May 03, 2008
As Martin Luther King is now regarded as the nation’s premiere secular saint, virtually every single cause tries to attach itself to his legacy. It is therefore not terribly surprising that the pro-life movement tries to construe King as pro-life. Charles Colson, for example, said “Were he alive today, I believe he would be in the vanguard of the pro-life movement.” Usually the extent to the connection is his appeals to morality and natural law to fight civil rights, which is what the pro-lifers claim they are doing as well.
According to Human Events, “King explained the civil rights cause the same way Reagan explained both it and the pro-life cause. It was an effort to make man’s law conform to God’s law. And in King’s view, as in Reagan’s, this quest was in keeping with America’s deepest traditions.” Priests for Life insists, “powerful parallels there are at this moment between the principles Dr. King enunciated in his quest for racial justice, and the principles the pro-life movement enunciates in the quest for justice for the unborn.”
Of course natural law, civil disobedience, appeals to religion, and are simply means to a policy end. People from vastly different political views use these techniques. King himself said that he followed the same path set by Margaret Sanger (more on that shortly.)
Another technique that the pro-lifers also ignore is that King ultimately succeeded by decisions made by a centralizing and activist court. These decisions helped set precedent for Grutter vs. Connecticut and ultimately Roe. vs. Wade.
So what did King say about abortion? Most pro-lifers cite King’s letter from a Birmingham Jail where he praises the “end to such ancient evils as infanticide and gladiatorial contests.” Pro-lifers may see abortion as a form of infanticide, but that is not a universally accepted term. They also see abortion as murder, but that does not mean that anyone who says they oppose murder is pro-life. The infanticide that King is referring to is clearly the Greek and Roman practice of allowing the patriarch to choose to let a newborn baby die of exposure, not abortion which remained legal in most of Christendom in some form until the 19th century.
More relevant is Planned Parenthood’s “Margaret Sanger Award” that King accepted. King did not make the ceremony but had his wife read a speech that he had written. Among the highlights:
There is a striking kinship between our movement and Margaret Sanger’s early efforts.
Negroes have no mere academic nor ordinary interest in family planning. They have a special and urgent concern.
There is scarcely anything more tragic in human life than a child who is not wanted.
The response is that King somehow did not know the true agenda of Planned Parenthood and that he never referred to abortion. According to King’s pro-life niece Alveda,
“Uncle Martin accepted an award from Planned Parenthood in 1966 when abortion was illegal in every state and before Planned Parenthood started publicly advocating for it,” continued Dr. King. “In Planned Parenthood’s own citation for Uncle Martin’s prize, not only is no mention of abortion made, it states that “human life and progress are indeed indivisible.” In 1966, neither the general public nor my uncle was aware of the true agenda of Planned Parenthood, an agenda of death that has become painfully obvious as the years have unfolded.”
When King accepted the award in 1966, Allan Guttmacher”who was vocally in favor of legalizing abortion”was president of the organization. Colorado began to liberalize their abortion laws in 1963 and Planned Parenthood supported it.
Margaret Sanger never explicitly supported legalized abortion. Unlike King she actually explicitly came out against it, but I have yet to see her touted as a pro-life icon. That King did not mention abortion when endorsing birth control does not suggest any sort of commitment to the pro-life cause. Most advocates of legalized abortion don”t like to use that uncomfortable word, and prefer euphemisms like “family planning” or “women’s health.”
Given that King never wrote explicitly on abortion, we have no way to know 100% where he stood, but the information that is available suggests that like on all issues, he would be on the Left.