Why Frederick Douglass Would Be Pro-Life Today
Abolitionists and the pro-life movement share a similar respect for the sacredness of human life. Frederick Douglass “was a strong proponent of the black family” in the mid- to late 1800s, says the Rev. Dean Nelson, a Baptist pastor who is executive director of Human Coalition Action.
Nelson joins The Daily Signal Podcast to discuss the legacy of Douglass, who died in 1895, and how his life and work should encourage the ending of abortion. He also explains how Human Coalition Action is using data and technology to serve the thousands of women who face a crisis pregnancy each year. Listen to the podcast below or read the lightly edited transcript.
Rob Bluey: We’re joined at The Daily Signal by the Rev. Dean Nelson. How are you doing today, sir?
Rev. Dean Nelson: Doing great. Fantastic event. Great to be here.
Bluey: You are the executive director of Human Coalition Action. Tell us about the organization and the work you do.
Nelson: Certainly. Human Coalition Action is [a] brand new entity spun off from Human Coalition. We like to say, “Hope, innovation, and service.”
Human Coalition has grown over the last 10 years to be one of the largest pro-life organizations in the country that serves women and rescues children. We do that by using technology and big data, connecting with women primarily online who are seeking an abortion and we give them a variety of options.
Bluey: That’s great. It’s an issue that’s been really dominating in the news with some of the overreach we’ve seen on the left and we just had a couple of big votes in the U.S. Senate on this issue.
So talk a little bit more about how you go about doing that work in ways that are different. Because I’m curious, particularly with use of big data and how effective that is.
Nelson: It’s a great question. So, for the last 10 years, primarily Human Coalition has concerned itself with, how do we engage with women who typically don’t know that they have any options and connect those women to a life-affirming pregnancy women’s clinic?
And then we connect them to a host of social services that they might need to ultimately help them to make a choice that’s healthy for, obviously, themselves and for their unborn children.
When we say “big data,” we collect information from like the 100,000 women that we’ll talk to every year. Most of them are black and brown women. And we’ll use that to help inform us how to better connect with these women, particularly in urban communities.
As a result, many states—including Texas, North Carolina, and Georgia—have now come to us, asking us, “How do we do this effectively to engage women for a whole host of services in vulnerable communities?”
Bluey: Tell us about these pregnancy help centers, because they are numerous in terms of their availability now. Particularly, you hear a lot in the media about Planned Parenthood, but these centers exist very much as well across the country in states all over the place.
Nelson: That’s exactly right. Over the last 40 years you’ve seen these grow around the country. … Now some estimates [say] about 3,000 of these pregnancy centers … are there. And Human Coalition got involved in this process to kind of connect women to these pregnancy centers.
But one of the challenges was that they’re kind of new grassroots entities, they’re not necessarily uniformed. So out of that, many of those pregnancy centers joined the Human Coalition family to kind of provide a more systematic approach to engaging with these women with high-quality service.
That’s what Human Coalition has done with our women’s clinics. Even, we’ve gone one step further with our innovation where we actually have now online the opportunity to counsel women even if they don’t come into the clinic.
So we’ve pioneered some innovation that the state of Texas entered a contract with us for almost $10 million to help them better connect online with these women, provide the level of counseling, and then get them into a pregnancy center or a clinic to get an ultrasound.
Then they go into our continuum of care funnel where we provide the services that they need, not just by the time that they have the child, but even after they have the child.
Bluey: So women who might not have even known that these centers were available now by using technology are given an opportunity to have a different path?
Nelson: That’s exactly right. In our work, particularly in urban communities, it has been a breath of fresh air.
We have a strategic partnership with the Church of God in Christ, one of the largest black denominations in the country that has recently sent out a resolution affirming the sanctity of human life and the work of Human Coalition and organizations like us because we are concerned about the whole person. You know that Imago Dei, the idea that all of us are created in the image and likeness of God.
Bluey: You mentioned you’re on the action side, so, the advocacy side. Are there some things that you’re doing, particularly when it comes to maybe political organizing or grassroots?
Nelson: That’s exactly right. We’re brand new on this side, but I’ve done a lot of this advocacy work for some time.
So what we’re doing, particularly in the states where we have our own women’s clinics, states where we have contracts and relationships with the state government, we’ve seen it, our goal to be able to engage with more advocates that are not just saying, “Hey, we want to prevent abortion. We want to make abortion unthinkable,” but also, “We also want to engage with people who want to be advocates for women.”
That’s something that we’ve done starting in North Carolina and in Texas. So we’re doing hearings at state legislatures regarding the sanctity of human life. And through our data, we’ve even found that there’s a connection to human trafficking.
So we’re building a grassroots network at the state level to basically go to these state legislatures and say, “We need to provide these types of services for women and children.”
It’s been fantastic. We hope that, as we approach the election season, that we’ll be able to knock on hundreds of thousands of doors in these states engaging with pro-life voters—Catholic, Protestant, African American, Hispanic, white—basically to galvanize a pro-life victory this upcoming election season.
Bluey: And one more question on this topic. What does the data tell you? The market research or the data that you’ve studied about this issue?
It just seems to me that we see these polls that even a majority of Democrats, an overwhelming majority, wants to see abortion outlawed after 20 weeks. And yet you have a vote in the U.S. Senate where an overwhelming number of senators, Democratic senators vote against that. So there seems to be a disconnect here.
Nelson: There is. I think you wonder who the elected officials are beholden to. Are they beholden to their voters, … most of whom, I think 70% of people in this country—Democrat, Republican, independent—would like to see abortion rolled back to a time period that you’ve expressed, particularly the number of weeks, 20 weeks?
What we’ve discovered is that they’re not beholden to the voters, they’re beholden to Planned Parenthood and the abortion industry. So we’re trying to rattle that cage.
I spoke a few months ago for Democrats for Life and we’re working with independents, Democrats, and Republicans to push forward on a real strong pro-life platform.
What we’ve discovered is, … particularly in the African American community, again, with the Church of God in Christ coming out with that strong pro-life resolution, many of them have said that the Democrat Party has gone way too far on this issue and they’re rethinking some of their allegiances as it relates to the sanctity of human life.
Bluey: I should note that, of course, we believe that life begins at conception. We want to see abortion limited entirely, not just after pregnancies beyond 20 weeks.
Nelson: Well, you’re right. But even as we study … I’m on the Frederick Douglass [Bicentennial] Commission—
Bluey: Yes, yes, let’s jump into that.
Nelson: … Even though we knew and Frederick Douglass knew that slavery should be abolished, it took processes, it took steps to do that.
Bluey: … I’m glad you brought that up. [Maryland] Gov. Larry Hogan has appointed you to this commission to honor Frederick Douglass. Tell us about Frederick Douglass—particularly here as we close out Black History Month—who he was and why it’s important to remember him.
Nelson: Man, I got to tell you, I live in Maryland. Frederick Douglass was born in 1818 in Talbot County, Maryland. In my opinion, he was probably one of the greatest American statesmen. Never holding elected office, but serving four or five different presidents. Everyone knows that he was a strong abolitionist. But somebody who also was a licensed minister of the Gospel.
A lot of people don’t know the early conversion experience that Frederick Douglass had in his faith, particularly informed how he saw things.
In fact, he said, “I have one great political idea.” He said, “The best expression of it is found in the Bible. It is in substance. Righteousness exalts a nation.” So he was borrowing directly from Proverbs in a lot of the expressions that he used. He said that the Bible was his favorite book.
Anyway, there’s a lot that we could say about Frederick Douglass as an early pioneer, somebody who stood for … righteousness and justice, and was a great abolitionist. And then once slavery was ended, [he] helped to get the 13th, 14th, 15th amendments passed as well.
Bluey: What are you [doing] in Maryland specifically to remember him?
Nelson: Well, just two weeks ago, we were there at the unveiling of the statue of Frederick Douglass and Harriet Tubman, both also from Maryland.
But, typically, we are doing programs that focus on criminal justice reform; human trafficking, which could be considered modern-day slavery; strengthening the black family. Frederick Douglas was a strong proponent of the black family, of course, not really knowing his family.
Those are some of the programs that we’re doing in the state of Maryland to highlight kind of the legacy, the life and legacy of the great abolitionist Frederick Douglass, but also how people can be engaged today to carry on that legacy.
Bluey: I think it’s so important that you’re doing that work. At The Heritage Foundation, we are committed to telling people about the history because so often … we find in schools or other platforms, they’re just not learning about it. So to do that is critical.
Just recently on The Daily Signal Podcast, we interviewed Richard Finley from Birmingham, Alabama, about Booker T. Washington, and he told these incredible stories about his life.
So thank you for the work that you do.
Nelson: Fantastic nine years.
Bluey: Yes, they are. They certainly are.
Bluey: Rev. Dean Nelson, thanks so much for joining The Daily Signal.
Nelson: Bless you, man. Thank you so very much. It’s great to be here.