January 19, 2009

Positivity: Martin Luther King Was Outspokenly Prolife in 1963 Letter! (See Elaboration and Updates)

Filed under: Life-Based News,Positivity — Tom @ 12:01 am

Proof of how the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. would have reacted to legalized abortion is in this key passage from his “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” (also found here):

One may well ask: “How can you advocate breaking some laws and obeying others?” The answer lies in the fact that there are two types of laws: just and unjust. I would be the first to advocate obeying just laws. One has not only a legal but a moral responsibility to obey just laws. Conversely, one has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws. I would agree with St. Augustine that “an unjust law is no law at all.”

Now, what is the difference between the two? How does one determine whether a law is just or unjust? A just law is a man made code that squares with the moral law or the law of God. An unjust law is a code that is out of harmony with the moral law. To put it in the terms of St. Thomas Aquinas: An unjust law is a human law that is not rooted in eternal law and natural law. Any law that uplifts human personality is just. Any law that degrades human personality is unjust.

Happily, his invocations of Augustine, Aquinas, and natural law end any legitimate argument over whether Dr. King, who was assassinated five years after his Birmingham letter, and two years before the debate over completely legalizing abortion went national, would have opposed the grisly practice.

Dr. King’s citation of Aquinas relates to the philosophically pioneering saint who held that all abortions are gravely immoral (as did St. Augustine — see the last sentence at this link).

As to natural law, properly understood — and Dr. King, with his simultaneous references to Aquinas and Augustine, clearly had such an understanding — its principle of double effect explains why abortion is indeed gravely immoral:

The principle of double effect holds that it is morally allowable to perform an action that has a bad effect only under the following conditions:

  1. ….. The action to be performed must be good in itself, or at least indifferent. This is evident, for if the act is evil of its very nature, nothing can make it good or indifferent. Evil would then be chosen directly, either as an end or as a means to an end, and there could be no question of merely permitting or tolerating it. If the action is fundamentally and inherently morally illicit, then it cannot be morally permitted regardless of any good intentions or goals, or under any good circumstances.Application: (Thus,) the act of abortion of its very nature is inherently evil, because it is the intentional and direct killing of an innocent human being. This would apply to all abortions, including those in the case of rape and incest (and to those involving human fetal and human embryo research, and human cloning). Therefore it is never morally permissible to undergo an abortion procedure. The principle of double effect as applied to the case of abortion renders abortion procedures morally illicit, since the action by its very nature is evil.
  2. ….. The evil effect must not be directly intended for itself but only permitted to happen as an accidental by-product of the act performed. Application: In the case of abortion procedures, the death of the unborn child is directly intended, and therefore is morally illicit.
  3. ….. The good intended must not be obtained by means of the evil effects. The evil must not be an actual factor in the accomplishment of the good.Application: In the case of abortion procedures, the death of the unborn child may not be used as a means of limiting family size, preventing birth defects, enhancing a career, etc. (all legitimately good or neutral ends or goals in themselves).
  4. ….. There must be a reasonably grave reason for permitting the evil effect. If the good is slight and the evil great, the evil can hardly be called incidental. If there is any other way of getting the good effect without the bad effect, this other way must be taken.Application: In the case of abortion procedures, to maintain a slim figure, to have a child of a certain sex, to prevent the birth of a child with defects, or to evade social embarrassment would not be reasonably grave reasons for permitting the unintended and unavoidable death of the unborn child.

King’s clear prolife position desperately needs to be understood in the African-American community he gave his life fighting for, especially among the community’s modern leadership. African-Americans have been disproportionately decimated by legalized abortion. Though they make up roughly 12% of the USA’s population, 35% of abortions since Roe v. Wade have killed African-American babies.

Americans of all backgrounds must understand how horrified Dr. King would have been at our abortion-on-demand culture, and do everything they can not to merely marginally reduce it, but to totally eliminate it. That would include our president-elect, who tragically has been the polar opposite of Dr. King on this matter in his political life to this point.


Also: There is no doubt that Martin Luther King Sr. opposed abortion, and applied that belief in his own family

August 26, 2008 12:03AM

More than 2,000 people marched around a new Planned Parenthood Clinic in Denver tonight instead of following the Democratic National Convention.

Alveda King, a niece of the late Martin Luther King Jr., and Archbishop of Denver Charles Chaput spoke to the crowd before they lit candles and circled the gated clinic.

Alveda King’s mother conceived her daughter when she was a freshman in college. She had wanted to get an abortion, but Martin Luther King Sr. told her mother she could not abort her baby.

“This little baby human girl was allowed to live,” she said to the cheering crowd.

Elaboration: This December 2007 BizzyBlog post about Mitt Romney’s outrageously false characterization of Ronald Reagan as “adamantly pro-choice” when Reagan was governor of California makes it clear that the intent of the abortion laws passed in 1967 in several states, including California, was to legalize the practice in very narrow cases of rape, incest, and real threat to the life or physical health of the mother. Sadly, as noted at the post, proabortion medical practitioners abused these laws, and began routinely certifying the “need” for an abortion on the basis of the mother’s “mental health.”

The fact that this abuse was occurring, and that it had evolved into de facto abortion on demand, was not widely known until well after Dr. King’s assassination in April 1968.


UPDATE: An e-mailer kindly forwarded a piece of evidence from 1966 that, at least on the surface, would argue in the opposite direction.

Dr. King was given the Margaret Sanger award by Planned Parenthood that year. King’s wife, Coretta Scott King, actually delivered her husband’s acceptance speech on his behalf.

But part of PP’s award citation looked like a defense of human life:

“In the tradition of all great humanitarians who have seen that human life and progress are indeed indivisible, Dr. King has lent his eloquent voice to the cause of world-wide voluntary family planning.”


  • “Worldwide family planning” at the time did NOT include access to abortion.
  • The word “abortion” or any term that implies its acceptability is not in the speech.
  • Though it probably supported the idea from its inception, PP more than likely did not publicly come out in favor of legalized abortion until at least 1968. Remember, it framed the California and other state laws as very narrow; Reagan was told it might apply to 1,000 cases a year, but it ended up leading to a half-million abortions annually. King was in many ways a great man, but he couldn’t read everyone’s minds.
  • Likewise, Sanger’s pre-World War II advocacy of eugenics and of consciously limiting population growth in poorer communities was never widely known. Though it’s a historical fact, it still isn’t widely known.

My response to the e-mailer also made the following points:

  • King was clearly pro-contraception, because that WAS an element of “worldwide family planning” at the time. But the speech has no indication that he was pro-abort. In the 1960s, King was not alone in failing to appreciate the abortifacient nature of many forms of contraception.
  • All of that said, you can’t eliminate the possibility that King sold out a firmly grounded 1963 theology in the mid-1960s and later.
  • You also can’t totally eliminate the possibility that he was a poseur in 1963. If so, that Birmingham letter puts on quite a theological act.
  • King’s alleged record of extramarital affairs and his demonstrated history of plagiarism are grounds for at least mild discomfort on the previous two points.

UPDATE 2: There is other indirect evidence that King would have been prolife had he lived long enough to see legalized abortion.

Most compelling is the fact that King associate Jesse Jackson was strongly prolife until roughly the late 1970s or early 1980s. In January 1977, four years after Roe v. Wade, as shown in this footnote graphic taken from a book by C. Everett Koop, Jackson wrote the following in a prolife magazine:


Because of his longtime position of spiritual leadership in the African-American community, deserved or not, Jackson’s renunciation of his prolife values is perhaps the most deadly change of heart in US history.

Less compelling is the fact that Ralph David Abernathy, King’s successor as head of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, endorsed prolife Ronald Reagan in 1980 (a Washington Post article preview is here; NYT preview is here), and thus did not endorse proabort Jimmy Carter. To be sure, I see no evidence that abortion was mentioned as a factor, but Abernathy’s stated economy-based reasons for going against a tide of support for Carter from other black leaders don’t seem sufficient. That Abernathy had supported Ted Kennedy, who by that time was strongly proabort, in the 1980 Democratic Party, argues against taking his support for Reagan as a prolife position too seriously.

In between the two is Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth, who was one of King’s early civil rights agitators (in a positive sense), and one of the bravest. That Shuttlesworth held on to his natural law core is shown in his consistent opposition to attempts to equate the 1960s civil rights movement with the modern homosexual rights movement, and to same-sex “marriage.”



  1. [...] Go here to see the original: Positivity: Martin Luther King Was Prolife! [...]

    Pingback by Positivity: Martin Luther King Was Prolife! | Pelican Project Pro-Life — January 19, 2009 @ 4:32 am

  2. No one can make any rational comparison between someone like Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. or Abraham Lincoln and Barack Obama.

    While many would like to point out similarities and try, it is impossible.

    King and Lincoln had strong, resolute, core values that included a deep appreciation of human rights, human dignity, and human life.

    Barack Obama, in contrast, is an empty shell, a figment of his supporters’ imaginings of the change they sought. In reality, Obama’s demonstrated agenda goes against nearly everything King and Lincoln stood for.

    Comment by One Dove — January 20, 2009 @ 8:04 am

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