This week, during which we mark the 241st anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence, it is only fitting to consider the values on which this nation was conceived and their application today. In essence, the framers envisioned a nation in agreement with the natural law. To them, all men were created equal and in possession of certain rights outside of legitimate government interference. No government could give rights; instead, humans in creation inherently had rights upon which governments could not infringe.
Thus, in its founding, the United States acknowledged the natural law and limited the scope of government. These values have not always been faithfully protected, however. Though all men might have been created equal, for nearly a century slavery was permitted in the US. Today, though life is one of the paramount rights acknowledged by the Constitution, it is likewise routinely violated with abortion.
Life has consistently been held as supreme in its importance. In the Declaration of Independence, it is enumerated as an inalienable right, and the 14th Amendment to the Constitution prevents any government from taking it without due process.
James Wilson, a framer of the Constitution and a legal theorist, wrote that “Life, and whatever is necessary for the safety of life, are the natural rights of man.” He observed that throughout time, many people had held life in high esteem, but inconsistently. For example, the Spartans “deemed nothing so precious as the life of a citizen,” yet felt no issue with leaving ill or deformed babies in the elements to die. Additionally, the Romans did not permit capital punishment on their citizens, but the life of a child was in the hands of a father, much as an animal’s.
English Common Law, he wrote, was superior because with “consistency, beautiful and undeviating, human life, from its commencement to its close, is protected”. The commencement of such life, he wrote, began in the womb, and it is protected from every injury.
William Blackstone, a contemporary of James Wilson and an English jurist, wrote that life is a “right inherent by nature in every individual” and an immediate gift from God. This language is nearly identical to the language that appeared in the Declaration. Further, he likewise acknowledged that life began “as soon as an infant is able to stir in the mother’s womb.” Indeed, a child in the womb “is supposed in law to be born for many purposes” and could be bequeathed estates. Abortion, then, was tantamount to “homicide” and a “heinous misdemeanor”.
Thus, it is clear the values and liberal ideology upon which the nation was founded highly valued life, and they acknowledged its start in the womb.
Conflict comes, however, when weighing the liberty of a woman to abort a child and the right to life of a child. Yet, all rights depend on life, and we see time and time again the protection of life over liberty. One cannot yell fire in a movie theater regardless of the 1st Amendment, and one cannot own an automatic weapon, regardless of the second, to name just two instances. Few would object to these limitations of liberty in the name of protecting life. That is, we see well established that one’s liberty ends where it infringes on the life of another.
To argue that liberty is more important than life is to argue for chaos. All laws circumscribe liberties and outline what should or should not be done in the name of protecting life. The reverse is to argue for anarchy, a world of unlimited liberties no matter the cost to others’ lives and well being. The liberty of the woman must come second to the life of the child.
In conclusion, in our founding documents and in the values on which our nation was founded, life is a protected and sanctified right. No person or government can take it away, at least without due process. That right to life does not start when born, however, but is rather known to begin in the womb. Life is the right that must be protected, even at the expense of liberty. Anything else is simply un-American.