Connecting Abortion And Eugenics: Is Clarence Thomas Right?

Jun 29th, 2019 | By | Category: Featured Issues, Politics & Current Events

In late May 2019, the Supreme Court declined to review Box v. Planned Parenthood of Indiana and Kentucky. That case was about an Indiana law that included a provision that would make it illegal for an abortion provider to perform an abortion in the state when the provider knows that the mother is seeking the abortion solely because of the child’s race, sex, diagnosis of Down syndrome, disability, or related characteristics.  In a 20-page dissenting opinion, Associate Justice Clarence Thomas, in the words of columnist Ross Douthat, “performed a public service:  He brought two competing historical narratives into contact with one another, on an issue where ideological arguments often pass like trains in the night.”  He argues that the present “reproductive rights” regime may effectively extend older eugenic efforts to reduce populations deemed unfit.  Douthat summarizes:  “His dissent cited the eugenic inclinations of progressive icons like Margaret Sanger, while pointing out that today’s abortion rates are highest among populations—racial minorities and the disabled—that the older eugenicists hoped to cull.”     Joe Carter provides some highlights from the Thomas dissenting opinion:

  • “The use of abortion to achieve eugenic goals is not merely hypothetical. The foundations for legalizing abortion in America were laid during the early 20th-century birth-control movement. That movement developed alongside the American eugenics movement. And significantly, Planned Parenthood founder Margaret Sanger recognized the eugenic potential of her cause.”
  • “This case highlights the fact that abortion is an act rife with the potential for eugenic manipulation. From the beginning, birth control and abortion were promoted as means of effectuating eugenics. Planned Parenthood founder Margaret Sanger was particularly open about the fact that birth control could be used for eugenic purposes. These arguments about the eugenic potential for birth control apply with even greater force to abortion, which can be used to target specific children with unwanted characteristics. Even after World War II, future Planned Parenthood President Alan Guttmacher and other abortion advocates endorsed abortion for eugenic reasons and promoted it as a means of controlling the population and improving its quality.”
  • Abortion advocates were sometimes candid about abortion’s eugenic possibilities. In 1959, for example, Guttmacher explicitly endorsed eugenic reasons for abortion. He explained that “the quality of the parents must be taken into account,” including “[f]eeblemindedness,” and believed that “it should be permissible to abort any pregnancy . . . in which there is a strong probability of an abnormal or malformed infant.” He added that the question whether to allow abortion must be “separated from emotional, moral and religious concepts” and “must have as its focus normal, healthy infants born into homes peopled with parents who have healthy bodies and minds.” Similarly, legal scholar Glanville Williams wrote that he was open to the possibility of eugenic infanticide, at least in some situations, explaining that “a eugenic killing by a mother, exactly paralleled by the bitch that kills her misshapen puppies, cannot confidently be pronounced immoral.”
  • “Although the Court declines to wade into these issues today, we cannot avoid them forever. Having created the constitutional right to an abortion, this Court is dutybound to address its scope.”

Thinking about the historic eugenics movement of the early 20th century, Douthat is certainly correct to observe that “Today feminist arguments are clearly dominant, population-control arguments are in relative abeyance, and the pro-choice consensus officially abjures both racism and authoritarian eugenics . . . . [Yet] in practice, liberal technocracy still has a ‘solve poverty by cutting birthrates’ bias inherited from a population-panic age, and abortion-rights rhetoric still has a way of sliding into Malthusian fears about too many poor kids in foster care.  In practice the medical system strongly encourages abortion in response to disability, with predictable results.  In practice Planned Parenthood clinics are in the abortion business—and the disparate impact of abortion on black birthrates is shaped by that reality and others, not just by free choice.”

Justice Thomas is right about the connection to abortion and eugenics, and he’s right when he says the Supreme Court cannot avoid the issue forever.   In 1947 C.S. Lewis published The Abolition of Man, in which he charted the “negation of human dignity in the name of progress, or compassion, or humanity, or science.”  He lived long enough to see the accuracy of his assessment:  “For the power of Man to make himself what he pleases means, as we have seen, the power of some men to make other men what they please.”  Planned Parenthood, in its view of the human being, manifests “the negation of human dignity” and an effort to “make men what they please.”  Historian Joseph Loconte of King’s College argues that “there is a haunting familiarity to the arguments defending Planned Parenthood’s sale of body parts from aborted babies for medical research: an echo of another era of medical innovation amid moral ambiguity.”  He is talking about the era of English anthropologist Francis Galton, who coined the term “eugenics” (“good birth”), as he championed the scientific methods of selective breeding and sterilization.  Galton wrote that “What Nature does blindly, slowly, ruthlessly, man may do providentially, quickly, and kindly . . . As it lies within his power, so it becomes his duty to work in that direction.”  Progressive political leaders in the early 20th century worked for and achieved sterilization laws in the various states and other procedures to improve the gene pool of America.  “Human perfectionism was on the horizon,” they argued.  Viewing the eugenics movement as a frontal “assault on the Bible’s teaching about human nature: a reduction of the individual to mere biology,” conservative and orthodox Christians protested.   For example, C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien insisted on “the unique moral status of the human person.”  Undoubtedly, Tolkien’s creation of robotic orcs as servants of Mordor totalitarianism in The Lord of the Rings was directed at the dangers of genetic engineering.  Thankfully, the eugenics movement in America died.

But, it is alive and well in 21st century America—in the logic of Planned Parenthood that permeates Postmodern American civilization.  In the name of rights and liberties, the human being growing in the womb is now a means to an end.  Columnist George Will writes that “The abortion industry’s premise is:  At no point in the gestation of a human infant does this living being have a trace of personhood that must be respected.  Never does it have a moral standing superior to a tumor or to a hamburger in the mother’s stomach.”  Within Planned Parenthood and its political sidekick the Democratic Party, there is the “single unshakable commitment to oppose any restriction on the right to inflict violence on pre-born babies.”  Both blatantly defend the limitless right to kill.   For both, the pre-born human is a means to an end; in Lewis’s words, it is the “negation of their human dignity” and “the power of some men to make other men [in this case pre-born humans] what they please.”

See Joe Carter, “Justice Clarence Thomas Gives America a Lesson on Eugenics and Abortion,” in The Gospel Coalition (1 June 2019); Joseph Loconte, “Planned Parenthood and the Eugenics Movement,” (17 August 2015); Jamie Dean in World (22 August 2015); and George Will in the Washington Post (3 August 2015).

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One Comment to “Connecting Abortion And Eugenics: Is Clarence Thomas Right?”

  1. Arlie Rauch says:

    Thanks for bringing this back into full light! It is a sad reality and a measure of the status of our society in jeopardy.