I admit it. I love American history, especially anything to do with the presidency of Abraham Lincoln. I’m not alone in my admiration for the Great Emancipator. According to most historians and many polls such as one conducted in 2015 by the American Political Science Association, Lincoln is often believed to be the best American president.
Recently, a book by noted American author and historian Doris Kearns Goodwin titled Leadership in Turbulent Times got me to thinking what would Abraham Lincoln say about the abortion question. The same book also got me to thinking history does repeat itself albeit sometimes with different issues. In Lincoln’s day, the struggle was about slavery. In our time, the question is about abortion.
Although I cannot go back in time and ask Lincoln personally, I think his ability to reason through the slavery question would lead him to the conclusion that abortion is immoral for some of the same reasons that slavery is immoral.
Consider some of Lincoln’s words, written as the nation grappled with the effects of the controversial Kansas-Nebraska Act which repealed the 1820 Missouri Compromise. The 1820 Missouri Compromise granted Missouri’s request for statehood as a slave state and drew an imaginary line. Territories north of the line would join the Union as free states while any territories south of the line would join the Union as slave states.
Thirty years later, another compromise known as the Compromise of 1850 admitted California as a free state but brought Utah and New Mexico into the country without any restrictions on slavery. That particular compromise lasted a mere four years.
In 1854, the lawyer Lincoln was on the circuit when he learned the United States Congress has officially passed the Kansas-Nebraska Act. The idea of the legislation was to allow new settlers in the new territories of Kansas and Nebraska, both of which are located above the imaginary line drawn by the Missouri Compromise, to decide the slavery question on their own. Known as “popular sovereignty,” the concept meant slavery was no longer on its way to extinction as Lincoln had hoped.
In his notes, Lincoln wrote, “If A. can prove, however conclusively, that he may, of right, enslave B, why may not B. snatch the same argument, and prove equally, that he may enslave A. You say A. is white, and B. is black? It is color, then; the lighter, having the right to enslave the darker? Take care. By this rule, you are to be slave to the first man you meet, with a fairer skin than your own. You do not mean color exactly? You mean the whites are intellectually the superiors of the blacks, and therefore have the right to enslave them? Take care again. By this rule, you are to be slave to the first many you meet, with an intellect superior to your own.”
In the fall of 1854, Stephen Douglas and Lincoln squared off in one of their famous debates in Peoria, Illinois. During the seven-hour political theater, the two orators debated the looming expansion of slavery caused, in great part, by the Kansas-Nebraska Act.
During his remarks, Lincoln took listeners back to our nation’s birth and stated that when the Constitution was adopted, “the plain, unmistakable spirt of that age, towards slavery was hostility to the principle and toleration, only by necessity.” Taking his arguments further, Lincoln told the audience that the word “slavery” was intentionally left out of the Constitution, claiming that the framers avoided the word “just as an afflicted man hides away a wen or a cancer, which he dares not cut out at once, lest he bleed to death; with the promise, nevertheless, that the cutting may begin at the end of a given time.”
Continuing his arguments, Lincoln said the Missouri Compromise had somewhat contained slavery, causing it to be on the wane. Yet, the Kansas-Nebraska Act had altered the course of history. Lincoln argued with the line of compromise rescinded by the law, slavery has been “transformed into a ‘sacred right’” and was once again “on the high road to extension and perpetuity; and with a pat on its back, [the law] says to it, ‘Go, and God speed you.’”
Later, during the same debate, Lincoln made it clear he harbored no ill will towards southern states or those who lived in them.
“They are just what we would be in their situation. If slavery did not exist amongst them, they would not introduce it. IF it did exist amongst us, we should not instantly give it up.”
Consider some more of Lincoln’s own words from his “House Divided” speech delivered in 1858.
“I do not expect the Union to be dissolved -- I do not expect the house to fall -- but I do expect it will cease to be divided. It will become all one thing or all the other. Either the opponents of slavery, will arrest the further spread of it, and place it where the public mind shall rest in the belief that it is in the course of ultimate extinction; or its advocates will push it forward, till it shall become alike lawful in all the States, old as well as new -- North as well as South.”
Later in that same speech, Lincoln said, “This necessity had not been overlooked; but had been provided for, as well as might be, in the notable argument of "squatter sovereignty," otherwise called "sacred right of self-government," which latter phrase, though expressive of the only rightful basis of any government, was so perverted in this attempted use of it as to amount to just this: That if any oneman, choose to enslave another, no third man shall be allowed to object.”
In her book, Doris Kearns Goodwin writes, “By the fall of 1860, the slavery issue had smashed the Democratic Party much as it had shattered the Whigs. John Brown’s raid on Harpers Ferry had hardened southern attitudes; no longer supporting Douglas’s popular sovereignty, the southern wing demanded explicit protection from Congress to bring new slaves into the new territories regardless of the vote of the people.”
When Lincoln entered the White House in March 1861, less than two months after Kansas entered the Union as a free state, Lincoln told his secretary John Hay, “We must settle this question now, whether in a free government the minority have the right to break up the government whenever they choose. If we fail it will go far to prove the incapability of the people to govern themselves.”
I’d argue that we’ve seen a flurry of activity by abortion activists trying to expand abortion against the will of the American people. Just look at the Reproductive Health Act passed in New York or the radical pro-abortion positions held by most politicians, especially those running for the presidency in 2020 or the legislation promoting infanticide promoted in Virginia in 2019.
These positions fly in the face of the American public’s opinions about abortion. For example, a poll taken by Students for Life of America found that only seven percent of millennials share the positions touted by the major presidential candidates. Just seven percent. Yet, Planned Parenthood and proabortion candidates continue to push for an expansion of abortion without restrictions paid for by American taxpayers such as you and me.
It’s really nothing new. The abortion movement has never been the will of the people. As Hosea Initiative founder Terry Beatley writes in her book and accompanying materials, those who advocated for abortion in the late 1960s and early 1970s did so knowing it was in direct opposition to the American people.
In Fact-Check: Who Was America’s Abortion King? Beatley writes Dr. Bernard Nathanson knew that, “Every revolution needs persuasive statistics to garner the support of more people, so Dr. Nathanson lied using a fake polling statistic that sounded impressive. He reported to the media that 60 percent of Americans wanted abortion on demand legalized.”
The reality was, Beatley writes, “Only one-tenth of one percent of all Americans in the late 1960s and early 1970s wanted abortion on demand legalized. The polling numbers were exaggerated 600-fold”
In the same fact-check book, Beatley also describes the strategy used by NARAL (now known as NARAL Pro-Choice America) to support proabortion political candidates, the same strategy which specifically targeted prolife Catholics and said they could be personally opposed to abortion but could support candidates in favor of abortion because every woman should have the right to choose.
For me, the question is similar to Lincoln’s arguments about slavery. Those who advocate for abortion want to talk about women’s rights, holding the position that babies have no rights nor do fathers. According to abortion activists, no one should be allowed to object to abortion whatsoever as it’s a “sacred right”, one necessary for women to live in freedom.
Yet, Lincoln warned the people of his time, and his words ring true today. We need to be careful about proclaiming our rights are superior. If we say our rights are more important than someone else’s rights, then what’s to stop someone else from doing the same to us and saying their rights are more important than ours?
Like Abraham Lincoln who held no ill will towards those who supported slavery, I hold no ill will towards those who advocate for abortion. I believe they need our love, support and prayers now more than ever. After all, love and prayers won the hearts of Abby Johnson, Norma McCorvey and Dr. Bernard Nathanson.
But also, like Lincoln, I believe we are at a pivotal time in our nation’s history. The question is: will we be a nation which cherishes and protects the lives of each and every single preborn child, or will be a nation that allows the death of preborn children for any reason with no one being allowed to object?
As I close this blog, I ask you to read and reflect upon the words of John Hancock, one of our nation’s founding fathers and the one whose signature appears most prominently on the Declaration of Independence, a man whose words Terry felt strongly about, enough to include them in her book. These words are but an invitation to join the efforts of Hosea Initiative in making America a prolife nation, a nation where each and every life is welcomed and protected by law.
“I urge you, by all that is dear, by all that is honorable, by all that is sacred, not only that ye pray but ye act.”