‘Society can turn against abortion, just like it rejected the slave trade’

Advocates for unborn children need the compassion, resilience and ingenuity of 19th century anti-slavery campaigners to succeed in their 21st century work, a writer and journalist has said.

In an article for The Gospel Coalition, US-based writer Gracy Olmstead highlighted how evangelical Christian William Wilberforce and his co-workers used culture to shift public perception, eventually leading to the “monumental” accomplishment of outlawing slavery.

Noting similarities between slavery two hundred years ago and the abortion industry now, Olmstead said, “slavery was an accepted practice; while many believed it was wrong, most were willing to turn a blind eye”.


As a result, abolitionists focused on the cultural, social, and ideological factors that allowed slavery to exist and “turned themselves passionately and primarily to public awareness, cultural causes, and grassroots campaigns”.

Wilberforce’s cheer and charisma drew people to his cause and his faith.

Gracy Olmstead

Alongside tireless efforts in Parliament to change the law, they used music, poetry, plays and even a boycott of West Indian sugar to slowly turn the tide away from an acceptance of slavery.

“In a world that disdained the goody-two-shoes sincerity of dedicated Christians, Wilberforce’s cheer and charisma drew people to his cause and his faith.”


Other campaigns on the humane treatment of animals, child prostitution and female infanticide were addressed not to make an anti-slavery stance popular, but because he was “determined to fight oppression, injustice, and suffering in all its forms”.

Olmstead concluded: “If we’re going to compare the pro-life movement to the abolitionist cause, we’re going to need leaders like Wilberforce”.

She added, “we’re going to need tender culture warriors and humanitarians, winsome orators and artists”.


William Wilberforce was born in Hull in 1759.

After becoming an evangelical Christian in the 1780s, he campaigned fiercely in Parliament against slavery.

It was his effort that led to the passing of the Slave Trade Act of 1807, ending Britain’s involvement in the Transatlantic slave trade.

In July 1833 – just 3 days before Wilberforce’s death – the Slavery Abolition Act was passed, granting freedom to slaves in the British Empire.

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