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How Moving A Few Inches Transforms Property Into A Person


If you leave New York City and travel north a few hundred miles, you will eventually come to a line across the landscape. To the north of the line lies Canada, and to the south, the United States. The line has no geological significance; its importance is entirely derived from political agreement between the United States and Canada. Step across the line and your status changes. If you are a U.S. citizen and step into Canada, you are now an alien, subject to Canadian law.

Today, stepping across that line does not mean much, as the values of the United States and Canada are generally aligned. But there was a time when stepping across that line was consequential and life changing. In 1855, a fugitive slave fleeing his master could step across that line into Canada and be free.

Before crossing, he was the chattel of another man, subject to the whims of his master. He could be beaten or even killed with little legal protection. It was extremely rare for slave owners to be prosecuted for crimes against slaves. And if such a case ever got to trial, many courts would not accept testimony from slaves. In some jurisdictions, an accused slave owner could simply exculpate himself by oath.

But after crossing the line, the slave became free. He morphed from being a thing with few rights to a man; from a world of subjugation to one of self-determination. Where he was once property, he was now a person. Under the law, he could no longer be beaten or killed with impunity.

Imagine you are that slave. A person exists who is in absolute control of your life; who literally has the power of life and death over you.

Now take one step forward. Step across that line into Canada, and everything changes. You are no longer chattel. You are human. You have rights. You have protection under the law. You are recognized for your value.

But have you changed? The answer is no. You are the same person you were a few seconds and one step ago; you have not changed. The only observable change is that you moved a few inches.

Who in the United States today would look upon your situation and support the system where one step ago you were nothing, but now you are something? The answer is no one. No person in the United States would look approvingly upon the movement of a few inches transforming a piece of property devoid of human rights into a person to be protected and cherished by society.

I take back that last statement. It turns out many people in America today believe in such a system. For example, all of the leading 2020 Democratic presidential candidates believe it is perfectly acceptable for a mere line, a mere displacement of a few inches, to determine whether a human being is chattel to be disposed of at will or a human being with dignity that should be protected by the full extent of the law.

For Sen. Bernie Sanders, the line today is not an international border; the line today is the border between being inside a pregnant woman and being born.

To Sen. Elizabeth Warren, before crossing the line, a baby is chattel, subject to the whims of her mother and doctor. The baby could be killed in the most brutal fashion with zero legal protection. Before being born, she is so inconsequential that Warren believes inserting a suction catheter to remove the baby’s “cerebral material” so that the skull collapses is a perfectly acceptable medical procedure.

For Pete Buttigieg, if there were ever any question to the legitimacy of the killing, the mother need only exculpate herself by claiming the killing was for her physical, mental, or perhaps even financial health.

For Joe Biden, who consistently talks about abortion as a decision between a woman and her doctor with no governmental intervention (“I just refuse to impose that on others”), it would seem that the baby should not get a say until it has moved that last few inches. Inside, it is property, to be disposed of at the discretion of the mother and her doctor. Move a few inches and it’s a human who should be universally protected and valued.

The Democratic candidates of 2020 support a system where one can literally tear a baby limb from limb and the perpetrators are to be lauded for supporting a woman’s right to choose, while if that same physical act were to occur a few minutes later after moving the baby mere inches, that act would be met with derision, murder charges, and possible life in prison.

What cognitive dissonance allows for such a system? How could they be so heartless? We need only look to our own past to see a society riddled with such evil being accepted as moral. If slavery taught us anything, it’s that people possess the ability to convince themselves that almost any evil is actually good.

National leaders, such as Confederacy vice president John C. Calhoun, argued that slavery was “a positive good’ that greatly benefitted both slaves and slave holders. Slave states also argued that state sovereignty meant that it was their right to choose to allow slavery; that is, “My State, My Choice.” Back then with respect to slavery (and today with respect to abortion), supporters suppressed the thought that their choice was made for an entire population of humans who were unable to choose for themselves.

One hundred fifty years after the end of slavery in America, we rightfully and universally look with disgust upon the system where a few inches could mean the difference between slavery and freedom, between chattel and humanity.

Let’s hope it doesn’t take another 150 years before we recognize that for babies, mere inches should not be the division between susceptibility to a legal and unimaginably brutal death and near-universal adoration and protection.