(CNN) — Education Secretary Betsy DeVos compared efforts to outlaw abortion to emancipation campaigns before the Civil War during remarks she made at the Museum of the Bible in Washington on Wednesday.
In her comments, which were first reported by the Colorado Times Recorder, DeVos likened anti-abortion activists to President Abraham Lincoln.
“(Lincoln) too contended with the pro-choice arguments of his day. They suggested that a state’s choice to be slave or to be free had no moral question in it,” she said, according to a copy of her prepared comments the Education Department provided to CNN.
“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. They look upon it as a vast moral evil,” DeVos continued.
“There are many in the pro-life movement who heroically work to make abortion unconstitutional,” she added. “Tonight, let’s talk about making it unthinkable.”
Angela Morabito, a spokeswoman for DeVos, said the secretary wasn’t comparing abortion to slavery.
“She made clear that the ‘choice’ debate over state’s rights was as morally bankrupt as the abortion argument about the so-called ‘right to privacy’ is,” Morabito said in an email.
“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,” she added.
Democratic Massachusetts Rep. Ayanna Pressley, chair of the Congressional Pro-Choice Caucus’s Abortion Rights and Access Task Force, blasted DeVos on Twitter for her comments at the event, which was hosted by Colorado Christian University.
“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,” Pressley wrote. “Would welcome the opportunity to educate you.”
President Donald Trump’s administration has consistently worked to regulate or restrict abortion access, appointed two Supreme Court justices seen as holding anti-abortion views and on Friday announced it will take legal action against California over the state’s mandate that insurers, including private health insurance policies, cover abortions.
Trump made history by becoming the first President to attend the March for Life rally held in Washington on Friday.
“Unborn children have never had a stronger defender in the White House,” he said.