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Long before I knew that my primary spirit guide had once been Thomas Jefferson, I loved the man. My 1993 Doubleday novel, My Thomas, was written from the adoring viewpoint of his wife. And before I could write so tenderly about someone who had been a slaveholder, I had to do research and satisfy myself that Thomas Jefferson had not been a monster. Like you and me today, he only had had the misfortune of being born into a perverted culture.

Jefferson and his wife inherited hundreds of slaves. He couldn’t legally free them in Virginia, nor could he free them anywhere on the North American continent without dooming them to lives of misery. He came to feel that he couldn’t do anything but try to keep them safe and happy, and this he did, always hoping that a solution would be found to what he saw as a monstrous institution. There is evidence that if Martha Jefferson had lived, her husband would have retired from politics after the American Revolution and devoted his life to the cause of abolition. But Martha died in 1782. The rest, as they say, is history. And despite all the good that Thomas Jefferson did for this country in a lifetime of service, the single fact that he inherited slaves and he never found a way to end slavery is sufficient reason for the Democratic Parties of many states to decide this year, nearly a quarter-millennium later, to ban him from their annual dinners.

For Thomas Jefferson, slavery was roughly akin to what abortion is for you and me. Whether we are for it or against it, the legal right to abortion on demand is a part of our culture. As a culture, we accept the belief that a woman’s right to use her own body is more important than is a lesser life-form’s right to continue to exist. Just as, two hundred years ago, slaveholders’ property rights came before whatever rights their property might have wanted to claim. The analogy may not be perfect. But it is good enough to make me wince. How will our accepting easy abortion as a fact of life today make you and me appear to our distant descendants?

What we now think of as just the afterlife, a side niche perhaps, not very important, will soon be as much of a concrete but distant presence in each of our lives as Newark. Within a decade or two, there will be easy electronic communication with those we used to think were dead. Then living researchers will be able to quiz the dead about a lot of things, the whole topic of abortion among them. Even knowing what we already know, I shudder to think what more the dead might tell us. So far, this is what we can demonstrate is true:

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Roberta Grimes

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