Slavery, Abortion and the Right to Life

Jim Denison | Denison Forum | Tuesday, January 26, 2021
Slavery, Abortion and the Right to Life

Slavery, Abortion and the Right to Life


A year ago today, basketball great Kobe Bryant died in a helicopter crash that also took the life of his thirteen-year-old daughter Gianna and seven others. In better news, eleven miners in China who were trapped some two thousand feet below ground for two weeks were rescued last Sunday. And the FBI announced that thirty-three missing children in Southern California were found recently.

One of the ways we reflect the God who made us is by instinctively valuing life (Genesis 1:27). Kobe Bryant’s tragic death generated instant headlines. People all over the world have followed the story of the trapped miners in China. Missing children grieve the hearts not just of their parents but of all who know of their plight.

Why, then, do so many in our culture view abortion as anything other than a grievous tragedy?

A “speech for the ages”

Abraham Lincoln’s 1865 second inaugural address is widely considered a “speech for the ages.” In it, he described the issue that had split the nation: “One-eighth of the whole population were colored slaves, not distributed generally over the Union, but localized in the southern part of it. These slaves constituted a peculiar and powerful interest. All knew that this interest was somehow the cause of the war.”

He then stated, “To strengthen, perpetuate, and extend this interest was the object for which the insurgents would rend the Union even by war.” The president’s 1863 Emancipation Proclamation, by contrast, declared that all slaves held in any part of a state in rebellion against the US “shall be then, thenceforward, and forever free.”

In closing his second inaugural address, the president sought to “finish the work we are in” by winning the Civil War, then to “bind up the nation’s wounds” and “do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.”

Yesterday, we began addressing the issue of abortion in the Biden administration. Today, I would like to consider this topic in the context of Mr. Lincoln’s timeless speech and the issues it confronted.

Three “rights” and the right to life

To summarize a very complex subject, the South went to war primarily to preserve the institution of slavery and in defense of states’ rights to abolish federal laws they didn’t support, especially those interfering with their right to keep slaves and take them wherever they wanted. The North sought to preserve the Union and eventually to free these slaves.

How is this conflict relevant to the conflict over abortion today?

One: The rights of slaves and the preborn

Part of the reason for the battle over slavery was that US law had not clearly defined the personhood of slaves. Not until the Thirteenth Amendment was slavery finally abolished in America.

In the same way, the Supreme Court stated in Roe v. Wade, “We need not resolve the difficult question of when life begins. When those trained in the respective disciplines of medicine, philosophy, and theology are unable to arrive at any consensus, the judiciary, at this point in the development of man’s knowledge, is not in a position to speculate as to the answer.”

My biblical response to both is the same: all people are made in God’s image and are sacred from the moment of their conception (Genesis 1:27; Psalm 139:13–16).

In fact, scientific advances have enabled embryologists to state clearly, “Human development begins after the union of male and female gametes or germ cells during a process known as fertilization (conception)” (his italics). From that instant, whatever their race or social status, all are humans and are loved by their Maker (John 3:16; Galatians 3:28).

Two: The right to personal morality

It is estimated that 32 percent of White families in the South owned slaves. However, many more fought to protect states’ rights to own slaves and otherwise exercise their sovereignty. They would have said that the North had no right to legislate their personal morality.

In the same way, many agree with a caller to a radio program on which I was interviewed Sunday night. She stated her belief that life begins at conception and that abortion is therefore wrong. However, she also believes that it should be up to the woman rather than the government to make this decision.

My biblical response to both is the same: we “legislate personal morality” to protect life across the spectrum of society.

From the moment a child is born, its parents are not permitted to kill it, whatever their “personal morality” might dictate. Murder and abuse are wrong (Exodus 20:13; Psalm 11:5). Since we know both enslaved people and preborn babies are human beings, we know that they deserve the same protections as the rest of us.

Three: The rights of the slaveholder and the mother

A third argument for slavery was that the sudden end of the slave economy would adversely affect the Southern economy, which relied so heavily on slave labor. Slavery advocates also claimed that freeing the slaves would create widespread unemployment and chaos leading to uprisings, bloodshed, and anarchy.

Similarly, the most common reasons cited by women who choose abortion are: “having a baby would dramatically change my life” (74 percent), “can’t afford a baby now” (73 percent), and “don’t want to be a single mother or having relationship problems” (48 percent).

My biblical response to both is the same: life comes first.

God knew us before he formed us (Jeremiah 1:5). All life is sacred from conception to natural death (cf. Exodus 23:7; Psalm 127:3). The slaves should have been freed, whatever the economic consequences to the South. Preborn babies have the right to life, whatever the burden to the biological mother. (We will say more about this difficult subject tomorrow.)

Our Declaration of Independence was right: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.”

From the moment we are “created,” we possess these “unalienable rights.”

How will you advance them for the preborn today?

Image courtesy: Getty Images / Stevan Ovicigor

The views expressed in this commentary do not necessarily reflect those of Christian Headlines.

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Slavery, Abortion and the Right to Life