On Sunday’s Meet the Press, Ben Carson, the nation’s most baffling neurosurgeon, once again showed his penchant for comparing stuff that isn’t slavery to slavery.
In an interview so bizarre and convoluted that even David Lynch would struggle to make sense of it, Carson told Chuck Todd that women who have abortions are like slaveowners who “thought that they had the right to do whatever they wanted to that slave.”
“Think about this,” Carson said. “During slavery—and I know that’s one of those words you’re not supposed to say, but I’m saying it—during slavery, a lot of the slave owners thought that they had the right to do whatever they wanted to that slave. Anything that they chose.”
And after explaining that he would “love” to see Roe v. Wade overturned, Carson opened his mouth and raised his freak flag high upon the flagpole of stunning ignorance:
In the ideal situation, the mother should not believe that the baby is her enemy and should not be looking to terminate the baby. You know, things are set up in such a way that the person in the world who has the greatest interest in protecting the baby is the mother. We’ve allowed the purveyors of the vision to make mothers think that that baby is their enemy and that they have a right to kill it. Can you see how perverted that line of thinking is?
Carson noted that he’s a reasonable person and that he’d be willing to listen to women who want to “kill” their “babies” because he’s a real peach of a guy: “I’m a reasonable person, and if people can come up with a reasonable explanation of why they would like to kill a baby, I’ll listen.”
But lest you get too excited, ladies, not so fast—if you’re the victim of rape or incest and you want to terminate a pregnancy that resulted from it, in the world according to Carson, you’re not being reasonable.
“Rape and incest, I would not be in favor of killing a baby because the baby came about in that way,” Carson told Chuck Todd.
First, it is appalling that a bona fide medical professional keeps calling abortion “killing a baby.” When Carson practiced medicine, he referred women, including women carrying fetuses with genetic anomalies, to abortion providers. Is that how Carson would talk to them? “Oh, you want to kill your baby because it has a genetic disorder and won’t live outside the womb for more than a few minutes? I’m a reasonable person, and that seems like a reasonable explanation. Let me refer you to someone who can help you with that.”
No decent doctor talks to a patient that way. No decent doctor talks about abortion that way. And I doubt that Dr. Carson talked to his patients that way. The only people that talk about abortion that way are anti-choice politicians, and it’s apparent that Ben Carson has crossed that Republican Rubicon.
Second, where are all the “purveyors of the vision”—whatever the hell “the vision” means—who are supposedly making mothers think that babies are their enemies?
Wait a minute. Are these the same mythical people who are driving around in windowless white vans, snatching pregnant women off the street and shipping them to Planned Parenthood, so their fetuses can be “ripped from the womb” and “harvested for parts” to be sold on the black market for pennies on the dollar? Must be.
Whoever they are, they must not be doing a great job, because where are all these mothers who view their babies as “their enemy”? I have not heard of a single person who has chosen to get an abortion in order to kill the enemy within.
Third, what does “things are set up in such a way that the person in the world who has the greatest interest in protecting the baby is the mother” mean? What things? Are we talking about the patriarchal system that mandates a fetus in every womb? Or is there some sort of master plan about which I am unaware?
The only line of thinking that is “perverted” here is Carson’s, and it is part of a long and storied tradition of dehumanizing and erasing Black women when it comes to reproductive autonomy. And frankly, I’m more than a little annoyed that I have to keep writing the same goddamn article. But here goes.
During slavery, Black women were systematically stripped of their reproductive rights and their humanity. Black women were raped, beaten, and treated as brood mares whose sole purpose was to produce more slaves. Not children, mind you—the offspring of Black slaves weren’t “babies” or “children” in any real sense of the word. They were pre-slaves: property that needed to be housed, clothed, and fed until such time their slavemasters saw fit to put them to work. Slaveholders often separated Black women from their children out of cruelty, and to make sure that Black women never got too comfortable or too content.
In fact, if you think about it, the claim that abortion is like slavery is exactly backwards. I’m not a fan of comparing anything to slavery that is not slavery, but I’m fairly certain that we can all agree that slaveowners systematically forced Black women to give birth. Slavery as the backbone of a system of global economic expansion depended on the fertility and forced breeding of Black women. So if we are going to make offensive comparisons between slavery and things that aren’t slavery, at least let’s use a more apt analogy. Forced birth is more like slavery than abortion is.
Carson and his ilk talk about abortion like it is something that is being done to Black women rather than something which Black women have always practiced in order to maintain control over their own reproduction. As writer and reproductive justice activist Renee Bracey Sherman recently pointed out:
Abortion for black women has always been a revolutionary rejection of patriarchy, white supremacy and forced systems of oppression. The great scholars Patricia Hill Collins and Angela Davis have explained that throughout slavery and into the 20th century, self-abortion through herbal remedies, hangers, hatpins and pencils were a way out of slavery and poverty. Our ancestors fought hard to refuse to carry the children of their master rapists and rear another generation of slaves, even when it meant that “barren” women were deemed worthless chattel and sold between plantations. From generation to generation, stories and recipes were passed down to ensure that women weren’t forced to carry pregnancies they never desired or weren’t able to carry healthily. For as many powerful women that raised children in the worst conditions imaginable, so there were those who refused.
The best way that a Black woman could protect a baby during slavery was by terminating it in utero or killing it after it was born. During the Middle Passage, Black women sacrificed their babies by throwing them overboard rather than consign them to the fate that awaited them on the shores of this nascent country.
Ignoring Black women’s unique history with abortion in this country infantilizes them and strips them of their agency.
And while today, Black women don’t fear that their children will be enslaved, we still have much to fear when it comes to birthing and raising children. Black women fear that their children will be gunned down in the street by police who will never be held accountable for their actions. Black women fear that their children will end up incarcerated in a criminal justice system that reifies racial injustice and white supremacy.
To put it bluntly, this country was a hostile birthing environment for Black women during slavery, and remains so for many Black women today. But rather than take steps to make it easier for women to have and raise children, the anti-choice community simply grows more extreme and ridiculous in their rhetoric, and dials up to 11 its efforts to shame and demonize Black women.
Anti-choicers clutch their collective pearls about the high rate of abortion in the Black community, but have no interest in talking about the root cause of that abortion rate. Anti-choice advocates, conservatives in particular, don’t want to talk about the never-ending war they are waging against contraception access; comprehensive sexual education; and social programs like public assistance, food benefits, health care, sex education, and fair pay that would permit Black women to not only choose motherhood when the time is right for them, but also to raise healthy children.
Instead, anti-choicers parrot the “abortion is like slavery” canard in an effort to exploit Black history and to shame Black women into signing onto their crusade. Our ancestors suffered under slavery, so we understand, don’t we? We understand how horrible it is to deny freedom to the innocent. Surely we would agree that abortion is worse than slavery, right? Under slavery, we were at least permitted to live. Abortion denies innocent lives even a single breath. That’s what they argue, anyway.
But here’s the thing—and this might bother me more than any of the nonsensical bullshit that is spewing forth from Ben Carson’s mouth—I don’t really think that Ben Carson believes that abortion is like slavery. I don’t think he is fundamentally as anti-abortion as he is now pretending to be. I think he is saying the sort of ridiculous things that, as a serious contender (yikes!) for the Republican presidential nomination, needs to say in order to rally social conservatives to his corner.
Ben Carson is neck-and-neck with Donald Trump in the polls. He’s leading Trump in Iowa and gaining on him in New Hampshire. And until just a few years ago, Trump was pro-choice. In 1999, Trump described himself as pro-choice with reservations. He made the switch in 2011, which is when the legislative assault on abortion rights kicked into high gear.
Trump still doesn’t really seem to care that much about it, and abortion foes don’t trust him. “There are a lot of folks that distrust where Trump stands on life because of his track record and even his recent vacillations on Planned Parenthood,” Lila Rose, a prominent anti-choice activist and founder of Live Action news, told Talking Points Memo in August of this year.
So if Ben Carson can tack to the right of Trump on abortion, he might be able to maintain his lead over the billionaire in Iowa and gain on him in New Hampshire and South Carolina.
But that’s just speculation. I don’t really know. What I do know is that the kind of tomfoolery that Carson is spouting and this new Caped Crusader Against Abortion persona he has inhabited don’t match up with his previous comments and behavior.
In 1992, as reported by Politico, Carson told the Baltimore Sun that he opposes abortion but refers patients seeking abortion to other doctors. “As a physician who does not believe in abortion, when faced with a patient who has severe medical problems, I would refer someone for an abortion. I believe that person needs to hear both sides,” Carson said.
In that same interview, Carson also claimed that he would never advocate for illegal abortion. ”I would never advocate it’s illegal for a person to get an abortion,” he said. “I think in the long run we do a lot of harm when we bludgeon people.”
“But that was 1992!” you might be protesting. “People change their minds!”
Well, as recently as August of this year, Doug Watts, Carson’s communications director, said the presidential hopeful “believes in quality medical care, No. 1, and secondly, he believes in people making their own decisions based on facts and information.” Watts went on to say that Carson “has always believed that the battle over abortion had to be waged in the hearts and minds of Americans, that you cannot legislate morality.”
So much for that sentiment.
Now Carson would “love” to overturn Roe v. Wade and is willing to let people have abortions as long as he gets to decide whether it’s reasonable or not. He wants to hear from women about why they want to “kill their babies” because he has retired from the practice of medicine and is a politician now. And being a politician means saying ridiculous shit to get elected.
Ultimately, I don’t think it is relevant whether Carson truly believes that the one in three women in this country who will have an abortion by the age of 45—61 percent of whom are already mothers—are no better than slaveholders of fetuses who think they have the right to do whatever they want with their fetal slave.
What I find most galling about Carson’s comments comparing abortion and slavery is not that they are utterly nonsensical—and make no mistake, they are—but that they demonstrate that the test for being a viable Republican presidential nominee is a willingness to be loudly wrong about abortion.
And if you want someone to be loudly wrong about abortion—whether it’s claiming that Margaret Sanger wanted to exterminate the Black race (she didn’t) or claiming that Planned Parenthood is setting up shop in Black neighborhoods as part of some nefarious plot to control Black population (they aren’t), Ben Carson is your man.