Slavery, abortion, and the Supreme Court


This past week marks the 40th anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court decision, Row v. Wade. This year also marks the 156th anniversary of what is known by observers of the Supreme Court as the Dred Scott Decision. One decision has to do with abortion rights. The other clarified and expanded slave holder rights. The rationale of the Supreme Court of both 1857 and 1973 is eerily similar.

The simple background on Dred Scott is that he, a slave born in Virginia, ultimately came to be owned by the wife of the late Dr. John Emerson. Travels took Emerson and Scott to Missouri, which was a free state. Scott filed a declaration on April 6, 1846, stating that on April 4, Mrs. Emerson had “beat, bruised, and ill-treated him” before imprisoning him for 12 hours. Scott also declared that he was free by virtue of his residence in a free state.

For a decade, the case wound its way through the courts, finally reaching the U.S. Supreme Court. In 1857, the court found against Scott in what is believed by many to be the worst decision in the history of the Supreme Court.

Some similarities between the 1857 decision and the 1973 decision (which may be found in several sources on the Internet) are:

The words “citizens” or “persons’’ used in the Constitution were never intended to include Blacks/unborn children.

In the Dred Scott case of 1857 the Supreme Court said: “… a negro, whose ancestors were imported into this country, and sold as slaves. . . were not intended to be included under the word ‘citizens’ in the Constitution, and can, therefore, claim none of the rights and privileges which that instrument provides for and secures to citizens of the United States.”

In the Roe v. Wade case of 1973 the Supreme Court said: “The word ‘person,’ as used in the Fourteenth Amendment, does not include the unborn. … [T]he unborn have never been recognized in the law as persons in the whole sense.”

The right to privacy protects the decision to own slaves/abort unborn children. In the Dred Scott case of 1857 the Supreme Court said: A slave is the property of the master and the Constitution has “provided for the protection of private property against the encroachments of the Government.”

In the Roe v. Wade case of 1973 the Supreme Court said: “This right of privacy … is broad enough to encompass a woman’s decision whether or not to terminate her pregnancy.”

Slavery/abortion is justified because historically the rights of Blacks/ unborn children have been abused. In the Dred Scott case of 1857 the Supreme Court said: “… that unfortunate race … had for more than a century before been regarded as beings of an inferior order [and] they had no rights which the white man was bound to respect.”

In the Roe v. Wade case of 1973 the Supreme Court said: “… abortion was practiced in Greek times as well as in the Roman Era. … Greek and Roman law afforded little protection to the unborn.”

And perhaps the most outrageous argument of all,
Slavery/abortion is for the victim’s own good. In the Dred Scott case of 1857 the Supreme Court said: “… the negro might justly and lawfully be reduced to slavery for his benefit.”

In the Roe v. Wade case of 1973 the Supreme Court said: “There is also the distress for all concerned, associated with the unwanted child, and there is the problem of bringing a child into a family unable, psychologically, and otherwise to care for it.”

In other words, blacks are better off being enslaved and unwanted children are better off dead.

In the 1857 Dred Scott decision, the Supreme Court ruled that slaves, even freed slaves, and all their descendants, had no rights protected by the Constitution and that states had no right to abolish slavery. The reasoning in Dred Scott and Roe v. Wade is nearly identical.

In both cases the Court stripped all rights from a class of human beings and reduced them to nothing more than the property of others. Clearly, in the Court’s eyes, unborn children are now the same “beings of an inferior order” that the justices considered blacks to be over a century ago.

From our modern perspective, the Dred Scott Decision was a monstrous travesty of justice. However, most, or at least many, people of the day believed that if the Supreme Court said it, then it must be just, moral, and right. We now know that the Court was terribly and horribly wrong.

Today, because the Court has said it, most, or at least many, people believe that abortion is just, moral, and right. They are terribly and horribly wrong. It is monstrous.
Perhaps it will take another 100 or 200 years, as it did with slavery, and the oppression of black Americans on up until the 1960s, before the nation sees clearly.
Wrong is wrong no matter who says it is right.

[David Epps is the pastor of the Cathedral of Christ the King, 4881 Hwy. 34 E., Sharpsburg, GA 30277. Services are held Sundays at 8:30 and 10 a.m. ( He is also the bishop of the Mid-South Diocese ( He may be contacted at]