Slaves, Fetuses, and Animals: Race and Ethical Rhetoric

UNCG Author/Contributor (non-UNCG co-authors, if there are any, appear on document)
William D. Hart, Professor and Department Chair (Creator)
The University of North Carolina at Greensboro (UNCG )
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Abstract: This essay is an exploration in ethical rhetoric, specifically, the ethics of comparing the status of fetuses and animals to enslaved Africans. On the view of those who make such comparisons, the fetus is treated as a slave through abortion, reproductive technologies, and stem cell research, while animals are enslaved through factory farming, experimentation, and as laborers, circus performers, and the like. I explore how the apotheosis of the fetus and the humanization of animals represent the flipside of the subjugation and animalization of black people. At their ethical best, those who compare aborted fetuses and abused animals with enslaved black people have laudable ethical goals. The anti-abortion right and the animal rights left, respectively, wish to abolish abortion (and associated reproductive technologies that harm prenatal life) and the unethical treatment of animals. They seek, respectively, to reimagine the ethical-political status of the fetus and to criticize the animalization of animals, the practice of constructing them as beasts. While sympathetic to these goals, I worry about the comparative diminution of the historical, literal enslavement of black people. To what extent, I ask, does the comparative ethical rhetoric of fetal slaves and animal slaves affect historical constructions of black people as beastly and disposable?

Additional Information

Journal of Religious Ethics, 42(4), 661-690
Language: English
Date: 2014
ethical rhetoric, slaves, fetuses, animals, white supremacy, race

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