A state senator from southwest Missouri wrote to his constituents on Monday saying the Supreme Court case that legalized abortion in 1973 was worse than slavery.
“What a horrible mark that is upon the history of our nation, surpassing the barbarism even of slavery,” Republican state Sen. Ed Emery wrote in a newsletter to the people living in his district around Nevada, Mo.
“In fact,” he continued, “Centers for Disease Control statistics confirm that it is the African race which has suffered the most fatalities from abortion. It should not be a mystery that the same political party that fought against slavery, today fights against abortion.”
Nimrod Chapel Jr., the president of the Missouri NAACP State Conference, called the remarks “ludicrous” and “disconcerting.”
“Any comparison of slavery to anything else is inappropriate and really shows a complete lack of understanding of the issues faced by generations today as a result of that legal system,” Chapel said.
Emery’s slavery comparison echoes language used by some abortion rights opponents for decades. Last week, U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos made a similar comment. In a Facebook post last week, Republican U.S. Rep. Vicky Hartzler said the Supreme Court decision resulted in a “holocaust against our children for nearly five decades.”
Chapel pointed to a 2017 state law, which Emery voted for, that made discrimination lawsuits harder to win. The Missouri NAACP garnered national headlines after the group issued a travel advisory warning people of color about coming to the state following the bill’s passage.
Emery represents Barton, Bates, Cass, Henry and Vernon counties and was elected to the Missouri Senate in 2012. Monday night, he responded to questions from KCUR with an email reinforcing what he wrote to constituents.
“Slavery was about dehumanizing an entire people group to make life more convenient for those responsible for creating that group,” the legislator said in the email. “Abortion is about dehumanizing an entire people group — the pre-born for the convenience of those responsible for creating that group — parents.”
The Missouri Democratic Party executive director called on Emery to retract his statement and apologize.
“The posturing and mental gymnastics Sen. Emery has to perform to equate reproductive health care with slavery is beyond astonishing,” Lauren Gepford said in a statement. “(It) minimalizes the suffering of millions, suffering that is still felt in African American communities today.”
The Missouri Republican Party did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
M'Evie Mead, the director of policy and organizing for Planned Parenthood Advocates in Missouri, said Emery’s comments were “harmful.”
“It should not be acceptable in our society to try and ignore the racist nature of slavery that is a foundation of this country,” Mead said, “all the while trying to take more decision-making ability away from all people who can get pregnant, particularly black women.”
Aviva Okeson-Haberman is the Missouri government and politics reporter at KCUR 89.3. Follow her on Twitter: @avivaokeson.