Obama and the Abortion-Jim Crow Analogy

The main thrust of Obama's Notre Dame commencement address yesterday was finding common ground on reproductive health issues such as abortion and stem cell research. But toward the end of the speech, he switched gears, mentioning the 55th anniversary of the Supreme Court's Brown v. Board decision ending de jure school segregation.

Brown was of course the first major step in dismantling the "separate but equal" doctrine, but it would take a number of years and a nationwide movement to fully realize the dream of civil rights for all of God's children.

The juxtaposition of the two topics struck me, because the most ardent anti-abortion rights activists often compare abortion to slavery and Jim Crow. This is a favorite tactic of Kansas Sen. Sam Brownback, for instance, a national spokesperson for conservative Catholic positions on social issues. The same logic leads many evangelical and Catholic youth groups to teach children that they are "survivors" of a mass "holocaust" — a holocaust of embryos and fetuses since Roe v. Wade.

I doubt the president's speech was written to consciously rebut this theory. Nevertheless, given the familiarity of many in the Notre Dame audience with anti-choice activism, some listeners undoubtedly made the connection.

Dana Goldstein

2 thoughts on “Obama and the Abortion-Jim Crow Analogy

  1. slag

    Interesting. At first I didn’t get that transition, but then, it occurred to me that (Sen. Brownback’s delusions notwithstanding) Obama was implying that women need to work a little harder on acquiring reproductive rights. My reasoning for this interpretation is that Obama discussed how the Brown v Board of Education Supreme Court ruling was near the beginning of the struggle toward the Civil Rights Act. It’s hard not to see a parallel between that story and Roe v. Wade being a precursor to achieving the Freedom of Choice Act. That said, I’m not convinced that the pro-choice movement has the leadership required to make a strong case for itself right now. Also, Obama is notoriously bad at discussing choice issues, so maybe my interpretation is an overly generous one.


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