Phyllis Schlafly: The Mother of Conservatism, on Abortion

 

Called the mother of conservatism by some, what would Phyllis Schlafly, the American writer, political activist, and anti-feminist crusader against the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) have to say about the latest developments in the challenge to Roe v. Wade? In a 1994 speech on “Abortion and the GOP,” Schlafly makes a case that remains as relevant and powerful today as when she spoke nearly 30 years ago.

…the Republican Party has a tradition of standing for certain principles and it has and should have an identity different from the other parties. The Republican Party was born on the principle that no human being should be considered the property of another. That is our heritage as Republicans and it would be tragic mistake to abandon that fundamental precept now. The most famous political debates in American history, the Lincoln-Douglas debates of 1858, will be re-enacted this year on C-Span. During those seven debates up and down the state of Illinois, Abraham Lincoln enunciated the position of the then new Republican Party that slavery was a moral, a social, and a political wrong. Steven A. Douglas took the position that individual states should have freedom of choice to decide this issue for themselves through the democratic process without dictate from the Federal government. In Quincy, Illinois, Lincoln argued that we should “deal with slavery as with any other wrong insofar as we can prevent its growing larger and deal with with it in that in the run of time there may be some promise of an end of it. We have a do regard for the actual presence of it amongst us and the difficulties of getting rid of it in any satisfactory way, but we must oppose it as an evil.”

Where did Lincoln get his authority for saying that slavery was wrong and must be eliminated eventually if not immediately? It was from our nation’s founding document, the Declaration of Independence, which asserts as a self-evident truth that each of us is endowed by their creator with unalienable rights of life and liberty and that government is instituted for the purpose of securing those rights.

Douglas countered with the arguments of choice, states rights, and opposition to dictation by the federal government. He argued that “each state of this union has a right to do as it pleases on the subject of slavery.” Douglas supported the Dred Scott decision, saying, “I choose to abide by the decisions of the Supreme Court as they are pronounced. Lincoln said that he “looks forward to a time when slavery shall be abolished everywhere.” Douglas replied, “I look forward to a time when each state shall be allowed to do as it pleases. If it chooses to keep slavery forever, it is not my business, but if it chooses to abolish slavery then it is its own business, not mine. I care more for the great principle of self-government.”

In reporting the Lincoln-Douglas debates, the biased press of the 1830s [sic] called Lincoln a dead dog walking to his political grave, and reported Douglas’s arguments as logical and powerful. Lincoln lost that senatorial election to Douglas, but two years later Abraham Lincoln was elected our first Republican president and the verdict of history is that Lincoln’s argument was correct.The real issue in this controversy, Lincoln said in the Alton, Illinois debate, is that the Republican Party “looks upon the institution of slavery as a wrong and the Democratic Party does not look upon it as a wrong.” Lincoln proclaimed that the slavery issue represented “the eternal struggle between these two principles: right and wrong.”

Abortion is the right or wrong issue of our times. We should parallel the words of Abraham Lincoln today and say the Republican Party looks upon abortion as a wrong and the Democratic Party does not look upon it as a wrong. That’s the crucial difference between the two parties. In the 1990s, the Republican Party must not adopt the Stephen Douglas position that democracy or states rights can have the power to deprive individual human begins of their creator endowed right to life. We must not adopt the Stephen Douglas position that a bad Supreme Court decision is irrevocable or infallible.

The Declaration of Independence does not mentioned slavery, but in the Galesburg, Illinois debate, Lincoln pointed to the clear meaning of the Declaration’s words that all of us are endowed with unalienable rights and he challenged Douglas that “the entire record of the world from the date of the Declaration of Independence up to three years ago may be searched in vain for one single affirmation from one single man that the Negro was not included in the Declaration of Independence.” Likewise, the Declaration of Independence does not mention abortion, but you will search in vain for a single affirmation that the creator endowed right to life was to be withheld from a baby until the moment of birth.

Every new advance in science, especially the DNA and the ultrasound photographs of babies in the womb confirms that the unique individual identity of each of us is present, human, alive, and growing before the mother knows she is pregnant. Roe v. Wade combined with its companion case Doe v. Bolton legalized the termination of the unborn baby throughout the nine months of pregnancy. And that effectively makes the baby the property of the mother. That proposition is inconsistent with respect for individual human life.

I’d say that Schlafly would favor the Charles C.W. Cooke view over the Bret Stephens view of the prudent conservative response to Supreme Court precedent and the case of Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization. As Cooke summarizes:

Properly understood, conservatism does indeed demand some respect for the status quo. But it does not require its adherents to oppose all change — especially when that change simply restores the status quo ante — and it certainly does not demand that they accept pernicious lies in perpetuity simply because those lies have managed to survive for a few decades. Roe and Casey are lies. They were lies when they were written. They were lies ten years after they were written. They are lies today. There is nothing remotely un-conservative about wishing to expose them as lies and remove them summarily from our law.

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  1. RightAngles Member
    RightAngles
    @RightAngles

    Phyllis was a brave one, speaking out at a time when it wasn’t very popular.

    Here’s a Conservative wag throwing their Gun Control talking points back at them:

     

    • #1
  2. Lilly B Coolidge
    Lilly B
    @LillyB

    RightAngles (View Comment):

    Phyllis was a brave one, speaking out at a time when it wasn’t very popular.

    Among the most vocal women on my social media, it would seem that her views still aren’t very popular. It might be that some are signaling for the sake of social approval, but it makes me wonder if they’re the ones who’ve had an abortion. They never say, which is also interesting given how central  and important they claim the “procedure” to be.  

    • #2
  3. Gossamer Cat Coolidge
    Gossamer Cat
    @GossamerCat

    Her argument is very powerful.  I know if any conservative were to make the case right now that no human can be owned by another as an argument against abortion, it would send the already frenzied crowd through the stratosphere, but it is the essence of the argument, isn’t it?  I guess that’s why they have to fight so hard to say that the fetus is not a person.  But Joe Biden admitted as much, did he not?  

    Interesting that the Supreme Court decision-if it is their decision-would be to send it back to the states, but that is the Stephen Douglas position, isn’t it?  So given that the Democrats are already introducing federal legislation, will the “let the states decide” position allow for some compromise on this issue?  I’m not sure it will.   Yet this situation can only be solved by an uneasy and unsatisfactory compromise and that will involve some arbitrary line at which personhood is conferred.  But I don’t think that the Democrats are capable of such compromise any longer.  

    • #3
  4. Lilly B Coolidge
    Lilly B
    @LillyB

    Gossamer Cat (View Comment):

    Her argument is very powerful. I know if any conservative were to make the case right now that no human can be owned by another as an argument against abortion, it would send the already frenzied crowd through the stratosphere, but it is the essence of the argument, isn’t it? I guess that’s why they have to fight so hard to say that the fetus is not a person. But Joe Biden admitted as much, did he not?

    Interesting that the Supreme Court decision-if it is their decision-would be to send it back to the states, but that is the Stephen Douglas position, isn’t it? So given that the Democrats are already introducing federal legislation, will the “let the states decide” position allow for some compromise on this issue? I’m not sure it will. Yet this situation can only be solved by an uneasy and unsatisfactory compromise and that will involve some arbitrary line at which personhood is conferred. But I don’t think that the Democrats are capable of such compromise any longer.

    I’ve seen lefty arguments making the point that it doesn’t matter whether the fetus is a person. All that matters is the woman’s decision about whether she wants to endure pregnancy or not. If not, then she is being enslaved by the government restrictions on abortion. That she is treating another human life as subsidiary to hers appears not to be a concern. All that matters is her supposed right to self-determination. Where does she think that comes from?

    I think the Alito argument may be analogous to the Douglas position on slavery, but I think it can be distinguished. To do that properly, I’d have to dive deeper into the leaked draft opinion. It may be setting the stage to make it harder to justify abortion as a “right,” which is probably what has the left/Dems freaking out so much.

     

    • #4
  5. EHerring Coolidge
    EHerring
    @EHerring

    Abortion is good vs evil.  At some point, we need to end the evil or accept a shared guilt in its existence.

    • #5
  6. Manny Member
    Manny
    @Manny

    You brought back some memories.  I loved Phyllis Schlafly.  Great woman.  Thanks.  

    • #6
  7. EHerring Coolidge
    EHerring
    @EHerring

    Manny (View Comment):

    You brought back some memories. I loved Phyllis Schlafly. Great woman. Thanks.

    I met her on a National Review cruise. She was cool. She and a son hung out with all of us in the crows nest bar in the informal socials. She was quite happy and fun.

    • #7
  8. Manny Member
    Manny
    @Manny

    EHerring (View Comment):

    Manny (View Comment):

    You brought back some memories. I loved Phyllis Schlafly. Great woman. Thanks.

    I met her on a National Review cruise. She was cool. She and a son hung out with all of us in the crows nest bar in the informal socials. She was quite happy and fun.

    Oh I would have loved to have been there. Thanks for sharing. 

    • #8
  9. Sandy Member
    Sandy
    @Sandy

    Gossamer Cat (View Comment):

    Her argument is very powerful. I know if any conservative were to make the case right now that no human can be owned by another as an argument against abortion, it would send the already frenzied crowd through the stratosphere, but it is the essence of the argument, isn’t it? I guess that’s why they have to fight so hard to say that the fetus is not a person. But Joe Biden admitted as much, did he not?

    Interesting that the Supreme Court decision-if it is their decision-would be to send it back to the states, but that is the Stephen Douglas position, isn’t it? So given that the Democrats are already introducing federal legislation, will the “let the states decide” position allow for some compromise on this issue? I’m not sure it will. Yet this situation can only be solved by an uneasy and unsatisfactory compromise and that will involve some arbitrary line at which personhood is conferred. But I don’t think that the Democrats are capable of such compromise any longer.

    Alito’s argument does look like Douglas’s argument, but the argument to look at is Lincoln’s, i.e., that we should “deal with slavery as with any other wrong insofar as we can prevent its growing larger and deal with with it in that in the run of time there may be some promise of an end of it.” At this time, turning the issue back to the states is the best way we have of preventing the numbers of abortions from increasing and the only way of erasing its enshrinement as a right in the Constitution.

    • #9
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