Politics & Policy

Ben Carson Is Right to Compare Abortion to Slavery

(Chip Somodevilla/Getty)

This weekend, Ben Carson did what he does best. He clearly and plainly stated a mainstream conservative view that most Republican politicians dare not utter — in this case, that the debate over abortion is comparable to the debate over slavery. Speaking to NBC’s Chuck Todd, Carson said: “During slavery — and I know that’s one of those words you’re not supposed to say, but I’m saying it — during slavery, a lot of slave owners thought they had the right to do whatever they wanted to that slave, anything that they chose. And what if the abolitionists had said, ‘I don’t believe in slavery, but you guys do whatever you want’? Where would we be?”

Carson’s statement is an entirely mainstream, pro-life view. As my National Review colleague Ian Tuttle wrote in July, the debate over abortion is “every bit as urgent a question of justice, of fidelity to our fundamental tenets” as the debate over slavery. He continued: “In the Civil War, we fought to vindicate every man’s right to liberty. What is at stake in the current conflict is the only right more fundamental: that of life.”

Throughout my entire career, pro-life Americans have made the argument that the moral dimensions of the case for life are similar to the moral dimensions of the case against slavery. In both instances, the abhorrent practice rested on dehumanization: the declaration that black Africans were somehow innately inferior to whites, and the declaration that unborn children are somehow less than fully and completely human.

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To many of the defenders of slavery, the practice was an appropriate, paternal response to a race incapable of governing itself, a race that needed instruction and guidance to take its place among the peoples of the world. Robert E. Lee’s view that slaves were “immeasurably better off here than in Africa, morally, physically, and socially” was common. In fact, Lee held that slavery was a transitional phase. “The painful discipline [slaves] are undergoing is necessary for their further instruction as a race, and will prepare them, I hope, for better things,” he wrote in 1856. In other words, even the most “benign” of slave owners (Lee also called slavery a “moral and political evil” and thought it would die a natural, God-ordained death) believed in fundamental differences between black and white.

#share#Abortion-rights advocates believe something even more radical and profound — something worse than racist — that unborn children aren’t really people at all. They’re merely “potential” people or “clumps of cells” not much more distinct than a tumor or an ingrown toenail. In other words, while the Constitution declared slaves to be only three-fifths of a person, the sexual revolutionaries have persuaded the Supreme Court that an unborn child is no person at all. This view is held despite undeniable scientific evidence — from a knowledge base of the human person far superior to the knowledge base available in the 19th century — that an unborn child is distinctly human from the moment of conception, possessing his or her own unique DNA, and that while the baby is dependent on the mother, he or she is not part of the mother.

Abortion-rights advocates believe something worse than racist — that unborn children aren’t really people at all.

The Left responded to Carson with predictable outrage, with Slate proclaiming that Carson “likens women seeking abortion to slave owners,” and outlets from Think Progress to Gawker to the Huffington Post reporting the statement as if its mere utterance were beyond the pale – as if there were no actual thought, no actual argument supporting his reasoning. (Gawker, for example, just called Carson’s statement “word garbage.”)

It is telling, however, that leftist media outlets not only failed to deal with the intellectual substance of Carson’s view, they also focused — as they always do — on allegations that Carson was demonizing women. Yet that’s not merely a caricature of Carson’s argument; it’s also a caricature of how the pro-life movement analyzes the morality of the abortion industry, an industry that preys upon millions of disproportionately poor and minority women by actively deceiving them about the status of their child, deploying rhetoric that minimizes or entirely denies the child’s fundamental humanity.

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In other words, while women seeking abortions bear moral responsibility for their actions, that responsibility generally pales in comparison with the moral responsibility of the abortionist. Even worse than a slave-owner, the abortionist is a mass killer who possesses scientific knowledge far superior to all but the tiniest percentage of his or her patients. The abortionist knows the facts about the baby’s distinct DNA. The abortionist knows the gruesome reality of the procedure itself. And by relentlessly fighting against common-sense informed-consent laws, the abortion industry actively seeks to perpetuate ignorance in their targeted population.

#related#While I have no idea whether the Carson boomlet will continue, his remarks — combined with Carly Fiorina’s furious denunciation of Planned Parenthood at the last GOP debate — demonstrate that the abortion debate is changing. The media can no longer count on shaming leading Republican candidates into politically correct silence or into the use of words that soften the true moral stakes of the abortion debate. If we’re going to have the argument, let’s have the argument — and in so doing, let’s not fear the Left. Abortion is worse than slavery, abortionists are worse than slave owners, and America needs to hear that bracing truth.

— David French is an attorney and a staff writer at National Review.

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