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Defending life from the moment of conception

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Abortion and Slavery - Part I

Posted by Matthew McCusker on 4 February 2012

For many centuries slavery was widespread throughout the world and underpinned many economic systems.

Slavery is a broad term and can be difficult to define precisely; it might mean that one person has complete control over the productive capacity of another, while other natural rights are left intact.

Often, however, it can mean that a human person is simply to be considered a form of property with no rights at all. In these systems the slave can be bought, sold, abused and even killed and all with impunity and the full protection of the law.

Such systems of slavery have been seen throughout history but perhaps the most well known is the transatlantic slave trade that saw the transportation of slaves from Africa to the 'New World'. These slaves, and their descendants for many generations, would spend their entire lives labouring, frequently in dehumanising conditions, for the profit of others, and often being denied even basic human dignity; families could be separated, physical and sexual abuse were common, and a person's whole life could be regulated in such a way as best suited the needs of the owner.

It is common to hear people today ask the question 'how could people ever think that this was acceptable?' Yet for centuries it went largely unquestioned; the only major exception being the Catholic Church, whose voice nonetheless was often unheard.

During the Eighteenth Century opposition to this form of slavery began to grow, and a powerful movement grew from small beginnings. A series of court cases, beginning with the Somersett case in 1722 began to lay the ground for the abolition of slavery, though public opinion was slow to follow. It wasn't until May 1787 that the Committee for the Abolition of the Slave Trade was founded in London and was able to harness the growing momentum.

It took more than twenty years for the trade in slaves to stop in British ships and forty years before slavery was completely abolished throughout the British Empire. It would be another generation before slavery would be abolished in the United States of America, home to so many of the plantations.

Today there is almost total condemnation of this system. An abuse of human dignity that had for so long been legal and seen as perfectly acceptable has come at last to be seen in the clear light of truth, as one of the most terrible examples of human cruelty, apathy and self-deception.

There are many parallels between abortion and slavery, the pro-life movement and the anti-slavery movement - some may have struck you as you read this post. As this series progresses I hope to explore the parallels more closely in the hope that what we learn might help us to achieve what the abolitionists achieved, the complete eradication of a system founded on the destruction of human life and dignity.

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