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Justice Clarence Thomas Gives America a Lesson on Eugenics and Abortion

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The Story: In a recent Supreme Court opinion, Justice Clarence Thomas connected the dots between eugenics and abortion. In response, abortion supporters are attempting to discredit him in hopes that Americans won’t learn the truth.

The Background: Earlier this week the Supreme Court declined to review Box v. Planned Parenthood of Indiana and Kentucky. That case was about an Indiana law that included a provision that would make it illegal for an abortion provider to perform an abortion in the state when the provider knows that the mother is seeking the abortion solely because of the child’s race, sex, diagnosis of Down syndrome, disability, or related characteristics.

In a 20-page opinion, Associate Justice Thomas argued that the law “promote[s] a State’s compelling interest in preventing abortion from becoming a tool of modern-day eugenics.” Here are some highlights from the opinion:

The use of abortion to achieve eugenic goals is not merely hypothetical. The foundations for legalizing abortion in America were laid during the early 20th-century birth-control movement. That movement developed alongside the American eugenics movement. And significantly, Planned Parenthood founder Margaret Sanger recognized the eugenic potential of her cause.

[. . .]

This case highlights the fact that abortion is an act rife with the potential for eugenic manipulation. From the beginning, birth control and abortion were promoted as means of effectuating eugenics. Planned Parenthood founder Margaret Sanger was particularly open about the fact that birth control could be used for eugenic purposes. These arguments about the eugenic potential for birth control apply with even greater force to abortion, which can be used to target specific children with unwanted characteristics. Even after World War II, future Planned Parenthood President Alan Guttmacher and other abortion advocates endorsed abortion for eugenic reasons and promoted it as a means of controlling the population and improving its quality. As explained below, a growing body of evidence suggests that eugenic goals are already being realized through abortion.

[. . .]

Abortion advocates were sometimes candid about abortion’s eugenic possibilities. In 1959, for example, Guttmacher explicitly endorsed eugenic reasons for abortion. A. Guttmacher, Babies by Choice or by Chance 186–188 (1959). He explained that “the quality of the parents must be taken into account,” including “[f]eeblemindedness,” and believed that “it should be permissible to abort any pregnancy . . . in which there is a strong probability of an abnormal or malformed infant.” He added that the question whether to allow abortion must be “separated from emotional, moral and religious concepts” and “must have as its focus normal, healthy infants born into homes peopled with parents who have healthy bodies and minds.” Similarly, legal scholar Glanville Williams wrote that he was open to the possibility of eugenic infanticide, at least in some situations, explaining that “an eugenic killing by a mother, exactly paralleled by the bitch that kills her misshapen puppies, cannot confidently be pronounced immoral.” G. Williams, Sanctity of Life and the Criminal Law 20 (1957). The Court cited Williams’ book for a different proposition in Roe v. Wade, 410 U. S. 113, 130, n. 9 (1973).

[. . .]

Although the Court declines to wade into these issues today, we cannot avoid them forever. Having created the constitutional right to an abortion, this Court is dutybound to address its scope.

What It Means: While pro-lifers tend to already know about the eugenics movement, many Americans are only hearing about it for the first time. Not surprisingly, this has caused something of a panic among abortion apologists.

For example, The Washington Post wrote an article titled, “Clarence Thomas tried to link abortion to eugenics. Seven historians told The Post he’s wrong.” In the article Paul A. Lombardo, a professor of law at Georgia State University, says, “I’ve been studying this stuff for 40 years, and I’ve never been able to find a leader of the eugenics movement that came out and said they supported abortion.” Lombardo may have missed the fact that Thomas had directly quoted Alan Guttmacher, the former president of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America and namesake of the Guttmacher Institute, expressing support for eugenic abortions. More likely, though, Lombardo probably assumes that people will read the article in the Post and assume his claim is true. If the Post can’t be bothered to fact check the claims they publish, why will the readers?

Critics of Justice Thomas also claim there is no need for a ban on sex-selective abortion, because they are not occurring in the United States. Michael C. Dorf, a professor of U.S. constitutional law at Cornell, says “when women come to the United States from cultures that practice sex-selection abortion, they do not bring the practice with them. Accordingly, much of the Indiana law targets a non-problem.” Such a claim could only be made by someone ignorant of demographic trends—and who did not read the footnotes of Justice Thomas’s opinion.

One study that Justice Thomas cites is “Son-biased sex ratios in the 2000 United States Census” published in 2008 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. As the abstract of the article says,

We document male-biased sex ratios among U.S.-born children of Chinese, Korean, and Asian Indian parents in the 2000 U.S. Census. This male bias is particularly evident for third children: If there was no previous son, sons outnumbered daughters by 50%. By contrast, the sex ratios of eldest and younger children with an older brother were both within the range of the biologically normal, as were White offspring sex ratios (irrespective of the elder siblings’ sex). We interpret the found deviation in favor of sons to be evidence of sex selection, most likely at the prenatal stage. [emphasis added]

The article adds, “Since 2005, sexing through a blood test as early as 5 weeks after conception has been marketed directly to consumers in the U.S., raising the prospect of sex selection becoming more widely practiced in the near future.”

Dorf also contends that Justice Thomas misuses the term eugenic when he applies it to “an individual decision by an individual woman to have an abortion” since “eugenics cannot be an individual project.” Yet as Ed Whelan notes, “Dorf does not inform his readers of Thomas’s weighty evidence that individual abortion decisions can collectively have a eugenic impact. For example, ‘In Iceland, the abortion rate for children diagnosed with Down syndrome in utero approaches 100%.’ Dorf also ignores the possibility that there might be weighty systemic biases that influence individual abortion decisions.” Whelan also points out that “the eugenics movement tried to harness the voluntary actions of individuals.”

Again, most of the history Justice Thomas presents will not come as news to informed pro-lifers (see: 9 Things You Should Know About Eugenics). But the reaction by his critics shows that the pro-abortion crowd will go to extensive links to discredit such any connection to the eugenic practices of yesteryear and those of today. They know they will lose credibility when they claim to oppose discrimination based on sex, race, and disability and yet allow the unborn to be killed based on such discrimination.

Justice Thomas is right about the connection to abortion and eugenics, and he’s right when he says the Supreme Court cannot avoid the issue forever. Neither can the rest of America. We need to ensure America knows that all children are worthy of protection because all are made in the image of God.

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