I’ve been thinking about all morning about Megan McArdel's long and very provocative post called A Really Long Post About Abortion and Reasoning By Historical Analogy That is Going to Make Virtually All of My Readers Very Angry At Me.
She actually makes two analogies. The explicit analogy, the one referred to in her title, compares abortion to slavery "for two reasons. First of all, it was the last time we had an extended, society-wide debate about personhood. And second of all, as now, there were structural political reasons that it was much harder--nearly impossible--to change slavery through the existing political process."
While I am intrigued by the analogy, particularly for its ability to make sense of the fervor of the anti-abortion stance, there are a couple of problems which render it useless.
First, the idea that we haven’t had a debate about the nature of personhood since the nineteenth-century strikes me as untrue. The entire women’s movement has been about the personhood of women, and it isn’t resolved. I think that much anti-abortion energy stems from the belief that women are not full persons because they (we) cannot be trusted to make moral decisions. If there’s an analogy to be made with slavery, it might be better to compare women to slaves because anti-abortionists seem to think that women’s bodies belong to someone or something in a way that men’s bodies never do. It would be even more apt to compare children to slaves because we widely agree that they are somehow the property of their parents. But this is only to underscore one of the hypocrisies of the anti-abortionists: most them don’t seem to give a damn about what happens to children after they are born. If they did, they would devote at least some of their considerable energy on child welfare.
The slavery analogy also strikes me as insufficient because if fetuses are like slaves then pro-choicers are comparable to slaveholders and anti-abortionists are comparable to abolitionists. But as far as I can tell, the abolitionists operated mostly within the law. When they broke the law, say for example the Fugitive Slave Act, they did so without killing anyone. Further, with the lone exception of John Brown, abolitionists did not stage violent attacks against slaveholders, murdering them and bombing their plantations in an effort to force them to free their slaves. As a point of fact, it was the slaveholders who used violence and the threat of violence as a means to terrorize the slaves and maintain their ownership. Pro-slavers even staged a series of murderous attacks in Kansas in their efforts to ensure that Kansas was admitted to the Union as a slave state.
Again, I think it's useful to re-consider the analogy: women are more like slaves than fetuses are. The anti-abortionists are determined to hold women in a kind of bondage. They don't just want to ban late-term abortions, they want to ban all abortion. The more radical among them, the ones who are most prone to violence, want also to ban all forms of contraception. And they won't be satisfied until they get their way.
This brings me to the second analogy, which McArdel makes implicit in her claim that the anti-abortionists have no political recourse and must therefore resort to violence in order to secure their idea of justice. This is exactly in a nutshell the rationale for terrorism everywhere. And I agree: to the extent that the anti-abortionists are are willing to use violence to achieve their will, they are terrorists. Which means that the real question is, how do we deal with terrorists at home and abroad? Do we let them set the parameters of the debate? Can there even be a debate when the opposition is being forced to the table under the threat of violence?
Of course, even that analogy breaks down under scrutiny, if for no other reason than that unlike Blacks under apartheid or Palestineans under Zionism, the anti-abortionists do have political recourse, and they know it. The problem is that political recourse requires compromise, and they have made it very very clear that there can be no compromise.