Douglas, the Democrat, took the pro-choice position. He said that each state should decide for itself whether or not it wanted slavery. Douglas denied that he was pro-slavery. In fact, at one time he professed to be "personally opposed" to it. At the same time, Douglas was reluctant to impose his moral views on the new territories. Douglas affirmed the right of each state to choose. He invoked the great principle of freedom of choice.Lincoln, the Republican, disagreed. Lincoln argued that choice cannot be exercised without reference to the content of the choice. How can it make sense to permit a person to choose to enslave another human being? How can self-determination be invoked to deny others self-determination? How can choice be used to negate choice? At its deepest level, Lincoln is saying that the legitimacy of freedom as a political principle is itself dependent on a doctrine of natural rights that arises out of a specific understanding of human nature and human dignity.
If Negroes are like hogs, Lincoln said, then the pro-choice position is right, and there is no problem with choosing to own them. Of course they may be governed without their consent. But if Negroes are human beings, then it is grotesquely evil to treat them like hogs, to buy and sell them as objects of merchandise.
The argument between Douglas and Lincoln is very similar in content, and very nearly in form, to the argument between the pro-choice and the pro-life movements. Pro-choice advocates don't like to be considered pro-abortion. Many of them say they are "personally opposed." One question to put to them is, "Why are you personally opposed?" The only reason for one to be personally opposed to abortion is that one is deeply convinced that the fetus is more than a mere collection of cells, that it is a developing human being.