The 2006 film, Amazing Grace, tells the story of William Wilberforce, the young 18th Century House of Commons member who worked for over 20 years on the floor of the British parliament to abolish Great Britain’s slave trade. Suffering one defeat after another, Wilberforce finally partnered with Josiah Wedgewood, the renowned pottery manufacturer, to promote his design of an emblem that featured the image of a black slave, kneeling and bound in chains, asking a very simple question: “Am I not a man…?”
By distributing tens of thousands of these coins, buttons and medallions across the land, Wilberforce confronted his adversaries and his culture with the basic question of personhood and human identity. Society had dumbed down what it meant to be human. Government had wrested the definition of identity from God and the results were ugly. So, Wilberforce went back to the basics and calmly asked: Is a black person not a man? In so doing, he forced his contemporaries to answer with an all telling “yes” or “no.” The end result was that after decades of arguing on the floor of parliament, the slave trade was abolished.
This past week, the media was awash with news of Dr. Deborah Nucatola, Senior Director of Medical Services at Planned Parenthood, admitting to the selling of “lungs, hearts and livers” and other baby body parts that result from the organization’s 329,000 annual abortions. How should we respond? Perhaps we would do well to reflect on the example of Wilberforce.
Maybe Wilberforce would engage Planned Parenthood in the same way he did the slave traders of Great Britain. Maybe he would simply show the world an image accompanied by a question. Perhaps it would be a photo of a young baby –24, 28 or 36 weeks in gestation – who represents the source of the body parts for which Dr. Nucatola seeks financial gain. Perhaps the question to the doctor and her defenders would then be: Is this not a human? My guess is Wilberforce would then go further, in light of his reputation for rhetorical skill; I wouldn’t be surprised if he followed with questions such as these:
Does a blob of tissue have lungs and legs, head and heart, liver and limbs?
Is a person more than what his or her physical abilities are or aren’t?
If you are weak or strong are you still human?
If you are young or old are you still human?
If age is pertinent, how old do you have to be to be human?
Are you a human being one minute after you are born?
If so, why aren’t you human one minute earlier?
Does your location having any bearing as to whether or not you are human?
If you are in your mother’s arms are you human?
If so, why aren’t you a human being when you rest in your mother’s womb?
And I’d be willing to bet William Wilberforce would venture one final question as he quietly waited for Dr. Nucatola, Planned Parenthood, and their political powerbrokers to condemn themselves in their answer:
Should any civilized people ever condone the selling of any human being, either whole or in part?