Imagine you had just escaped a plantation in Kentucky in December 1850.
You were the legal property of a white man, who worked you long hours with no pay, and beat you for disobedience. You were a slave.
Escaping in the middle of the night, you ran as fast as you could until dusk. You stop to eat the one bread roll you brought with you and to take a drink from the Ohio River.
No one is nearby, so you swim across the river, to the State of Ohio. A free state, where they don’t allow slavery.
Or so you think.
Exhausted, you collapse in the back corner of a barn you found about a mile north of the river. Understandably, you pass out asleep, hidden in a pile of hay.
You wake up hours later to a pair of boys standing over you shouting for their father.
“Pa, we found a black boy! He was sleepin’ here in the hay, Pa! Come, quick!”
Then a hefty farmer walks into the barn, drops his bucket and takes you by the arm.
“Shoulda known this was gonna happen,” he stammers. “You boys run up the road and tell Ol’ Mr. Laraway we got us here a slave… I mean, just look at those scars on his arms and those broken fingers there!
“What’s the prize up to these days? Oh, Laraway would know. Maybe $100 or more, boys! Go tell him now, go!”
And just like that, the freedom you thought you just gained has been lost. You were sent back to the very man you had just escaped from.
THE FUGITIVE SLAVE LAW
In September 1850 the United States Congress passed a law as a means of a compromise between the slave-owning states of the South and the free states of the North. They called it the Fugitive Slave Law.
Thousands of slaves were escaping to the North, and the South brokered a deal. The North agreed, by law, to turn any fugitive slave—or even anyone suspected of being a fugitive slave—back to the Southern plantation owners.
The Law went so far as to criminalize giving aid or shelter to fugitive slaves, with a six-month jail sentence or a $1,000 fine as the consequence. It mandated law-enforcement officers arrest suspected runaway slaves or else be subject to the same punishment. Also, it offered prize money or job promotions for the capture of a runaway slave.
WAS THE FUGITIVE SLAVE LAW MORALLY ACCEPTABLE?
Some people have the thought that because something is legal to do, then it must be okay to do.
In other words, they assume the morality of an action based on its legality. This is a form of begging the question, in philosophical terms.
Begging the question is an erroneous argument made when the conclusion drawn is also one one of the premises.
A classic example goes as follows. “The Bible is God’s Word. I know, because it says so.”
(The Bible is God’s Word, but not just because it says so. Not everything claiming to be God’s revelation truly came from God. But I digress.)
Or, in this case, “Abortion is moral, since it is legal (and laws tell us how we should act).”
Here today, we all agree the Fugitive Slave Law was not morally acceptable. This alone goes to show how illogical it is to base one’s moral code on what the civil law says.
Despite what Congress passed as civil law in 1850, we can all agree they had no moral right to pass that legislation. But why?
The reason the Fugitive Slave Law was immoral is because slavery is gravely immoral.
That may seem obvious, but to some people it is not. They still think that the court of public opinion takes precedence. They think morality is basically a matter of democratic vote.
So, the South wanted to own slaves and the North didn’t. Everyone is happy, getting what they want, their thinking goes.
But that discredits the slaves themselves. Why is their opinion on the matter ignored?
The truth is, no one has the moral right to own another human being. We know this as a matter of natural law.
APPLYING THIS TO THE TOPIC OF ABORTION
I have had people—especially high school students, for whatever reason—argue to me that because abortion is legal, then it must be okay to do.
And not to completely discredit them, the desire to follow the law of the land and be a good citizen is a noble goal.
However, when a law is unjust or immoral, it does not have to be followed.
To kill a preborn human being is legal in this nation. Yet, a preborn human being is a person who has a right to life. This right to life supersedes any civil law to the contrary, since it is a matter of natural law.
Therefore, the preborn human being is actually worthy of protection under the law.
Seems pretty straight forward to me.
Consider that on top of the US government legally allowed one human being to own another human being, it at various times also made these other morally abhorrent decisions:
Racial segregation as legal (Plessy v. Ferguson, 1896),
Black people didn’t count as persons (The Dred Scott case, 1857 ), and
Institutionalized people could be sterilized (Buck v. Bell, 1927).
There is a hierarchy of law. God’s law, natural law, then civil law. Nothing on the lower rung can contradict the one(s) above it.
So, is abortion morally acceptable merely because it is legal?
So, I would like to hear your thoughts on this one.
Has anyone ever tried to argue the morality of abortion with you based on its legality?
Or, do you have a counter point to make, for us to consider?
Please sound off below!