Slavery and Abortion: A Legitimate Comparison

by Roger Resler

When the pro-abortion left finds something particularly annoying I take notice. It usually means they’ve encountered a solid argument they don’t want to (or can’t) confront with sound logic and reason and must therefore resort to emotional attacks, logical fallacies and name-calling. Case in point: the analogy between abortion and slavery. Most pro-abortion/pro-choice proponents find the comparison particularly bothersome. Take this article by Imani Gandy for example. The title alone: Abortion Is Not Like Slavery, So Stop Comparing the Two, conjures Shakespeare’s famous adage: “The lady doth protest too much, methinks.”  

Holding nothing back right out of the gate, Gandy describes the comparison between slavery and abortion as “nonsense, devoid of fact and logic, stripping women of agency and co-opting this country’s brutal racial history to score a political point against ideological foes.” To support this thesis, Gandy begins with a bold half-truth: “Abortion is not slavery, nor is it comparable to slavery.” While obviously correct that abortion is not slavery, the idea that the two are not legitimately comparable is wishful thinking. It is precisely the legitimacy of the comparison that annoys pro-choice proponents.

Gandy writes: “An abortion is a medical procedure that results in the termination of a pregnancy,” while, “slavery, on the other hand, was the centuries-long system under which Black men and women were treated not as human beings, with attendant freedom and liberty, but as chattel—human property owned by other humans, stripped of their freedom and cruelly forced to work under inhumane conditions.”

No doubt the irony of Gandy’s prose escapes her. Nevertheless, it’s striking that she correctly identifies a key injustice of slavery – that human beings were treated as non-humans – while simultaneously employing exactly the same treatment to the primary victims of abortion and then stepping it up a notch by ignoring their very existence. By Gandy’s definition abortion merely terminates a pregnancy, whereas slavery oppresses human beings. The irony becomes even clearer when you consider that slave owners used the same type of “reasoning” to justify their actions: slaves were not humans, they were property. There were therefore no human victims of slavery and consequently no injustice. Similarly, the unborn are not humans, they are instead “a pregnancy” – a mere condition occurring within the body of a pregnant woman – and therefore there is no human victim of abortion and consequently no injustice.

The purpose of an argument from analogy is to consider similarities between a non-controversial situation and a controversial one with the hope that insight can be gleaned as to how best to proceed or react to the controversy. Gandy seems to understand this when she writes:

“Comparisons between abortion and slavery are popular among the anti-choice crowd because most people agree that slavery is morally wrong. If anti-choice forces can equate slavery and abortion, and draw parallels between an “unborn” person and an enslaved person, then surely no morally righteous person could continue to defend abortion as a medical procedure that enables women to retain some modicum of control over the [sic] physical selves and their economic realities.”

So Gandy herself acknowledges that if parallels can be drawn between “an ‘unborn’ person and an enslaved person,” then it logically follows that “no morally righteous person could continue to defend abortion.” Hence the frustration. This begs the question: Can unborn humans legitimately be compared to enslaved humans? Obviously Gandy doesn’t think so. But what reasonable grounds does she offer to reject the comparison? She continues:

“Such arguments are the bread and butter of the rabid anti-choice crowd—who ignore any discussion of the hostile birthing environment that exists for women of color and low-income women to this day. Moreover, such arguments ignore the horror that slavery was for Black people, and the unique ways in which Black women in particular suffered under slavery.”

So far Gandy’s logic suggests that one reason unborn humans can’t be compared to enslaved humans is because the “rabid anti-choice crowd” ignores discussions about the “hostile birthing environment that exists for women of color and low-income women to this day.” Needless to say, even if Gandy had offered concrete support to this fantastically broad claim (which she doesn’t), it would still be a completely irrelevant point. If it could be demonstrated, for example, that “the rabid anti-choice crowd” were actually paying attention to discussions about hostile birthing environments would Gandy then concede that comparisons between the unborn and slaves are now acceptable? I doubt it. So, in addition to being ridiculous on its face, the point is useless.

Gandy then moves on to offer support for the second part of her thesis which suggests that the slavery/abortion comparison ignores “the horror that slavery was for Black people, and the unique ways in which Black women in particular suffered under slavery.” To illustrate this point she criticizes Texas Federal Judge Lee Yeakel’s opinion, in Planned Parenthood et al. v. Abbott. According to Gandy, Judge Yeakel wrote: “almost as if he were apologizing to the anti-choice forces that worked so hard to ram HB 2 through the Texas legislature.” Here is the section Gandy quotes and finds particularly offensive (emphasis Gandy’s):

“Today there is no issue that divides the people of this country more than abortion. It is the most divisive issue to face this country since slavery. When compared with the intensity, emotion, and depth of feeling expressed with regard to abortion, the recent arguments on affordable healthcare, increasing the debt ceiling, and closing the government retreat to near oblivion. Sincere and caring persons of good will are found on both sides of the issue, but neither side will ever change the position of the other.”

Gandy’s primary objection to Judge Yeakel’s words is the inference she imposes on them that “sincere and caring persons of goodwill” could be found on opposing sides of the slavery issue. The glaring fallacy is that Judge Yeakel never suggested what Gandy infers from his statement. Nevertheless, Gandy takes Judge Yeakel to task by suggesting that:

“His characterization of slavery, well-meaning though it may be—is based on a romanticized notion of slavery that simply never existed. In Judge Yeakel’s hagiographic version of slavery, well-meaning white folks were to be found on both sides of the issue. This is simply not true.”

I’m sorry, but this is absurd. What is “simply not true” is the notion that Judge Yeakel expressed any view of slavery in the statement Gandy quotes, much less a hagiographic version of it. If Judge Yeakel has a particular view of slavery, he certainly didn’t express it in this quote. To be clear, he never claimed there were sincere and caring persons of good will on both sides of the slavery issue. He merely claims that there are currently sincere and caring persons of good will on both sides of the abortion debate. In Gandy’s apparently black and white world, she may not be able to agree with that. Judge Yeakel’s suggestion that abortion is the most divisive issue to face this country since slavery does not imply that he also believes there were sincere and caring persons of good will on the pro-slavery side of the issue. That is an illegitimate inference that cannot be derived from his statement. To suggest that slavery was divisive is not to suggest that good and caring people could be found on both sides of the issue. But that’s entirely what the rest of Gandy’s thesis rests on, which is why it fails.

To punctuate her error, Gandy asks: “We are talking about the same slavery, right?” and then proceeds as if the strawman she’s fallaciously erected is an accepted and necessary component of any comparison between abortion and slavery. She accurately describes the genuine evils of slavery such as “the slavery that saw human beings beaten into submission” and “the slavery that saw Black female slaves exploited as breeding mares and sexual objects ripe for rape” in an effort to contrast those genuine evils with her own illegitimately imposed inference of Judge Yeakel’s allegedly “romanticized notion of slavery.”

It becomes clear beyond doubt that Gandy either seriously misunderstands or is deliberating twisting Judge Yeakel’s words when she answers her own question:

“That is the slavery supported by ‘sincere and caring persons of good will’?

No.”

Utter nonsense. To reiterate, Judge Yeakel never said anything about slavery in the statement Gandy quotes other than the fact that it was divisive. The fact that a civil war was fought over the issue should provide adequate support for that assertion. Of course it’s true that slavery was evil. There’s no disagreement on that which is precisely why the analogy to abortion is perfectly valid.

Here’s the bottom line: If pro-choice proponents are correct that abortion merely “terminates a pregnancy” and there’s really no killing of any human involved in this otherwise safe and legal procedure, then they win. We can all pack up and move on to the next controversy. But suggesting something is true while ignoring clear evidence to the contrary is worse than merely acting out of ignorance. There is one thing that Gandy and I might actually agree on. Despite their condescending rhetoric, slave holders were well aware that black humans were human beings who suffered tremendous injustice because of their desire to own slaves. But because of her desire to be “pro-choice,” Gandy can’t agree with me that pro-choice proponents are well aware that unborn humans are human beings who suffer the ultimate injustice because of pro-choice proponents’ desire to keep abortion legal.