Vitals Reporting on the pro-life movement

The abortion-slavery comparison

Abortion | Education Secretary Betsy DeVos comes under fire for pro-life speech
by Leah Hickman
Posted 2/10/20, 05:42 pm

Two days before last month’s March for Life, U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos spoke at Colorado Christian University’s annual president’s dinner. The event, which was held at the Museum of the Bible in Washington, was closed to the press, but a reporter for the Colorado Times Recorder news site attended and wrote that DeVos compared the fight against slavery with the battle against abortion.

“[President Abraham Lincoln], too, contended with the pro-choice arguments of his day,” she said. “They suggested that a state’s choice to be slave or to be free had no moral question in it.” Two days later, The Washington Post reported on a wave of criticism against DeVos for making the comparison. “To compare anything to slavery is to devalue America’s greatest crime and those who endured. Repulsive,” U.S. Rep. Katherine M. Clark, D-Mass., tweeted.

DeVos is not the only one to make the abortion-slavery analogy. Clarke Forsythe, senior counsel at Americans United for Life, said “reams of scholarship” exist that support the parallel. DeVos’ comparison, he explained, stems from the Lincoln-Douglas debates in 1858, in which Lincoln, seeking a U.S. Senate seat as a Republican in Illinois, criticized incumbent Democratic Sen. Stephen Douglas for not taking a position on slavery.

“[Douglas] contends that whatever community wants slaves has a right to have them,” Lincoln said in one of the debates in October 1858. “So they have—if it is not a wrong. But if it is a wrong, he cannot say people have a right to do wrong.”

Because slavery was wrong, Lincoln argued, the choice to participate in the institution should not have been an option. Douglas emphasized the choice of slavery to avoid having to make a moral judgment.

“Pro-choice is a dodge, which is what Lincoln said about slavery,” Forsythe said. “And the same dodge is used to defend abortion.”

Defenders of slavery in Lincoln’s time argued the South had come to rely on the slaves for its economic prosperity. Supporters of abortion argue that a woman’s ability to kill her child is essential to equal opportunity in American society. That reasoning propped up the Supreme Court’s 1992 decision in Planned Parenthood vs. Casey—a decision that reaffirmed the court’s 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling, Forsythe noted.

But recent data on the abortion rate and female unemployment show the error of the Casey decision. The unemployment rate among women fell from 5.5 percent in 1990, to 3.6 percent in 2019. Meanwhile, the abortion rate also dropped. “Both lines are trending downward,” Forsythe said. “I frankly don’t know of another phenomenon that so directly contradicts the notion that women need abortion to be successful. … According to the Supreme Court, those two trends can’t coexist.”

Justin Dyer, a politics professor at the University of Missouri and author of Slavery, Abortion, and the Politics of Constitutional Meaning, said he sees other commonalities between abortion and slavery. But he also recognized that a comparison between these two “unique historical evils” has the potential to offend people outside of the pro-life movement.

“We need to be prudent and careful in how we make the analogy,” Dyer said, noting that some people think it is denigrating to the enslaved to compare them to “fetuses,” whom they do not see as human. “That was never meant to be the analogy.”

Associated Press/Photo by Jamie Stengle Associated Press/Photo by Jamie Stengle Trinity Lewis at a news conference on Jan. 6 in Fort Worth

Still fighting

Baby Tinslee Lewis spent her first birthday on Feb. 1 at Cook Children’s Medical Center in Fort Worth, Texas, where she has lived her entire life. On top of her rare heart defect, chronic lung disease, and severe high blood pressure, Tinslee went into respiratory arrest in July. Since then, she’s required a ventilator and extracorporeal membrane oxygenation, in which a machine oxygenates the blood in place of the heart and lungs. Doctors had to put her on paralyzing drugs to keep her from disconnecting her tubes. Three days after her birthday, a Texas appeals court heard arguments in a case that will decide whether the hospital can remove Tinslee’s life support.

Under a 1999 Texas law that stipulates how doctors and families make end-of-life decisions in difficult cases, the hospital has a right to withdraw life support if the doctors and hospital ethics committee agree that Tinslee’s condition can’t be improved. Cook Children’s told Tinslee’s family back in October it would take her off of life support, and, according to the law, the family had 10 days to try to transfer Tinslee to another hospital. At least 20 facilities turned them down.

Tinslee’s mother, Trinity Lewis, has won temporary court orders to prolong her daughter’s life. She insists the girl is not suffering, but physicians say she is. Texas Alliance for Life and several other pro-life groups have come out in support of the law that would allow the hospital to end Tinslee’s medical treatment. They filed an amicus brief defending the law as a good compromise between the rights of the family to make end-of-life decisions and the hospital’s right to end treatment when doctors see it as extending suffering rather than offering a remedy. A different group, Texas Right to Life, represents the family and has enlisted support from Texas Gov. Greg Abbott and Attorney General Ken Paxton, both Republicans. —L.H.

Associated Press/Photo by Dylan Lovan (file) Associated Press/Photo by Dylan Lovan (file) A Planned Parenthood facility in Louisville, Ky.

Abortion expansion in Louisville

The state of Kentucky granted Planned Parenthood a license to perform abortions after pro-life advocates worked for years to prevent the issuance. The facility in Louisville applied for the license in 2015 under Gov. Steve Beshear, a Democrat. He left office in December 2015 before his administration could issue the license. When Republican Matt Bevin replaced him as governor, his administration denied the application.

According to the inspector general at the time, the facility did not have the legally required arrangements with a nearby hospital and ambulance service to help patients in case of an emergency. Bevin also accused the facility of performing abortions without a license, although Planned Parenthood claimed it had done so with the previous governor’s permission. A yearslong court battle followed.

In 2018, a federal judge struck down the law that required abortion centers to have transfer agreements with hospitals. Beshear’s son Andy, also a Democrat, ousted Bevin from the governor’s mansion and took office in December. With a new administration and without the protection of the old law, the state let the Louisville facility have a license that will allow it to perform abortions beginning in March. Planned Parenthood joins EMW Women’s Surgical Center, also in Louisville, as the state’s second abortion facility. —L.H.

‘Not guilty,’ but not innocent

After two weeks in court and eight hours of deliberations, a Belgian jury decided on Jan. 31 to acquit three doctors accused of performing unlawful euthanasia on a troubled 38-year-old woman. Belgian law allows euthanasia if a patient with an incurable disease is suffering severe pain and asks repeatedly to die.

Tine Nys, who struggled with depression, heroin addiction, and suicide attempts, requested euthanasia in 2009. A psychiatrist also diagnosed her with autism. After her lethal injection in April 2010, one of her sisters argued that the doctors had not given Nys sufficient advice or treatment before ending her life. The sister, Sophie Nys, filed an official complaint, and the doctors faced the possibility of life in prison for poisoning Tine Nys. But the jury decided they acted within the law.

The Nys case was the first of its kind in Belgium. It opens the door to the expansion of euthanasia as physicians become more confident the law will protect them. A lawyer for the Nys family called the ruling “disappointing” and said the doctors’ treatment of Nys was “very sad.” —L.H.

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Leah Hickman

Leah is a reporter for WORLD Magazine and WORLD Digital. She is a World Journalism Institute and Hillsdale College graduate. Leah resides in Cleveland, Ohio. Follow her on Twitter @leahmhickman.

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  • Rich277
    Posted: Tue, 02/11/2020 07:10 am

    '“We need to be prudent and careful in how we make the analogy,” Dyer said, noting that some people think it is denigrating to the enslaved to compare them to “fetuses,” whom they do not see as human. “That was never meant to be the analogy.”'


    It seems to me that this is the strongest analogy there is.  It all begins by seeing the victim of your cruelty as less than human.

  • Mark EP
    Posted: Tue, 02/11/2020 08:19 am


    I thought exactly the same thing--Dyer seems to miss his own point. The evil of slavery was facilitated by the lie that African-Americans were not human but mere livestock, such that slavery was nothing more than animal husbandry. The evil of abortion is facilitated by the lie that preborn humans are not humans but mere "products of conception," such that abortion is nothing more than a tonsillectomy.

    As you noted, the common thread running through these and many other evils, historical and contemporary, is dehumanization of humans. Once people are dehumanized, you can do whatever you want to them and deem it a virtue.

    Exposing and learning from these commonalities is wise, not offensive.

  •  CaptTee's picture
    Posted: Tue, 02/11/2020 02:18 pm

    Slaves were viewed as property that could be disposed of at will.

    Unborn babies are viewed as property that can be disposed of at will.

    What is wrong with the comparison?

  • JerryM
    Posted: Tue, 02/11/2020 10:02 pm

    @Mark EP and @Rich277... points well-taken.  Good for Ms. DeVos for making the comparison.  I pray she will stand firm.

  • RR
    Posted: Tue, 02/11/2020 08:20 am

    The stakes in this case were never higher for the Belgian euthanasia-lobby (LEIF association) and for the Parliamentary Commission on Euthanasia. Their integrity was on trial:  through 2 of their most important voices in Belgium: First, Mrs. Thienpont a close associate of Wim Distelmans, President of 'LEIF', the euthanasia lobby and also President of the Parliamentairy Commission checking the legality of all euthanasia cases in Belgium. And secondly, Mr. Wim Distelmans himself, indirectly involved in this case, but also as President overseeing the legality of it at the Euthanasia Commission. He was also recently involved in a case at the European Court for Human rights, whereby a lady was euthanized, without her son knowing about it.

    The result of this trial was clear from the beginning, when the lawyers demanded anyone with a religious background to be forbidden to be member of the jury. Even before the trial started people were convinced that it would have been very astonishing if one of the accused would even get a reprimand.

    The lawyer of the family of Tine Neys said afterwards that a precedent had been set through this trial, because in the future murdering someone by poisening will not be possible anymore in Belgium.

    LEIF announced that the path is now open to broaden the euthanasia law for the 4th time, as doctors performing it need more 'protection'.

    One of the next goals of LEIF is to tie euthanasia to organ donation, in Belgium, organ donation is compulsary, unless you have explicitly signed a document refusing it. Since more than a year LEIF holds presentations about this subject even in the smallest villages in Belgium.

    Last year a convention was organized at the University of Leuven and attended by hundreds of doctors and professors, where the neutrality of the Parliamentary Commission on Euthanasia (remember with Wim Distelmans as President) was most strongly disproved by professors and members of the Commission itself. As far as I know there was no reporting about it in the media - but it's not impossible that this might have escaped me.

    Lionel from Belgium

  • RR
    Posted: Thu, 02/13/2020 06:46 am

    It was announced yesterday that the mother of Tine Neys - the lady that has been killed through euthanasia, and of which the 3 doctors were acquitted of 'murder through poison' - has died. The mother was scheduled to testify against the doctors in the murder trial, but had become ill and eventually had a heart attack. She and her family were strongly opposed against the euthanasia of their daughter.

    Lionel from Belgium

  • DakotaLutheran
    Posted: Tue, 02/11/2020 08:32 am

    Dyer says some people think it is denigrating to the enslaved to compare them to “fetuses,” whom they do not see as human. His comment reminds us of the importance that our presumptions play in our understanding of what another says. However, we ought to be reminded likewise that many slave owners also considered their African slaves to be "less than human," indicating that many who have abortions and many who support abortion are more like the supposedly despised slave owner than they are perhaps ready to admit. 

  • Janet B
    Posted: Tue, 02/11/2020 09:55 am

    Good for Betsy DeVos!!

  • Big Jim
    Posted: Tue, 02/11/2020 09:18 pm

    In this day and age, there is a real cost to standing up for what is right. Just ask all the butchers, bakers and candlestick makers who have refused to bow the knee to the LGBTQ demons.

    Betsy, I'm with you and I will be praying for you.

    Posted: Tue, 02/11/2020 10:43 am

      Justin Dyer "it is denigrating to the enslaved to compare them to “fetuses,” whom they do not see as human. “That was never meant to be the analogy.”


    If i remember correctly from history, the slave master did not consider slaves human but "subhuman".  They treated their livestock better than they treated slaves!

  • Gpa Russ
    Posted: Tue, 02/11/2020 11:36 am

    We Americans have much to be ashamed of: our treatment of Native-Americans, Black Americans, Japanese-Americans, and unborn Americans.  At one time the actions we took regarding these groups were determined to be appropriate and Constitutional by elected officials and the Supreme Court.  When will we accept the fact that how we treat others is not determined by elected officials or public opinion but by God's word?


    Russell Guetschow

  • zonie
    Posted: Wed, 02/12/2020 12:06 am

    “To compare anything to slavery is to devalue America’s greatest crime..." said the rep from Mass.  I'm not here to debate which is the greater crime, but undoubtedly, the American holocaust, at 65 million and growing, has murdered far more in a much shorter time. And promoting that agenda around the world has claimed many millions more. May God have mercy on us before we are destroyed for the greater sin of child sacrifice on the altar of convenience and greed.

  • Ann Marshall
    Posted: Thu, 02/13/2020 11:04 am

    Little Tinslee Lewis deserves to be cared for with all possible skill and love but I hope those who advocate for the continued preservation her life by means of ECMO understand that those who are providing this care have valid concerns and highly informed intuition. If the nurses believe she is suffering, she likely is. It's beyond unkind to  broad brush accuse of callousness doctors and nurses who have devoted their professional lives to the care of children.