Black Democratic Congresswoman Tells Betsy Devos to 'Say This to My Face' After She Compared Being Pro-Choice to Pro-Slavery

A comment by Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos at an event in which she reportedly compared being pro-choice to pro-slavery prompted the response from an African-American congresswoman, who invited DeVos to "say this to my face."

During an appearance at a Colorado Christian University event Wednesday in Washington, D.C., DeVos said that President Abraham Lincoln "contended with the pro-choice arguments of his day," according to the Colorado Times Recorder.

"They suggested that a state's choice to be slave or to be free had no moral question in it," she told the audience.

She praised Lincoln for showing "pro-choicers" that most Americans do not view these issues as small. "Well, President Lincoln reminded those pro-choicers that is a vast portion of the American people that do not look upon that matter as being this very little thing," she said. "They look upon it as a vast moral evil."

DeVos later praised those who work for the pro-life movement, saying they "heroically work to make abortion unconstitutional." The education secretary said she wanted to "talk about making it unthinkable."

The remark prompted a tweet from Massachusetts Democratic Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley, who wrote on Thursday: "Dear Betsy, As a Black woman & the Chair of the abortion access task force, I invite you to say this to my face. Would welcome the opportunity to educate you."

Dear Betsy,

As a Black woman & the Chair of the abortion access task force, I invite you to come by the Hill and say this to my face.

Would welcome the opportunity to educate you.

Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley

— Ayanna Pressley (@AyannaPressley) January 24, 2020

Pressley also urged voters to speak out for the EACH Woman Act, a piece of legislation that guarantees that every woman would have insurance coverage for abortion. "[T]he rhetoric & policies of anti choice zealots like DeVos put the lives & bodily autonomy of far too many people at risk," she tweeted. "That's why we need to pass EACH & #repealhyde TAKE ACTION."

Angela Morabito, press secretary for the Department of Education, told Newsweek that DeVos' recent comment was not a comparison of abortion to slavery. "Read the speech. The Secretary did not compare abortion to slavery," Morabito wrote in an email. "She made clear that the 'choice' debate over states' rights was as morally bankrupt as the abortion argument about the so-called 'right to privacy' is. She was alluding to the Lincoln-Douglas debates as a critical turning point for our nation, in which human dignity ultimately won out by confronting the underlying moral question."

Pressley's office did not immediately respond to request for comment.

This wasn't the first time an official reportedly linked the issue of abortion to slavery. Most recently, Utah Lieutenant Governor Spencer Cox, a Republican, faced backlash over similar comments at the Eagle Forum convention earlier this month. When asked if he would sign a bill that states life begins at conception, Cox responded that he believes future generations will view abortion as negatively as people currently view slavery.

Democratic State Rep. Sandra Hollins, an African American, criticized Cox's remark. "To compare the brutal enslavement of black Americans to a woman's constitutionally protected right is offensive," she said. "Human bondage, forced labor and the destruction of families is the darkest possible mark on our nation's soul, and its effects are still felt to this day. We hope that future political discourse in our state will not include such callous political language."

Cox issued a statement saying that he was still "unapologetically pro-life," and that he has always "tried to be a voice for the most vulnerable in our society," including refugees, members of the LGBTQ community, multi-cultural communities, and those facing inter-generational poverty. He also said that Republicans "should do more to to support single mothers, pregnant women and children facing poverty and trauma."

betsy devos
U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos testifies during a hearing before House Education and Labor Committee December 12, 2019 on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC. Alex Wong/Getty