Dred Scott and Roe v. Wade: The Question is the Same

Posted: February 4, 2017 in 98-Current Events

Dred Scott and Roe v. Wade: The Question is The Same

What is life? What rights are common to all men? What is property? Are universal truths always true while lies even with social support only true for a temporary space of time? These are the questions that troubled me all day on Saturday.

This morning, I was watching the powerful movie, Twelve Years A Slave, and the repeated phrase of the plantation owner was that a slave was property. That right of property superseded any human rights of a slave. The slave was seen as no better than a barn or the nails that it held it together. No better than the crops from the field. There were laws throughout the South that treated blacks as nothing less than property.


According to theories of John Locke, the great political theorist of the Renaissance, man has a right to enjoy the rights of life and liberty and property and this right is not granted by government but by the nature of universe. Lockean theory was the backbone of the cry for revolutions in Europe and the revolution here in the US. Black slaves were seen as property and slave owners fully believed that they had an inalienable right to use their own property as they saw fit. This position was so pervasive that it was an issue in drafting the Constitution of the country. Laws and court cases upheld the theory of property all throughout the South and it made its way all to the Supreme Court. In the infamous Dred Scott Supreme Court ruling of 1857. Dred Scott was a slave who escaped into a slave-free state (Illinois) and who subsequently sued for his freedom.


In the Supreme Court’s decision, the choice to own slaves was an individual decision, a private matter for each citizen to struggle with apart from interference by the state. If a person, in an act of conscience, chose not to keep slaves, that was his own decision, but he could not force that choice on others. Every person had a private right to choose. Dred Scott, as a slave, was declared chattel–human property. He was a possession of his owner, and the owner had a right to do whatever he wanted with his assets. Three of the justices held that even a Negro who had descended from slaves had no rights as an American citizen and thus no standing in the court. It took an amendment to the constitution, ratified by the majority of states in December 1865, that finally gave black slaves equal standing under the law. It is now commonly accepted that all men and women, regardless of color, have a natural right to freedom and it is not subject to laws or governments. It is an inalienable right. It’s taken 100s of years, a civil war, a civil rights movement, and civil rights law to guarantee that we all know this – that no man is property, no man should be seen as subhuman, no man should have his right to life be contingent upon another’s view of that life, that no man should have his right to liberty and the pursuit of happiness abridged. It is a natural human right.


That was the profound thing that struck me this morning in watching this powerful movie for a second time in my life. Watching this movie for a second time (saw it first on DVD about a year ago) was kind of like reading a Bible passage that you have read a thousand times and glossed over it but this 1001st time, it hits you like a brick to the head. That was the thing that I felt like a ton of bricks watching this movie today. It just came to me. It was one of those Holy Spirit things, I guess.


The ton of bricks was the archaic view of blacks as property is seen as an aberration now but we are perpetuating the view with the current legality of abortion as supported by a Supreme Court case, Roe v. Wade in 1972.  I know some who might read this and say, how can you compare slavery and abortion…but hear me out, please. In that Supreme Court case, part of its justification for the legality of abortion was that the Court established that the word “person” as used in the due process clause and in other provisions of the Constitution did not include the unborn, and therefore the unborn lacked federal constitutional protection. The court stated that the Fourteenth Amendment’s concept of personal liberty and restrictions upon state action” includes “a right of personal privacy, or a guarantee of certain areas or zones of privacy” and that “[t]his right of privacy . . . is broad enough to encompass a woman’s decision whether or not to terminate her pregnancy.”


What it boils down to is that which is not life is property. When life is considered property then you can do with it what you please. We have the right to enjoy property as we wish. If a person is not considered a person, then what are they? Our nation once saw negroes as not better than the swing on your front porch – to do with what you pleased. As property they had no rights. No more than a lamppost has rights in the court of law. Under Roe v. Wade, a fetus has no legal standing in the court of law. A fetus is not considered a person who has the whole avail of privileges guaranteed citizens under the laws and constitution of our country. Fetuses have the same lack of constitutional rights as negroes prior to the long history of constitutional amendments and laws that won their rightful place beside other persons of our country. Under the reckoning of Roe v. Wade, it had the same impact of the Dred Scott decision of the same court, the Supreme Court of our land.


If it is not life, then it must be property. Roe v. Wade hinged on the issue of viability. In the court’s eyes, a fetus is not viable as an independent human life until after the first trimester of pregnancy. However, like with slavery, because something is legally defined as right, it does not make it a universal truth (the old legal vs. moral issue). If we do not define a human life as viable life, it is then, in a legal sense, property to do with as you please. We once saw negroes as property to do with as we pleased. It was guaranteed by the Supreme Court of the land. That did not make it universally and morally right. In fact that it was so morally wrong that ultimately the law of the land was changed and an amendment to the Constitution was added to guarantee the rights of all citizens to be seen as equal to and have the same rights as all other citizens.


It comes down to what is not considered life is and must be considered property. Under Roe v. Wade, a fetus has to be considered the property of the mother who carries the fetus in her womb. The Christian view is that life begins at conception. That point at which an egg is fertilized and it amazingly begins the reproductive process. Saying that life does begins at a later point under the argument of viability is just mincing words and timeliness. Regardless of whether a fetus is viable, it is life. It is multiplying. It is growing. Unless we stop it growing through abortion, it will become viable. That’s why the courts had to establish the point of viability arbitrarily to allow abortion to be legal. In order for abortion to be legal, there be room to consider a fetus property and thus strip away any constitutional rights guaranteed to all that which is not considered property.


Therefore, there is a great similarity between the basis for legalized slavery (my property to do with as I wish) and the basis for legalized abortion (my body my choice). We must blind ourselves to blacks being human beings with a right to life and liberty to make slavery legal. We must also blind ourselves to what life is and when it starts. Saying it starts at specified date is just legal definition. Legal definition does not always match moral definition.


That which is not life is property. When will be come to realize that we have been as wrong about when life begins as we were about whether a human being can be considered property and not really a valid human life. Can we quit the legal dancing just as we did in the days of slavery and as we are doing now with abortion and see life as life. Not a choice. Not a piece of property. Life is life and it deserve liberty and to be considered a person under the eyes of the law, just as God sees us as persons from the moment of conception, the unique individuals that we all are, and just as God sees all of us as children no matter the color of our skin.

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