge ever closer to confirming what pro-lifers have always known-- that the miraculous development and growth of human life after birth is only a reflection of what occurs prior birth. Science is finally recognizing that the changes which occur between conception and the end of the first week, or first month are no less a part of life than the changes that take place between the ages of 1 and 20, or 30 and 60. To interrupt at any moment this development, which begins with the frailty of conception and ends at the frailty of old age, is to take a human life.

Repentant abortionists are now detailing the savagery of their industry: Converted clinicians describe how unborn children writhe in pain during the abortion procedure; Bernard Nathanson, who performed at least 60,000 abortions in the 1970s and 1980s, uses the podium and airwaves not only to educate America on the realities of abortion, but also to ask forgiveness for his inhumanity.

The numbers are also beginning to speak. The abortion industry, with its annual harvest of 1.4 million lives, generates a whopping three-quarters of a billion dollars per year. The abortion status quo has erased 34 million unborn children since 1973, claiming more than 5,000 per day.

This information explosion was ignited not by vigilante gunmen who murder abortionists, but by genuine pro-lifers who have converted thousands of members of the abortion status quo through their prayerful persuasion and peaceful disobedience. The abortion industry’s reaction to the release of this information bears a striking resemblance to the slave system's reaction to 1850s abolitionism.

Today, as in the 1850s, the government is working to preserve a barbaric status quo. President Clinton has permitted researchers to resume the harvesting of fetal tissue. The government has cleared the way for an abortion pill to be produced and dispersed in the United States. The Clinton Administration advocated a radical United Nations plan to control birth rates in depressed nations by instituting a global abortion regime. With the stroke of his pen, the president rescinded his predecessors' orders that prohibited federally-funded clinics from discussing abortion as an alternative to pregnancy. Now, with the so-called "gag rule" erased, abortion is often the only alternative presented to women in crisis pregnancies.

Calling the pro-life movement a dangerous and violent group of extremists, the abortion status quo passed in mid-1994 a set of sweeping restrictions against abortion opponents, limiting their right to "agitate against" abortion. These measures criminalize the "intimidation" of people entering abortion clinics, and give local governments the authority to restrict and closely monitor the actions of pro-life demonstrators and organizations.

The draconian reactions of the abortion advocacy mark the beginning of the end of the abortion nightmare. Consider that there were 210,000 fewer abortions last year than in the previous year. 210,000 hearts were changed. Consider the elections of 1994, which saw dozens of pro-life candidates, both Democrats and Republicans, win the support of American moderates. They are already moving forward with plans to dismantle Roe’s killing machine. The "gag rule" will be re-instated, and fetal tissue research will be de-funded. The emerging pro-life majority in Congress will also end federal assistance to Planned Parenthood.

Some legislators have even predicted that legislation rolling-back Roe will be introduced during the next Congress, coinciding perhaps with the return of Lincoln's party to the White House. This would be a fitting way of ending the abortion crisis, albeit long overdue.

The latter-day abolitionists have discovered in their fight against abortion that changing hearts is no easy task, but nor is it a futile or impossible endeavor. America's heart is changing; and if history is any guide, Roe and its abortion mills are destined to meet the same end as slavery and the plantations