Is abortion constitutional? Let’s ask the founders

Supreme_CourtIs abortion constitutional? The Supreme Court concluded in Roe v. Wade (1973) that an expectant mother has a “fundamental right to abortion.” According to Supreme Court logic,  this right to abortion is protected under the penumbral right of privacy supposedly guaranteed by the Bill of Rights.

To see whether the Roe decision is an accurate interpretation of constitutional rights, it is important to understand the intentions of the authors of the Constitution. Did they advocate legal abortion protected by the Constitution?

One of the most authoritative sources for learning law during the founding era was William Blackstone’s Commentaries on the Laws of England. Blackstone, a distinguished English jurist, was so well-liked by the founding fathers that he was the second most frequently cited thinker in the American political writings of the founding era. American law students studied his work so religiously that Thomas Jefferson wrote to a friend that “Blackstone is to us what the Koran is to the Muslims.”

Blackstone affirmed in his Commentaries that an individual’s right to life is an “immediate gift of God.” This right to life is legally binding “as soon as an infant is able to stir in the mother’s womb.” Per Blackstone,

“For if a woman is quick with child, and by a potion, or otherwise kills it in her womb; or if any one beat her, whereby the child dies in her body, and she is delivered of a dead child; this, though not murder, was by the ancient law homicide or manslaughter. But at present it is not looked upon in quite so atrocious a light, though it remains a very heinous misdemeanor.”

Interestingly, Blackstone also explains that fetuses “in the mother’s womb” are legally considered “to be born.” Thus, the law considered a fetus to be his or her own person, independent of the mother.

From these commentaries, the founding fathers learned that any abortion perpetrated after the stirring of an infant in the mother’s womb was a “heinous misdemeanor.”

American courts upheld this traditional common law approach in characterizing abortion as a misdemeanor. Founding father James Wilson, a signatory of the Declaration of Independence and original U.S. Supreme Court justice, taught his law students that,

“With consistency, beautiful and undeviating, human life, from its commencement to its close, is protected by the common law. In the contemplation of law, life begins when the infant is first able to stir in the womb. By the law, life is protected not only from immediate destruction, but from every degree of actual violence, and, in some cases, from every degree of danger.”

Similarly, St. George Tucker, a Madison judicial appointee and professor of law at the College of William and Mary, explained in his celebrated legal treatise on American law that it is  “a great misprision [misdemeanor]” to “kill a child in its mother’s womb.”

Laws in American states criminalized abortion from the beginning. For example, Virginia law outlawed the practice of using “potion” to “unlawfully destroy the child within her [womb].” These laws were crafted by many of the same individuals who framed the Constitution.

It is therefore inconceivable that the framers intended constitutional protections for abortion as a “fundamental right.” Indeed, the framers believed the opposite. From their perspective, the unborn child has a fundamental right to life, a right that would be infringed by an abortion that ends his or her life.

A “fundamental right to abortion” does not exist in the Constitution or its amendments. It is the height of intellectual dishonesty to argue that the authors of the Constitution and its amendments intended to protect abortion under some vague and unwritten “right to privacy.” That so many courts and judges have for so long upheld a legal doctrine antagonistic to the Constitution reveals the rogue nature of the modern judiciary.


This article was written for the Family Policy Institute of Washington.

Toward a Trinitarian Understanding of the Free Market

1in_god_we_trustThe concept of the Trinity is foundational to the Christian life. This fundamental doctrine teaches that there are not three gods but one God in three persons (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit). Each person of the Godhead is equally, eternally, and fully God. There is unity among the three persons of the Godhead; they are “equal in every divine perfection” yet “execute distinct but harmonious offices in the great work of redemption.”

All human relationships reflect the Trinity. Because God created us in His image, we are relational beings. We were created to live in community. Although some types of social relationships are more intimate and lasting than others, all relationships are interpersonal and require at least some cooperation and interdependence. Furthermore, just as there are different roles among the persons of the Trinity, there are also roles within every social relationship.

Theologians often point to God’s design for the family as one example of this phenomenon. Familial relationships are characterized by interdependence, cooperation, and mutual service. The husband is called to lovingly exercise headship over the family, following the pattern of Christ and the church. Conversely, the wife joyfully submits herself to her husband’s proper exercise of authority, and children submit to their parents. Thus, the biblical pattern for family exemplifies the interdependence and interpersonal cooperation of the Trinity.

This Trinitarian pattern also applies to our relationships in the marketplace. Consider the relationship between employer and employee. Employers are called to lovingly and righteously exercise authority over their employees, and their employees are called to submit joyfully, so long as the employer isn’t directing the employee to engage in unholy or illegal behavior. In doing this, the employer and the employee glorify God by imitating the Father’s proper exercise of authority and the Son’s joyful submission as well as through acting righteously toward each other.

Even economic exchange between strangers reflects the Trinity and glorifies God. “Society under the market economy means a state of affairs in which everybody serves his fellow citizen and is served by them in return,” wrote the famed economist Ludwig von Mises.

This axiom is obvious to those who have studied the market economy. The businessman serves his customers by producing the goods and services they desire, and the customers compensate the businessman for those goods. The employee serves his employer by providing his labor, and the employer returns the favor by remunerating the employee for his work.

Through its division and specialization of labor, the market drives every person to rely on everyone else to supply his needs. No one person is self-sufficient. By fostering interdependence and interpersonal cooperation, the relational nature of economic exchange reflects the relational nature of the Trinity. Accordingly, the free market bears the mark of its Creator.

The nineteenth-century Christian philosopher and economist Frederic Bastiat affirmed this truth:

“We should be compelled to contemplate the Divine plan that governs society… And see how, by means of social [economic] laws, and because men exchange among themselves their labors and their products, a harmonious tie attaches the different classes of society one to the other! It is therefore certain that the final result of the efforts of each class is the common good of all.”

Adam Smith, renowned by historians as the father of modern economics, famously wrote that market participants “are led by an invisible hand… without intending it, without knowing it,” to “advance the interest of society.” Even when they are merely seeking their own benefit, market participants are led by the mechanisms of profit and loss to use their productive energies to meet the needs of others. Christians recognize that this invisible hand must be God, who uses the laws of economics that He created to guide market participants into the service of others.

In the free market, this mutual service through economic exchange is voluntary. No party is forced to supply the needs of the other. Instead, profit and loss direct individuals into the service of their fellow men. Assuming the absence of force and fraud, the people and companies who earn the greatest profit are those who best serve the needs of their customers. Christianity understands this and therefore affirms that profit is morally good.

In Matthew 25:35-36, Jesus commands His disciples to attend to the needs of others. Can it not be said that this is accomplished through the mechanisms of the market, at least in part? Do food workers not feed the hungry? Do pipe workers not help supply water to the thirsty? Do retail workers not help to clothe the naked? Do doctors and nurses not attend to needs of the sick?

This explains why the Christian Reformers believed that all work is sacred and provides an opportunity to glorify God. All work, even the most mundane, is a high calling. God uses our work and economic exchange to provide for ourselves and others. Through the process of voluntary market exchange, we glorify God by reflecting the Trinity’s interdependence and interpersonal cooperation in our own lives.


This post was published by Baptists for Liberty.