Amherst College professor Hadley Arkes observes that historian James G. Randall criticized the famous debates between Abraham Lincoln and Stephen Douglas in 1858. Why? Because they spent too much time talking about slavery when there were so many other pressing issues. Randall wrote:
With all the problems that might have been put before the people as proper matter for their consideration in choosing a senator — choice of government servants, immigration, the tariff, international policy, promotion of education, west ward extension of railroads, the opening of new lands for homesteads, protection against greedy exploitation of those lands … encouragement to settlers … improving the condition of factory workers, and alleviating those agrarian grievances that were to plague the coming decades — with such issues facing the country, those two candidates for the Senate talked as if there were only one issue.
Sound familiar? Arkes notes:
That complaint, read today, is bound to strike readers as churlish, even oafish. And yet why? … [I]s it because there was truly something more fundamental in that question of just who were those beings who were the objects of concern in all of these other issues? [T]he issue had to run back to the root of things, to what John Paul II crystallized as the question of “the human person”: Who, after all, are the persons whose injuries count as we scan the landscape and notice injuries or injustices that call out for remedies at the hands of the law?
Who counts as “one of us,” entitled to the moral regard of others and the protection of the law? That was the question at the heart of the debate over slavery, and it is also at the heart of the debate over abortion and embryo-destructive research. There is no question more foundational to a just society.
The abolitionist answer then, and the pro-life answer today, was and is that all members of the human species, regardless of race or skin color and regardless of age or developmental stage or condition of dependency, bear a profound and equal dignity and a right not to be enslaved, mistreated or killed. This is the position of inclusion, acceptance and equality, what Arkes calls the “expanding … circle of those who are protected.”
As we vote Tuesday, abortion, like slavery in 1858, isn’t “only one issue.” Human equality is on the ballot.
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LifeNews.com Note: Paul Stark is a member of the staff of Minnesota Citizens Concerned for Life, a statewide pro-life group, and this column originally appeared on the MCCL blog.