Dr. Ben Carson, the neurosurgeon-turned-anti-establishment Republican presidential contender, compared abortion to slavery in an interview on Sunday, saying that he would “love” to see abortion outlawed with no exceptions made for women who are victims of rape or incest.
Insisting that he is a “reasonable person,” Carson went on to lay out a number of unreasonable propositions, starting with his comparison between women making choices about their own bodies and slave owners exercising brutal control over other human beings.
“Think about this,” Carson said on NBC’s Meet the Press. “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 slave owners thought they had the right to do whatever they wanted to that slave, anything that they chose. And what if the abolitionists had said, ‘I don’t believe in slavery but you guys do whatever you want’? Where would be?”
Rising in the primary polls in Iowa — with its deeply evangelical Republican base — Carson called for overturning the Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision, saying that he would only be willing to “discuss” whether to allow exceptions if the mother’s life is in danger. Below is the relevant transcript, pasted in full because his answers were often hard to discern:
CHUCK TODD: Okay. Do you want to see Roe v. Wade overturned?
DR. BEN CARSON: Ultimately, I would love to see it overturned.
CHUCK TODD: And that means all abortions illegal? Or is there still an exception that you would have?
DR. BEN CARSON: 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.
CHUCK TODD: Life and health of the mother?
DR. BEN CARSON: Again, that’s a extraordinarily rare situation. But if in that very rare situation it occurred, I believe there’s room to discuss that.
CHUCK TODD: Rape and incest?
DR. BEN CARSON: Rape and incest, I would not be in favor of killing a baby because the baby came about in that way. And all you have to do is go and look up the many stories of people who have led very useful lives who were the result of rape or incest.
Carson’s comments to Meet The Press are the latest in a fairly scattered history when it comes to abortion policy. Carson has stated his support for a bill that would unconstitutionally ban abortions at 20 weeks. And as a neurosurgeon at Johns Hopkins he says he was personally opposed to abortion. But as POLITICO reported, he also “has referred women to doctors who perform abortions [and] was a trustee of a foundation that gave hundreds of thousands of dollars to Planned Parenthood.” In other comments, however, Carson has repeatedly made the false claim that Planned Parenthood was founded to control the black population. He has also personally performed research using fetal tissue obtained from an aborted fetus, despite his apparent objection to the practice.
As others have pointed out, anti-choice comparisons between slavery and abortion may be absurd, but they’re definitely nothing new. Writing for RH Reality Check, legal analyst Imani Gandy explains how anti-choice activists have used such comparisons “in an effort to exploit Black history and to shame Black women into signing on to the anti-abortion crusade”:
Comparisons between abortion and slavery are popular among the anti-choice crowd because most people agree that slavery is morally wrong. If anti-choice forces can equate slavery and abortion, and draw parallels between an “unborn” person and an enslaved person, then surely no morally righteous person could continue to defend abortion as a medical procedure that enables women to retain some modicum of control over the physical selves and their economic realities.
The comparisons are often tailored for the Black community and lobbed at Black women by the same forces who erect billboards in Black communities that scream “The most dangerous place for an African American is in the womb,” blissfully ignorant of the bitter irony of feigning concern for Black children even as they appropriate images of Black girls to spread their anti-choice propagandistic messages, and wage war against social programs—public assistance, food benefits, health care, sex education, fair pay—that would permit Black women to not only choose motherhood, but to raise healthy children.
Such [comparisons] are the bread and butter of the rabid anti-choice crowd—who ignore any discussion of the hostile birthing environment that exists for women of color and low-income women to this day. Moreover, such arguments ignore the horror that slavery was for Black people, and the unique ways in which Black women in particular suffered under slavery.
Carson, in particular, seems to be quite fond of the slavery analogy, using the offensive and off-point comparison to express his opposition to the Affordable Care Act, as well: “Obamacare is really, I think, the worst thing that has happened in this nation since slavery,” Carson said in 2013. “And it is in a way, it is slavery in a way, because it is making all of us subservient to the government, and it was never about health care. It was about control.”
That’s an interesting statement for him to make, given that control over women’s health care and bodies is exactly what Carson is now endorsing.
Watch the video of Carson’s comments below: