Property Rights

© 2020 Jim Spence -  As learning junkies, we recently investigated The Great Courses. The Great Courses are offered by a company called The Learning Company. The Great Courses can be streamed with a subscription or a la carte. Hundreds of different college level courses taught by some of the most outstanding professors in the nation are on the menu. Though a subscriber does not take exams or get college credit, the content is phenomenally rich and very detailed.
One of the best courses offered is taught by Professor Gary Gallagher of the University of Virginia. In “The American Civil War” course, Gallagher does a masterful job of providing details of what the dialogue was like in both the North and South leading up to the attack on Fort Sumter. One of the most astounding reminders of the conditions in 1850 America, was how slavery was justified in various legal arguments. In one of the first lectures, Professor Gallagher reads verbatim, some of the legal opinions and assertions made to justify slavery. Hearing Gallagher read through the lawyer’s arguments involves trying the digest the fact that slaveholders insisted they held “property rights” over other human beings. The arguments are cringe worthy.
The Alex Haley novel, Roots, is a brilliant narrative that depicted 19th Century white southerners exercising their so-called “property rights.” In Roots, slaves are treated as being no different than cattle. Not only were the labors of slaves confiscated, they were verbally abused, beaten with whips, mutilated, used for sexual gratification, and even killed by the owner, without consequence.
In Professor Gallagher’s early lectures, he highlights Harriet Becher Stowe’s landmark novel, Uncle Tom’s Cabin. It was Stowe’s book that pried open the eyes of America and the rest of the world. Many historians believe the book, which astoundingly sold more than two million copies worldwide by 1857, shined the necessary light on slavery, so that it finally created the moral force to terminate the institution of slavery.
As we were listening to the lectures in this course, bells started to go off. Something was eerily familiar about the “property rights” argument made by slave owners 170 years ago. The arguments served as a reminder of something written just last week in a CNN Report regarding a 21st Century legislative effort to eliminate a form of “property rights” over other human beings, asserted by Democrats.
A little background is in order. Advances in modern medicine have made it possible for infants to survive after only five months in the womb. Back in 1973, the landmark Supreme Court decision on Roe vs. Wade provided “reproductive rights” up to six months of gestation. In short, the Roe ruling says no woman need seek permission from any government authority to get an abortion for the first six months of a pregnancy. Let’s not argue about the Roe ruling. Roe is likely to remain the law of the land.
However, Senator Ben Sasse of Nebraska introduced a simple bill in the Senate last week. The bill did NOT challenge anything in the Roe ruling. Instead, it simply required doctors to provide appropriate care for any infant born alive, which can and does happen, especially during efforts to perform late-term abortions (after six months).
Here is how CNN described the Sasse bill:
"The second bill to be considered Tuesday is the Born-Alive Abortion Survivors Protection Act, sponsored by Republican Senator Ben Sasse of Nebraska, that would require abortion providers to work to 'preserve the life and health' of a fetus that was born following an attempted abortion as they would for a newborn baby, or face up to five years in prison."
Notice how CNN cleverly uses wording that plantation owner lawyers might have used to argue for killing the babies of slaves. They converted a human being born alive from being a baby or infant, into a piece of “property” (a fetus born alive). No doubt CNN intentionally referred to the alive human being as a “fetus that was born,” to create a false distinction, and with it a magical “property right,” which includes the right of disposal.
For the record Sasse’s bill, which Democrats killed with the help of a couple of Republicans, actually reads verbatim: "…the live birth of an infant.”
Fortunately, there is a 21st Century literary work analogous to Uncle Tom’s Cabin. It is entitled, Gosnell: The Trial of America's Biggest Serial Killer. The book was written by two Irish filmmakers, Ann McElhinney and Phelim McAleer. Unlike Harriet Beecher Stowe’s book, which was a novel, the McElhinney/McAleer book is non-fiction. Like Beecher Stowe's book, it documents what can and does happen when it is decided that “property rights” can be exercised over defenseless human beings.
The Gosnell story is both gruesome and inhumane beyond imagination. However, unlike Uncle Tom’s Cabin, which was widely read, the story of Kermit Gosnell is being swept under the rug.
There is an irony. 21st Century Democrats, just like Democrats of the 1850’s, continue to argue that some human beings are merely property. And one hundred and fifty-five years after Democrats lost their battle to protect the institution of slavery, they can be seen and heard rationalizing the treating of infants born alive, as merely property belonging to others, who as property owners, have the right to do with their property whatever they wish, including kill them.
Perhaps the work of Ann McElhinney and Phelim McAleer will become a force for intellectual honesty in 21st Century, just as Harriet Becher Stowe was in the 19th Century.
Finally, like the issue of slavery, the allowing of late term abortions is not a tricky dilemma regarding mythical rights. It is simply ignoring the basic decency of valuing all living human beings and protecting the most vulnerable ones from those who believe they are merely property to be disposed of as the owner sees fit.