Over the course of my Civil War & Reconstruction class this semester, my thoughts have repeatedly drifted to the March for Life. Amelia Irvine, the president of GU Right to Life, carried a sign that cold January day with a message that still lingers in the back of my mind.
“Abortion? The Supreme Court Once Legalized Slavery,” it read.
One of the most haunting questions about the Civil War is how our nation, ostensibly “conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal,” not only permitted but, at times, glorified the practice of enslaving other human beings. The more I read about it, the greater the parallels I find between nineteenth century America and society today. A century and a half after the Civil War, our civilization not only permits but often glorifies the practice of violently murdering the most innocent and defenseless among us.
In the antebellum South, slavery came to transcend something that was merely a “peculiar institution” — a necessary evil that ensured economic success. It evolved into a practice that was, in the minds of Southerners, “ordained by God,” as the historian Charles B. Dew notes. While early defenses of the institution focused on its economic merits, as the nineteenth century progressed, support for slavery took on moral and religious dimensions. Southerners, especially evangelical Protestants, employed their conception of divine Providence to justify their belief that God Himself had ordained not only the South’s iteration of slavery but the fledgling nation which was founded upon it. The Reverend J. W. Tucker of North Carolina, for instance, articulated as much to his congregation in 1862 when he called the Confederate defense of slavery “sacred” and “glorious.”
The lengths that Southerners went to convince themselves that slavery was the “cornerstone” of their “covenant” with God are strikingly similar to the lengths abortion rights lobbyists go today. Much like the slave owners of the past, such advocates for ‘reproductive rights’ delude themselves into believing that abortion is not only morally permissible but a positive good. Many of the arguments that these people employ to defend such beliefs – such as that life does not begin at conception or that there is a difference between personhood and humanity, for instance – seem formulated specifically so as to allow for abortion. As a result, they fail to see the greater implications, and thus the contradictions, in their arguments much the same way God-fearing slave owners once did.
Even more disturbing, however, is the penchant that members of the pro-choice movement on campus have for perverting Georgetown’s beloved Jesuit values for their own purposes. Members of H*yas for Choice, for instance, have deluded themselves into imagining that these values justify abortion. To suggest that an order of Catholic priests, who by definition of being in communion with the Church believe that abortion is a “moral evil” and “gravely contrary to the moral law,” somehow endorse such an agenda is ludicrous.
“Georgetown’s ethics of cura personalis and being ‘men and women for others’ support the logic of reproductive justice,” one student wrote on the H*yas for Choice blog. She asserted that in escorting women to abortion clinics, her club’s members are “truly caring for the whole person.” This understanding of ‘caring for the whole person’ – one that involves denying the humanity of other human beings and promoting the murder of unwanted children – is, of course, wholly antithetical to the idea of cura personalis.
Moreover, her assertion that the Jesuit ideal of being ‘men and women for others’ somehow supports her conception of “reproductive justice” is similarly distorted. Georgetown’s Mission and Ministry website describes the roots of the creed “men and women for others” on its website. The ideal stems from a presentation by Fr. Pedro Arrupe, S.J., who challenged Jesuit-educated individuals “to be engaged in the struggle for justice to protect the needs of the most vulnerable.” There is, of course, no population more vulnerable than the unborn. That abortion supporters employ the notion of “men and women for others” to support access to the ‘right’ to murder this most vulnerable of populations is a disgusting misappropriation of values.
Reflecting on slavery from our vantage point in the twenty-first century, it is painful to consider the reality of the atrocities of slavery. Perhaps even more difficult is attempting to comprehend how millions of Americans could not only have engaged in and supported the practice but also convinced themselves that it was economically necessary, morally right and even, as was said, “ordained by God.” Indeed, they paternalistically felt that God called them to care for helpless slaves by taking away their liberties, a line of reasoning so absurd that it might be comical if it had not been so pervasive.
Eventually, I believe, future generations of Americans will be similarly confounded by the genocide of innocent children that Americans have committed in the decades since Roe v. Wade. Our descendants will feel utter contempt for our culture of death, the actions it justified, and the acquiescence to a moral wrong by vast swaths of the nation’s population. They will be nauseated by the fact that our government provided funding to an organization that amounts to an abortion corporation. They will wonder how citizens of a nation supposedly so staunchly committed to liberty could permit the termination of the lives of unwanted children.
Slavery contradicted the founding principles of this nation, but using economic, divine, and paternalistic reasoning, the institution was justified. Who could possibly argue against a system that not only benefitted society economically but also was in the best interest of the victim? Such arguments, however, laden with flaws and contradictions, could never overcome the moral failings inherent in slavery. And while similar arguments are used by supporters of abortion, the pro-life movement will never waver from its stance that abortion is morally wrong and will never be justified as in the best interests of society or the child.
I hope and pray for the arrival of the day that our children’s children are revolted by the culture of death that our society has chosen, just as Americans today are revolted by the atrocities committed by our forefathers.
Until then, we in the pro-life community labor tirelessly day after day for what is right. Join us and stand on the right side of history.