Like Slavery, Abortion Gives One Person “Ownership” of Another

Opinion   |   Niamh Ui Bhriain   |   Feb 14, 2014   |   6:14PM   |   Dublin, Ireland

Last week I finally got to watch the acclaimed film 12 Years a Slave, which tells the story of Solomon Northup, a free black man from upstate New York, who was kidnapped and sold into slavery in Louisiana.

It’s a harrowing and unflinching film that doesn’t spare the viewer – and rightly so.


A scene from the film 12 Years a Slave

Slavery, a practice largely brought to the United States by the Dutch and British empires, was legal in that jurisdiction (and beyond) for two hundred years. The cruelty endured by the men, women and children forced into slavery at that time has, with some exceptions, largely gone untold on film.

Steve McQueen’s movie upends all that by revealing the horrors of slavery in unsparing detail, and the impact is devastating

The scenes of pitiless exploitation, sexual abuse, starvation, humiliation, and savage beatings are so profoundly disturbing that their imprint is unforgettable.

The cruelty and degradation is almost unimaginable, but it happened again and again, and it was given legal sanction, not because slave owners truly believed those held in slavery to be less than human, but because it was economically advantageous for them to do so.

In the role of malevolent slaveowner, Edwin Epps, the actor Michael Fassbender gives an unsettling portrayal of a deranged, sadistic and horrendously violent man. History shows there were, sadly, too many like him, and too many others, who turned a blind eye to the suffering of their fellow human beings.

However, the violence seen in screen isn’t the most shocking thing about the film. What’s most disturbing is that Epps and others were protected by the law, and that nothing in the law could have stopped Epps, or any slaveowner, from beating and killing these men, women and children.

Of course we already knew that to be true, but historical fact is thrown into sharp relief when the film shows the consequences of that law, and the utter helplessness of those who were enslaved by it.

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These people, known as slaves, were, under law, the property of the slaveowner. They were, under law, less than human. They could be abused, beaten, even killed, under law, because a decision had been made to allow slaveowners the right to own people as property.

To me, there were striking and obvious parallels with abortion. It is now legal in many countries throughout the world to kill a child in the womb.

Those laws have effectively given ownership of the child in the womb to another. The child is like a piece of property – or a non-human – which can be legally killed because of the decision of another.

The human rights of people held in slavery were subjugated to the dreadful notion that one human being had the right to main or kill another because of the owner’s ‘choice’ in deciding how to treat his ‘property’. Now the rights of preborn children have been subjugated to an industry which uses the same distorted logic of ‘my body, my choice’ to exploit women and kill their children.



We have not, it seems, learnt from the shameful lessons of history. The dehumanisation of our fellow human beings, which was the hallmark of slavery, is now being used to justify abortion and keep it legal.

The noble efforts of a brave few – including Solomon Northup – ensured slavery was legally abolished in most parts of the world by the mid-eighteenth century. It is long past time for the abortion industry to face the same abolition.

LifeNews Note: Niamh Ui Bhriain writes for the Life Institute.