Are Pro-Lifers Racist for Opposing Abortion?

In some post-election commentary, Nancy Giles (of CBS News Sunday Morning) suggested that pro-lifers were against abortion in order to build up the white race:

“It’s been weird to watch white people report on this,” she said. “And, you know, when you just showed that graph of the decline in the numbers, I thought, ‘Maybe that’s why they’re trying to eliminate all these abortions and stuff. They’re trying to build up the race.’ You know, maybe.”

 This raises two questions, then:

  1. Is being pro-life racist?
  2. And if not, why are abortion advocates so insistent upon finding a secret psychological reason for why a person would be against abortion?

I. Is Being Pro-Life Racist?

Giles’ claim is not just wrong, but particularly ironic, for two reasons.  First of all, eliminating abortion would mean a less white America, since abortion disproportionately kills Hispanic and (especially) African-American children.  Logically, then, a racist would want more abortions, not less, since abortion disproportionately harms minority communities, as James Taranto of the Wall Street Journal points out:

Margaret Sanger Square, New York City

According to U.S. Census estimates, the overall abortion rate in 2007 was 19.5 abortions for every thousand women between 15 and 44. But the rate is much lower for whites (13.8) than for blacks (48.2). For women classified as “other”–neither black nor white–the rate is slightly above the national average (21.6). 

The census table goes back to 1990, and the same pattern holds, though the rates were considerably higher than for both whites (21.5) and blacks (63.9). If one wanted to slow the increase in minority populations, one would urge more, not less, abortion.

As Fr. John J. Raphael, SSJ has explained, abortion is the leading cause of death in the African-American community, having claimed the lives of approximately 13,000,000 African-American children in the past three decades. Right now, for every two African-American children born in New York City, three more are killed in the womb.  If pro-lifers are successful, they’re save a disproportionately large number of minority children, especially African-American children.  If that’s a racist conspiracy, it’s the most convoluted conspiracy that I’ve ever seen.
It’s not just the statistics, either. Look at the history of each side of the abortion debate. What’s most ironic about Giles’ claim that pro-lifers are against abortion because they want to “build up the race,”  is that it was Planned Parenthood, not the pro-life movement, that was established to “build up the race.”  Margaret Sanger founded Planned Parenthood as part of her effort to, in her own words, “improve the quality of the race” by weeding out undesirables. In The Pivot of Civilizationshe argued that this was the single most important problem facing society, and suggested that drastic measures may be in order:

The example of the inferior classes, the fertility of the feeble-minded, the mentally defective, the poverty-stricken, should not be held up for emulation to the mentally and physically fit, and therefore less fertile, parents of the educated and well-to-do classes. On the contrary, the most urgent problem to-day is how to limit and discourage the over-fertility of the mentally and physically defective. Possibly drastic and Spartan methods may be forced upon American society if it continues complacently to encourage the chance and chaotic breeding that has resulted from our stupid, cruel sentimentalism.

When she talks about the possible need for “drastic and Spartan methods” in controlling the population of  “undesirables,” it’s important to note just what the Spartans did to unwanted children they found undesirable.  Namely, they killed them, even after birth:

Jean-Jacques-François Lebarbier,
A Spartan Woman Giving a Shield to Her Son (1805)

From the moment a Spartan child was born, they were tested to make sure they embodied the image of a Spartan warrior. Immediately after birth, a Spartan child was dipped into a bath of wine to test its strength and fortitude. The Spartans believed that a weak child bathed in wine would convulse and die (Fant and Lefkowitz, 2005). If the child passed this particular test they were then taken by the father before a group of elders. If the Elders found the child deficient in any way (Frail looking, Deformed etc…) then the child was left on the sides of Mount Taygetos to die (Harley, 1934).

Sanger’s hostility to these “undesirables” led her even to oppose charity, since it permitted the continued existence of “defectives, delinquents and dependents,” leading to a “full harvest of human waste” that harmed “the future of the race”:

Even if we accept organized charity at its own valuation, and grant that it does the best it can, it is exposed to a more profound criticism. It reveals a fundamental and irremediable defect. Its very success, its very efficiency, its very necessity to the social order, are themselves the most unanswerable indictment. Organized charity itself is the symptom of a malignant social disease.  

Those vast, complex, interrelated organizations aiming to control and to diminish the spread of misery and destitution and all the menacing evils that spring out of this sinisterly fertile soil, are the surest sign that our civilization has bred, is breeding and is perpetuating constantly increasing numbers of defectives, delinquents and dependents.  

My criticism, therefore, is not directed at the “failure” of philanthropy, but rather at its success. These dangers inherent in the very idea of humanitarianism and altruism, dangers which have to-day produced their full harvest of human waste, of inequality and inefficiency, were fully recognized in the last century at the moment when such ideas were first put into practice. [….]  

Such “benevolence is not merely ineffectual; it is positively injurious to the community and the future of the race. 

Whether you’re looking at contemporary abortion statistics, or the writings of the founders of each side of the abortion debate, the same picture emerges. One side of this issue has repeatedly indulged theories of racial purification and eugenics in justifying its positions, but it hasn’t been the pro-life side.  So when Giles accuses pro-lifers of racism for opposing abortion, it’s absurd, given both the abortion statistics and history.

II. Why Does the Abortion Side Want to Change the Subject?

Why then, is Giles quick to reach for such a ridiculous theory?  Taranto quite plausibly suggests that it’s to avoid treating the pro-life issue on its merits, by avoiding the question of whether unborn children are human beings with the right to life:

Have you noticed how abortion proponents always seem to come up with amazingly strained theories about opponents’ motives–they hate sex, they want to control women, etc.? Abortion opponents say they believe that unborn children are human beings with the right to life. One may disagree, but that belief is an entirely straightforward and reasonable explanation for why someone would take an antiabortion position.

Apparently the pro-abortion side fears if it acknowledged that position is sincerely held, that would be tantamount to acknowledging it may be true.

Take this lesson to heart. When abortion is framed as a “women’s issue” or a “reproductive health” issue, that’s framing the issue. It suggests, falsely, that the most relevant question on the topic of abortion is whether it restricts the rights of women.

From a pro-life perspective, a more appropriate category for the abortion debate is under the aegis of human rights.  The question is simple, the one Taranto poses above: are unborn children human beings with the right to life?  If yes, it seems that abortion should be rejected outright.  If no, it seems that abortion should be accepted outright. To have a logical position on the question of abortion, this is the question that has to come first.

Abortion proponents evade this question in several ways.  For example, they’ll shift the debate to whether a woman should have the right to choose what happens to her own body, or whether or not a woman should be “punished” with a child after she’s been raped.  These are pure evasions, because the answers to these don’t answer the question of whether abortion should be allowed.

Most Americans (whether pro-life or pro-choice) would agree that everyone has a limited right to control what happens to their own body.  But this isn’t an unfettered right: you can’t decide to smoke crack because you’re putting it into your own body, and very few people would suggest otherwise.  Even the fringe that would suggest otherwise must concede that the right to control one’s own body doesn’t extend to the right to do what you want to another person’s body. My right to my own body might give me the “right” to drink arsenic, but it surely doesn’t give me the right to make you drink arsenic. Your right to swing your fist doesn’t extend to the ability to swing it into my face. Put another way, your right to bodily autonomy doesn’t give you the right to violate someone else’s bodily autonomy.

So does abortion violate the bodily autonomy of the fetus?  Well, that depends on the answer to a simple question: are unborn children human beings with the right to life?  If so, then we know two things: (1) the fetus is not part of the mother’s body, and (2) his mother doesn’t have the right to violate the fetus’ bodily autonomy (and human rights) by killing him.  Basic science would help here: when a mother is pregnant with her son, does she suddenly become a two-headed, eight-limbed hermaphrodite?  If not, this suggests that the fetus has a separate bodily existence from the mother, even if he is wholly dependent upon her for nutrients (just as he is wholly dependent upon her for nutrients for several months after birth).

The same line of reasoning applies to the question of rape.  Should a rape victim be forced to conceive and bear a child with her rapist? Of course not. The Catholic Church, as anti-contraception as they get, permits emergency contraception in the case of rape, as long as it is not an abortificant (Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services, Directive 36).  This makes sense, given that the Catholic view is that marital sex is supposed to be unitive and procreative (which is why She’s against contraception in the first place), and the rape victim neither intends nor consents to the sex act.  Put more simply, the profanation of sex that occurs is entirely the fault of the rapist, not the rape victim.

So no, a rape victim shouldn’t be forced to have a child by her rapist. But once a child exists, the mother doesn’t have the right to kill him, just because of who his father was.  Here’s an obvious example. A woman and her husband are trying to have kids. At some point during the process, this woman is raped, and becomes pregnant. Only after she gives birth to the child does she discover that he’s the son of her rapist, not her husband. Does she have the right to “terminate” her baby in the cradle? Of course not.  She was cruelly violated, but that’s no justification to violate her child.  It’s considered cruel and unusual punishment to execute rapists. It’s radically more cruel and unjust to execute their innocent children.  But is a child in the womb similar to a child in the cradle, in that it is wrong to end their life?  That depends upon the answer to an important question is (you guessed it): are unborn children human beings with the right to life?  

As Taranto suggests, this is the question that abortion advocates are running from, because on this issue, both science and morality are on the pro-life side.


  1. Nicely done. Have you read Michael Sandel on this issue? He’s pro-choice, but firmly on your side here about what the appropriate question is, e.g.:

    “Notwithstanding their claim to be neutral on the moral status of the fetus, liberals cannot defend the right to abortion without implicitly denying that the fetus is a person. For consider: if the Catholic doctrine were correct—if the fetus were morally equivalent to a child—then even the important principle of the woman’s right to choose would be morally outweighed by the importance of respecting human life. This is why [Thomas] Nagel is wrong to insist that the distinction between public and private morality can, by itself, decide the question. If abortion were tantamount to infanticide, it would not be a merely private choice. Where one draws the public/ private distinction depends on how one resolves the underlying moral question. ”

    Elsewhere he relates it to Lincoln’s position against democratizing the slave issue in the Lincoln-Douglas debates, where Lincoln responded that any man can advocate democratic that position “who does not see anything wrong in slavery, but no man can logically say it who does see a wrong in it; because no man can say he doesn’t care whether a wrong is voted up or down.”

  2. Yeah, I have the same question as Daniel. I was very surprised to read Directive 36; I’d never read it before.

    But my bigger question would be, what type of “appropriate testing” is able to find “evidence [showing whether] conception has occurred”? I was under the belief that conception is not immediately identifiable until several days after it occurs. If that’s the case, then “emergency contraception” taken before that period may unknowingly result in abortion, while taking it after that period would be pointless.

  3. Joe, I enjoy reading your blogs.

    Abortion, and the Church’s stance on it, is confusing for me and, since the election, I’ve had a tiny back-and-forth with an aunt who’s been a nun for over 40 years. She LOVES Obama and is thrilled he got re-elected. This isn’t a political comment, but rather, I’m a little baffled that she could be SO happy about his re-election, considering his run-in with the Church this year regarding the mandate and the fact he’s one of (if not THE) most left-sided politician in regards to abortion. Without spending a HUGE amount of space trying to explain how she looks at things, I’ll leave some quotes. She’s a great person and I respect her immensely. And I can understand what she’s saying…it just seems to contradict a little bit what the Church has been emphasizing in the past couple months:

    “Yes, abortion is DEFINITELY wrong and I wish there was a LOT more ministry to help any woman who feels that abortion is the answer for her circumstances. I think the percentage is pretty low of women who abort because of their figures and/or are just too busy to care about having a child. Poverty, ignorance, lack of family life…lots of issues to deal with to help women NOT to use abortion as an answer to their problems. In the whole abortion question, the men involved never seem to be brought up much. No one is going to jail after a lot of innocent men have died on death row…the wars are killing fields…poverty and drugs are dehumanizing…so lots of work to do to help people take a new look at life. Even smiling at people every day is a great ministry, or an extra good word, etc.etc. Sometimes “getting involved” can be a depressing thought …. but sometimes the smaller things are overlooked. I´m delighted that the President was re-elected and I consider him really to be a good man. He is NOT pro-abortion…he´s for the woman making the choice for herself, which is why ministry to women is so important. My rather cynical thought about a LOT of our Bishops in the States is that they’re very good Republicans.”

    I saw that Catholics voted 52-48% in favor of Obama. Considering the plight of the economy and the large percentage of women voters, I can’t help but wonder if abortion and life issues played a VERY important part in the past election. I believe that fetuses ARE baby human beings with rights, but I’m obviously in a minority. My personal belief is that many women (and men), no matter their stance on abortion, don’t like the thought of the Church…or anybody…telling them what to do. Maybe in the future the bishops and priests can plot a smarter strategy that doesn’t scare off people. I mean, their views aren’t scary to me, but they obviously are to some. Like may aunt says, maybe the emphasis should more on reaching out to troubled women. Of course, that sounds great, but how to do it is surely a great challenge.

  4. Brandon and Daniel–without going to Google to get exact names and specifics, it seems that I recall that one of the emergency contraceptive drugs is basically a super-dose of oral contraceptives, which should block ovulation if it has not already occurred, but since they aren’t being taken over a long period of time, they don’t have the endometrium-thinning effect that causes regular hormonal contraceptives to be abortifacient. Hope that helps.

  5. The cry of racism is a Communist propaganda ploy. See, “The Communist Frank Marshall: Davis The Untold Story of Barrack Obama’s Mentor” Kengor,Paul Ph.D. Theshold Edition Mecury Ink

  6. The answer to that question is a resounding NO. However the commontater who made the statement is racial. You see what we have here is reverse racial descrimination. It is brought about by mainly greed (free lunch) where the have nots want what the haves already have.They use discrimination as a means to get what they do not deserve. And be careful for they are devils (Muslims etc.)in the christians clothing…..

  7. My non-Catholic brother proffers a rationale similar to Jim’s aunt-nun. He professes that abortion is the killing of a human life, but he refuses to take the position that he has any duty or right to compel a pregnant women to refrain from taking the life of her unborn child. The ‘logic’ is that she has enough of a vested personal interest in the outcome of the pregnancy to trump any public opinion about the morality of her choice, and that in any event it is not a political decision. It is akin to the concept of standing in the law. His definition essentially says we have no standing to inject or impose our beliefs.

    That whole thought process is a disingenuous dodge to avoid facing the abject immorality inherent in the entire abortion process. Sort of whistling past a graveyard filled with the bodies of innocents who never saw the sun or felt the comfort of a hug or a lullaby.

  8. Mike Oliver:

    His definition essentially says we have no standing to inject or impose our beliefs.

    For starters, you can tell your non-Catholic brother that that position is total philosophically B.S.

    One could counter by asking him if he likewise doesn’t have any moral duty to stop a man from murdering his newborn child. The father has enough of “…a vested personal interest in the outcome of the [birth of the child] to trump any public opinion about the morality of [his] choice and that in any event it is not a political decision…”

    The man would have 18-21+ years of child support to look forward to, so he has “a vested personal interest in the outcome”. Why can’t he kill his newborn child? Five minutes earlier that same child could have been torn to shreds in the womb.

    a disingenuous dodge to avoid facing the abject immorality inherent in the entire abortion process…

    Hate to say it, but we’re (primarily I’m speaking of the USA, but it could be applied to the West as a whole.) beyond the point of “abject immorality”. More people die by abortion in 2 weeks in the USA than are murdered (40,000+ abortions in 2 weeks vs. almost 17,000 murders in 2005)

    At least the Nazis could point to a building and say: “Hey, Mr. Steinberg used to run that bakery, now it’s run by Mr. Fritz the nephew of the local SS commander.”

  9. Rob, well said and true, but the position of those, like my brother, usually engenders a ‘that’s my opinion’ response which admits of no logical argument. One generally cannot convince another that his opinion is not really an opinion.

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