Proudly Pro-Choice

by Jay Johansen

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I was recently reading a speech by a political leader which, I think, summarizes quite well the essence of the pro-choice position. While of course many others have expressed similar thoughts, I think he stated very well the basic principle that distinguishes pro-choice people from anti-choice people. He said:

The great principle is the right of everyone to judge and decide for himself, whether a thing is right or wrong, whether it would be good or evil for them to adopt it; and the right of free action, the right of free thought, the right of free judgement upon the question is dearer to every true American than any other under a free government. ... It is no answer to this argument to say that [it] is an evil and hence should not be tolerated. You must allow the people to decide for themselves.
Perhaps the most interesting thing about this quote is that if I asked you to guess who said it, you would almost certainly guess wrong. No, it was not said by Bill Clinton or Pat Schroeder or any of the other well-known pro-choice champions.

For interestingly enough, the speaker was not even talking about abortion. This quote is from Stephen Douglas, and he said it in 1858. (Douglas, July 9, 1858) He was running for re-election to the Senate, and he was debating Abraham Lincoln. Lincoln said that slavery was evil and should be abolished. Douglas replied with the quote above. To Douglas, the important question was not whether slavery was right or wrong, but, Who decides? The government, or the individual plantation owner? He denounced Lincoln for attempting to impose the morality of the anti-slavery fanatics on everyone else.

Douglas insisted that he was not "pro-slavery". He would, he said, be equally vocal in defending the right of a person who choose not to own slaves not to be forced to have any, as he was in defending the right of slave-owners. When there was a debate over whether slavery should or should not be permitted in the new state of Kansas, he declared, "If the people of Kansas wanted a slave State, it was their right to make one, and be received into the Union under it. If, on the contrary, they wanted a free State, it was their right to do so, and no man should have opposed them on that account. I hold to that great principle of self-government which asserts the right of every people to decide for themselves ...". (Seventh Lincoln-Douglas debate) He was, in modern terms, "pro-choice" on slavery.

Posted 5 Sep 2000.

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Copyright 1997 by Ohio Right to Life. Used with permission.
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