Pregnancy as Slavery

Pregnancy as Slavery February 23, 2023

Is an unwanted pregnancy an example of “involuntary servitude,” so that the anti-slavery amendments in the Constitution give a constitutional right to abortion?  That’s the new legal argument being put forward by pro-abortion activists, equating pregnancy with slavery.

Read the story from Politico:

In a pending criminal case against several anti-abortion activists, U.S. District Court Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly said the Supreme Court’s ruling in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization concluded only that the 14th Amendment included no right to abortion but stopped short of definitively ruling out other aspects of the Constitution that might apply. . . .

Kollar-Kotelly noted that there is some legal scholarship suggesting that the 13th Amendment — which was ratified at the end of the Civil War and sought to ban slavery and “involuntary servitude” — provides just such a right. She is asking the parties in the criminal case, which involves charges of blocking access to abortion clinics, to present arguments by mid-March.

Here is the 13th Amendment:

Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.

This is the amendment that abolished slavery.  Any “originalist” intepretation of the Constitution would point out that the authors of the amendment and those who ratified it were not, in fact, thinking of abortion.  But post-modern theories of interpretation, of course, have no such limitations.

Nathanael Blake thoroughly refutes this novel reading of the 13th Amendment in his Federalist article No, Being A Mother To Your Unborn Baby Is Not The Same As Slavery,

If the Constitution forbids “involuntary servitude,” we would have to forbid schools.  Teachers make their students do school work.  Without paying them!  Students typically don’t want to do that work.  So that’s involuntary servitude.  That’s slavery!

The same would apply to children and spouses who don’t want to do their household chores.  And to the workplace where employees sometimes have to do things they don’t want to do. The government forces us to do things we did not formally consent to, including imposing taxes, thus appropriating our labor.

The concept of “servitude” has to do with “service,” which ties in to the doctrine of vocation, in which we are called in all of relationships, work, and stations in life to love and serve our neighbors.  Luther discusses bearing the cross in vocation, drawing on the words of Jesus:  “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me” (Luke 9:23).  Thus, vocation often involves self-denial.  That is, service that we might not want to perform of ourselves, but we perform it anyway out of love for our neighbor.

Parenting–from conception, through “labor,” through all of the stages of childhood and into adulthood–is all about this self-denying love and service to the neighbor of this vocation, namely, the child.


Illustration by Mohamed Hassan form PxHere

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