Labor, Racism, Abortion and Slavery

16 April 2019

4.7 MINS

In the recent NSW election, Michael Daley—the soon to be former Labor leader—immolated his own political campaign over his anti-Asian comments when he bizarrely suggested that ‘Asians with PhDs’ were the reason that ‘white people’ were being priced out of the Sydney property market. Bill Shorten then took the extraordinary step of insisting Daley resign.

However, Daley’s comments as a Labor leader should not be seen as unusual. After all, it was the Labor party that was the primary advocate for a white Australia Policy that explicitly excluded Asian immigrants. For instance, it was Arthur Calwell, the Federal Labor leader from 1960 – 1967, who said:

“I am proud of my white skin…And any man who tries to stigmatize the Australian community as racist because they want to preserve this country for the white race is doing our nation great harm… I reject, in conscience, the idea that Australia should or ever can become a multi-racial society and survive”.

Meanwhile, the Labor Deputy Leader, Tanya Plibersek, has promised that if Labor wins the upcoming election, then they will be offering free surgical abortions in public hospitals as well as reducing the cost of the abortion pill RU486. Margaret Sanger, the founder of Planned Parenthood, would have been immensely proud as to what Plibersek is trying to achieve.

But what has this got to do with the racist comments of Michael Daley? Because there has always been a close parallel between the inherent racism used for practices involving the slavery of African-Americans, and the amoral reasoning which is still being used today for decriminalising and extending abortion. As, Dr. Alveda King—the niece of Martin Luther King, Jr—once said:

“Slavery is wrong… [and] that baby – and I know this first-hand – is a slave in the womb of his or her mother.”

What follows are five arguments people have used historically for both slavery and abortion. And what will become quickly obvious is, as Gina Dimuro has observed, just how “oddly egalitarian defences of chattel slavery” were. Indeed, they appear all the more modern—and even reasonable—when politicians such as Shorten and Plibersek use almost the exact same arguments when advocating for the termination of pregnancies.

First, is the priority of human autonomy. For the woman who is pro-choice, the argument is that the baby is an appendage to her own body, much like a tumour. Whereas for the man who was pro-slavery, it was that the negro who was the material possession of his master, and therefore, a key financial asset. Notice how both of these issues, though, are framed as being fundamentally personal decisions that no one else has the right to speak into. As Jesse Jackson, the African-American civil rights leader once argued:

“If one accepts the position that life is private, and therefore you have the right to do with it as you please, one must also accept the conclusion of that logic. That was the premise of slavery. You could not protest the existence or treatment of slaves on the plantation because that was private and therefore outside your right to be concerned”.

Second, that it all comes down to ‘health care’. This has always been more than a little disingenuous when applied to abortion—although even some feminists are now openly acknowledging that terminating a pregnancy is, in fact, an act of killing—but one of the main reasons for also retaining the practice of slavery was because it was seen as actually being in the slave’s best interests! For example, in 1850 George Fitzhugh wrote a popular essay titled, “The Universal Law of Slavery” in which he argued:

We would remind those who deprecate and sympathize with negro slavery, that his slavery here relieves him from a far crueller slavery in Africa, or from idolatry and cannibalism, and every brutal vice and crime that can disgrace humanity; and that it…protects, supports and civilizes him; that it governs him far better than free labourers at the North are governed…Our negroes are not only better off as to physical comfort than free labourers, but their moral condition is better.

Third, both slavery and abortion are said to ensure greater personal freedom. The benefit of having an abortion is often promoted to women as giving them the opportunity to complete a tertiary degree and hence, to have enjoy a more lucrative career. But almost exactly the same argument was used for maintaining slavery as an institution in western society. In short, there was great fear that the abolition of slavery would result in widespread unemployment and chaos.

Fourth, integral to both arguments, is the contention that the two types of people most effected are denied their basic human rights. This strategy of dehumanisation was established within slavery via The Dred Scott legal decision, which ruled that negroes were not actually American citizens. Whereas when it comes to abortion, the baby is routinely referred as a ‘fetus’ rather than as a person.

Finally, fifth, both were viewed as being the lesser of two evils. That is, just as abortionists believe that it is better for the child to be put to death before they’re born rather than raised in an unsuitable social environment, so too it was better for negroes to be slaves rather than left to themselves. This was because many people believed in some form of social evolution where whites were the most developed racially. As again, Margaret Sanger herself once wrote:

“It is said that the aboriginal Australian, the lowest known species of the human family, just a step higher than the chimpanzee in brain development, has so little sexual control that police authority alone prevents him from obtaining sexual satisfaction on the streets.”

I am, of course, not the first to note the link between slavery and abortion. Justin Buckley Dyer has written an excellent book titled, Slavery, Abortion and the Politics of Constitutional Meaning (Cambridge University Press, 2013) which explores the nexus between each of the historical, philosophical and constitutional realities shared by both of these issues. What’s more, Norma McCorvey—of whom the infamous Roe vs. Wade case was based—once gave the following argument before a U.S. Senate Committee:

“When slavery was constitutional we treated one class of humans as property. We are treating the humans in the mother’s womb as property and less than human when we say it is OK to kill them”.

All of which is to say, the arguments for race, abortion and slavery are not as divergent as people think. Indeed, while today’s Australian Labor Party leader Bill Shorten is quick to distance himself from the likes of Michael Daly’s racism, don’t for one minute think that this is because the Australian Labor Party has changed its prejudiced ways from Calwell’s 1960’s. The Australian Labor Party is still following the same line of reasoning.

Make no mistake, Bill Shorten may have side-lined Michael Daley for now, but both he and his Deputy Tanya Plibersek, are continuing to espouse the same kind of racist reasoning as the Labor Party has traditionally done when they argue for the decriminalisation of, and extensions to, the practice of abortion.

Surely in 2019 we can do better than a party that dehumanises a subset of our nation on the grounds of compassion and personal autonomy, a ‘private decision’ concerned with ‘health care’, all the while leading them like so many lambs to the slaughter.

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One Comment

  1. […] latter include wild assertions that abortion laws violate the Constitution’s prohibition of slavery or interfere with the guarantee to women of the right to vote. (I address and refute these theories […]

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