Abortion as a Positive Good: How the Abortion Movement Echoes Radical Slavery Rhetoric

Oct 19, 2020 by

by Miles Smith, Public Discourse:

Like John C. Calhoun, who famously embraced slavery as a “positive good,” the abortion movement of 2016 has shifted from seeing abortion as a “necessary evil” to celebrating it as good for women and society.

In February 1837, South Carolina Senator John C. Calhoun changed the tone of the cultural, religious, political, and social war over slavery by declaring human bondage a “positive good.” Most members of the generation of Americans who created the United States government, by contrast, saw slavery as an unfortunate legacy of the colonial period. A few in Georgia and South Carolina were indifferent to its moral status but committed to its economic benefits. Many others hoped that the new government might eventually put slavery on the road to extinction.

During the debates over the federal constitution, even members committed to allowing the retention of slavery argued against provisions that might affirm the morality of human bondage. William Paterson of New Jersey, for example, opposed representing slaves in the Congress because it might afford “an indirect encouragement of the slave trade,” an institution seen as wicked even by many slaveholders. And in 1790, when Quakers presented a petition to Congress arguing for the abolition of the slave trade, Virginia planter Josiah Parker thanked them for “attending to matters of such momentous concern to the future happiness and prosperity of the people.” Parker, like Washington, Adams, and scores of the revolutionary generation, hoped eventually to eradicate chattel slavery from the new United States. Richard Henry Lee, another slaveholding Virginian, called slavery a moral blight. Even as late as 1820, when Congress argued over slavery’s expansion into federal territories and the new state of Missouri, South Carolina’s virulently pro-slavery Senator William Smith could only offer an anemic moral defense of slavery when he called it a “necessary evil.”

Calhoun’s radical embrace of slavery added to the dehumanization of African-Americans and departed from long-held moral and political understanding of slavery in American political life. In our own time, modern-day John C. Calhouns make up the abortion lobby in American politics. The 2016 Democratic National Convention (DNC) clearly demonstrates that the Democratic Party has shifted from acceptance of abortion as a necessary evil to celebration of abortion as a positive good.

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