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Mark C. N. Sullivan is an editor at a Massachusetts university. He is married and the father of three children.

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Irish Elk
Thursday, January 09, 2003  
Homage to Moloch

Fire god to whom the ancients sacrificed children and others for the good of society. (Image from the 1914 Italian silent film Cabiria.)

This is a child in the womb.

And this is an African-American slave.

At times in our history, the expendability of each has been held by enlightened opinion to be central to liberty and to the progress of civilization.

From Rod Dreher at The Corner:

This notice appears in the current edition of the community newspaper in my corner of Brooklyn: "January 23, 1973, is a landmark in the history of women's struggle for freedom and equality. On January 19, 2003, the Women's Alliance of the First Unitarian Congregational Society will celebrate the thirtieth anniversary of the Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision that was handed down on January 22, 1973. The celebratory worship service, officiated at by the Reverend Carlton Veazey, will begin at 11 a.m. at the First Unitarian Church, located at 50 Monroe Place, on the corner of Pierrepont Street and Monroe Place. The Women's Alliance presents a Reproductive Choice Sunday worship service every year in January." (Via E. L. Core and Dale Price)

In the same spirit, an editorial in the Boston Globe, April 7, 2002:


In the 30 years since Roe v Wade - and before that, the 1965 Griswold v Connecticut ruling legalizing contraception - opportunities for women to become full members of society have steadily widened. The decisions whether and when to marry, have a career, pursue higher education, even whether to run for elective office - these are the real freedoms that reproductive rights confer on American women. In 2002, the phrase "abortion rights" is not so much about abortion as it is about rights.

Many women understand this almost instinctively. Abortion has become a kind of plebiscite issue, a marker for a candidate's essential view of women's roles in society. It is an issue that supports a wider philosophy about the role of government in regulating private behavior, about civil liberties and religious pluralism.

There are exceptions, of course, but most genuinely pro-choice candidates can also be counted on to support equal opportunity, affirmative action, pay equity, quality day care, and gay rights and to be be skeptical of government schemes to promote marriage, religious values, or sexual abstinence.

For many Americans, connecting these dots has become lost in increasingly trivialized gender wars. Overseas, interestingly, the connections are much clearer. The United Nations and foreign aid agencies consistently find that in developing countries where women are fuller participants - with access to education, family planning, and the right to delay marriage - societies are healthier, more economically secure, even safer from war or revolution.

It is not too sweeping to say that Roe v. Wade is one part of a century-long struggle for women's rights that started with winning the vote. Abortion rights - and all that they contain, including the right of a woman not to have an abortion and to raise children fully supported by society - are necessary for the continued emancipation of women.

"It's not about the act of abortion," Kate Michelman, director of the National Abortion Rights Action League, said in an interview. "Really it's so much bigger than that. It goes to the very core question of a woman's right to dominion over her own life."

…Politicians can hedge about being "personally opposed" to abortion - no one welcomes the actual procedure. But candidates should expect to have their sincerity examined on the issue. What voters are really asking when they ask about abortion is whether a candidate trusts women to make their own decisions, to participate fully in the economic and social fabric of society. Even women who are deeply ambivalent about abortion should know that closing the door on one essential right directly threatens the others.

Compare to this 1858 speech by South Carolina Senator James Henry Hammond which describes the slave caste as the needed "mud-sill" upon which Southern white civilization rests:

In all social systems there must be a class to do the menial duties, to perform the drudgery of life. That is, a class requiring but a low order of intellect and but little skill. Its requisites are vigor, docility, fidelity. Such a class you must have, or you would not have that other class which leads progress, civilization, and refinement. It constitutes the very mud-sill of society and of political government; and you might as well attempt to build a house in the air, as to build either the one or the other, except on this mud-sill.

Or these writings by antebellum South Carolina Chancellor William Harper (1790-1847), who presents slavery as vital to the cotton industry (fourth item):

The first and most obvious effect [of abolition], would be to put an end to the cultivation of our great Southern staple…

A distinguished citizen of our own State, than whom none can be better qualified to form an opinion, has lately stated that our great staple, cotton, has contributed more than anything else of later times to the progress of civilization. By enabling the poor to obtain cheap and becoming clothing, it has inspired a taste for comfort, the first stimulus to civilization. Does not self-defense, then, demand of us steadily to resist the abrogation of that which is productive of so much good? It is more than self-defense. IT is to defend millions of human beings, who are far removed from us, from the intensest suffering, if not from being struck out of existence. It is the defense of human civilization.

And in a glowing review of a pro-slavery tract by William & Mary President Thomas Roderick Dew, vital to civilization itself:

President Dew has shown that slavery is the principal cause of civilization. Perhaps nothing can be more evident than that it is the sole cause.

Today's pro-choicers in the Unitarian pulpits and on the Globe editorial page have a good deal in common with the genteel slavers of the Palmetto State of a century and a half ago.

They've tied liberty and progress – their own liberty and progress – to the subjective devaluation of a whole other class of people.

And declared it a blow for humanity.


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