For the Silent Voices: Is Pregnancy Slavery?

Author Lance Phelps - 12 minute read

Now we turn to an argument that is even further afield then the last argument dealing with a woman’s “right” to choose to terminate their baby in the womb. Yet this line of thinking does not end with simply trying to claim that humans should have total autonomy (which as we have seen is not possible in any society). The philosophical foundation that props up the quest for total autonomy also props up the notion that pregnancy can be slavery. Let’s review the argument that we looked at in the last article:

  1. Slavery is removing human autonomy.

  2. Outlawing abortion would remove a woman’s  autonomy during her pregnancy.

  3. Therefore outlawing abortion would be a form  of slavery for women during pregnancy. 

Social Contracts

The notion of social contracts has been around since Plato had a plucked chicken tossed over his academy’s walls. And since then there have been many takes on this concept. In a nutshell social contract theory claims:

“Social contract theory, nearly as old as philosophy itself, is the view that persons' moral and/or political obligations are dependent upon a contract or agreement among them to form the society in which they live.” - Celeste Friend, Hamilton College

There have been many differing views on how this contract is formed. But the more recent culture has begun to hold to views that stem from more pragmatic forms of morality. The view that is held most nowadays is that a contract cannot be truly binding unless the person that is pertains to agrees to it. As in Plato if a person lives in a society, in this common view, the person has implicitly agreed to a number of social contracts.

The primary issue with this notion is that it is effectively a secular way to try and understand the nature of ethics and why they can be binding. Without a designer that forms covenants, as in Christianity, how can someone who is considered autonomous be expected to conform to a code of ethics? As we have seen autonomous persons are not actually possible in a civil society as true autonomy for all would lead to anarchy. Yet the question then becomes: how is it that a truly autonomous person can be held accountable to a social contract that they implicitly agreed to if they decide later that they no longer wish to be bound to said contract? The moment that one is said to be obligated to something, the moment that you look at someone and say: “you ought” that persons has had their autonomy challenged.

What is Slavery?

Now, before we continue with the above line of reasoning, to the question of slavery. What exactly is slavery? Slavery as we know it, from the context of the north Atlantic slave trade, is somewhat of a new thing. Of course, this concept has been around since shortly after the fall of man but not on this scale. This form of slavery is more then just forcing someone else to do something that they do not wish to do: the enslavement of Africans was a total denial of their personhood. It went much deeper then just forced servitude. Their children were seen as non-persons with no rights and were born as slaves themselves. This is yet another product of the removal of the personhood of those in the slave system. This from of slavery was a personhood denying slavery. It redefined who it was dealing with and thereby allowed unspeakable horrors to be inflicted upon millions of human persons.

Is Morality Slavery?

Now we ask the question is morality slavery? As we have seen the popular view of slavery stems from something so much deeper then just forcing someone to do something that they do not wish to do. When we think of slavery we think of the African slave trade and all of it’s implications. Now I think that the answer is obvious here. No, we are not slaves to the person who enforces a you ought.  If this were true then there could be no ethical grounds to tell anyone that anything is wrong. We are not removing someone personhood by enforcing a you ought (a moral standard). In fact, enforcing the moral standard that is given to us by the Creator actually does the opposite: it bolsters and solidifies the humanity of those who are attempting to harm their a personhood by committing sin (not to day that they would ever loose it). Sin is destructive to us both inside and out. So much so that Christ tells us that when we sin we are slaves to sin. Again I do not believe that this is meant to be interpreted by the modern understanding of the word slave. Nevertheless this slavery is powerful and moves to the core of the person.

So now let us dissect the argument above. Right off the bat we see that slavery cannot be defined as simply the removal of autonomy. If this were so than no one could ever tell other people that they ought to do anything, even things that are seen as the most basic forms of morality. Yet we have a creator who has done just that. So the first premise is not true leading to the conclusion being false.

The second premise is actually true: taking away a woman's access to abortion would limit her autonomy to an extent. But this can hardly be seen as a problem. Every day we limit the autonomy of millions by telling them that murder and stealing is illegal. So too telling someone that murdering a baby in the womb is not allowed can hardly be seen as a problem. (In fact to do this would only aid those who think that they need an abortion by protecting them from a decision that will likely have disastrous effects on their psyche.)

The Source Of Ought

 But all this talk of our ability to declare what we ought to do brings up the question of final authority. Who can actually say you ought ? I do not here have the time to go into great detail on the nuance of this issue but in short the answer must be God. Atheism and naturalistic philosophy simply destroy any chance of morality. But if we are looking to the only true source, the only one who has proven beyond doubt that he is the one who can and should say you ought,  than our worldview must take the shape that he has defined in his word.  We must actually follow the teachings of Christ. And that means that we honor the image that he has created us in but not murdering those bearers in the womb.


In this post we have seen that secular thinking tries to maintain autonomy for persons by appealing to some sort of social contract theory. Yet this cannot maintain autonomy. We also defined slavery and saw that simply is not something that can be equated to pregnancy. We must have the ability to tell people that they ought to do something: for this is what our Creator has done and this is what we must have in order to have a society that even remotely mirrors what He has intended for his people.

In the next post we will take a look at the implication of the personhood of the unborn baby.