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When Senator Stephen Douglas and Abraham Lincoln faced off in a debate in Peoria, Illinois in 1854, the issue tearing the nation apart was slavery.

A central question was whether slavery would be allowed in the new territories entering the union.

Douglas’ answer to the question was politics. Lincoln’s answer was morality and the Bible.

Douglas’ answer to slavery in the new states, the Kansas-Nebraska Act, was democracy. Citizens would vote on whether or not to allow slavery in their state.

Lincoln opposed the expansion of what he saw as the inherently evil institution of slavery.

In the Peoria debate, Lincoln said, “Judge Douglas interrupted me to say that the principle of the Nebraska bill was very old: that it originated when God created man and placed good and evil before him, allowing him to choose by himself, being responsible for the choice he should make.

Lincoln’s response was, “God did not place good and evil before man, telling him to make his choice. On the contrary, he told him that there was a tree whose fruit he must not eat, on pain of certain death.

Lincoln argued, essentially, that at the heart of political freedom is man’s free choice, and that the choices man makes have profound significance and consequences.

Douglas argued that the most important thing is that we can choose. Lincoln argued that the most important thing is what we choose.

Here we are now, nearly 170 years after Lincoln and Douglas clashed in Peoria, and the nation stands at a similar crossroads in another issue with grave moral consequences – our responsibilities to the unborn.

Judge Samuel Alito, in his opinion in the Dobbs decision which overturned Roe v. Wade, argued from a legal and constitutional point of view. His finding, contrary to the court’s finding in Roe v. Wade, was that the US Constitution does not contain the right for a woman to abort her child.

However, the practical and moral result of this decision is that Alito put the nation on the moral footing where Lincoln quarreled over slavery.

The moral consequence of Roe v. Wade was to institutionalize Douglas’s argument that our ultimate American value is choice – not what we choose.

The moral consequence of the Dobbs decision is to guarantee the idea that where, in the preamble of the American Constitution, it is said that its objective is to “Ensure yourself the blessings of freedom”, that what the Constitution protects is our responsibility to make the right choices. The choice is not the ultimate end, but what we choose.

But it is not finished. We now have clarity that it is not moral relativism that our Constitution guarantees, but deeper truths about right and wrong.

Now that we know what the Constitution does not do, we will find out what our 50 states will choose to do, which is where the consciences of the citizens of those states are that will determine those outcomes.

We are in a place eerily similar to what Douglas wanted regarding slavery. From now on, States will choose yes or no to abortion.

In other words, will states decide that the ultimate value is the ability to choose, or is the ultimate value what choices are made?

Is our ultimate value that a woman has the ability to destroy her unborn child, or is our ultimate value the sanctity of life?

These are the questions before us that will define who we are as a nation and as a people.

Although in the 1850s the country was deeply divided over the question of slavery, today one would be hard pressed to find anyone who would agree with Douglas that democracy and the vote should decide whether the slavery would be allowed.

I predict history will follow the same course with respect to our growing awareness of the sanctity of life and our responsibility to protect the unborn child. But clearly, we are in the long term.

Star Parker is president of the Center for Urban Renewal and Education and host of the weekly television show “Heal America with Star Parker.” To learn more about Star Parker and read articles by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.

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