Commentary on social and moral issues of the day

Martin Luther King Jr.'s Surprising Family Legacy: Acting From Principle on Abortion

The Claremont Institute

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Who is Alveda King? She is the niece of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., the acknowledged leader of the American civil rights movement in the 1950s and 1960s. She has no other claim to fame, and seeks none, but she has taken her uncle's principles to heart to move in a new direction.

Political debate in this or any other free country is governed to a considerable extent by a combination of principle and personality. That is, citizens form parties or other groups and support candidates and causes on the basis of some application of the republican principles of equality and liberty.

But we also have citizens who are governed strictly by some economic or personal interest, or by attachment to individuals or groups. There is no inherent incompatibility between the two general types of political activity, but there are individuals who steadfastly refuse to acknowledge the force of principle and no less resent those who do.

Alveda King is not in that category. For her, the same principle of equal rights that condemns all acts of unjust discrimination against persons because of their race also implicates abortion. Just as she in her youth she joined her justly famous uncle and her lesser-known father, Rev. A.D. King (who was also a martyr) in protesting racial injustice, now she sees as the most pressing issue the abortions of 45 million unborn children since Roe v. Wade legalized abortion on demand in 1973.

Dr. King's most arresting statement came in his "I Have A Dream" speech when called for people to be judged not by the color of their skin but "by the content of their character."

Alveda King, his niece, a minister and a former college professor, asks: "How can the 'Dream' survive if we murder the children? Every aborted baby is like a slave in the womb of his or her mother. The mother decides his or her fate."

Leading luminaries in the civil rights movement have strenuously avoided applying the principle at the heart of their cause to abortion, partly because they want to stay focused on one issue but also because most of them are liberals and opposition to abortion is a conservative position.

Thus, when Republican Sen. Orin Hatch once compared Roe v. Wade to Dred Scott v. Sanford (1857) on the grounds that both United States Supreme Court decisions excluded a whole class of persons from constitutional protection, former Democratic Sen. Carol Mosley Braun said she was "offended" that Hatch should make such a comparison.

But Hatch was right. The Court majority in Roe said that unborn children were not persons and therefore not entitled to the equal protection of the laws enshrined in the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. The Court majority in Dred Scott held that black persons "have no rights which white men are bound to respect." What is the difference in principle between them?

Alveda King sees no difference in principle between excluding persons of African descent and excluding unborn persons of every descent. "Of course a woman has a right to decide what to do with her own body. Thank God for the Constitution. Yet, she also has a right to know the serious consequences and repercussions of making a decision to abort her child.

"Then too, what about the rights of each baby who is artificially breached before coming to term in his or her mother's womb, only to have her skull punctured, and feel, yes agonizingly 'feel' the life run out of her before she takes her first breath of freedom."

King's opposition to abortion is also personal. As a young woman in the 1970s her first baby was aborted by her doctor without her knowledge or consent, and another she agreed to abort because of pressure from the child's father. Those experiences have taught her the pain of losing children and the health risks associated with abortions of the first pregnancies. She struggled with depression and eating disorders.

But whereas others might have remained defensive about their fateful experiences and looked askance at anyone who questioned her doctor's judgment or her own, King's devotion to the principle of equality, which includes the rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, leads her to oppose abortion.

"Oh, God, what would Martin Luther King, Jr., who dreamed of having his children judged by the content of their characters do if he'd lived to see the contents of thousands of children's skulls emptied into the bottomless caverns of the abortionists pits?"

She declares, "Because I am a civil rights activist I have to fight for the rights of the unborn."

As we celebrate the birth of the Savior of the world and look forward to another year to live out the promise of that salvation, we should learn from the example of Alveda King who let neither her personal situation nor the pressures of politics prevent her from acting on principle. Those who declare that racial injustice is wrong must perforce denounce abortion on demand also.

Read the entire article on the Claremont Institute website (new window will open).

Posted: 23-Jun-07

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