On this same weekend, tens of thousands of churches around the country commemorate every third Sunday of January as Sanctity of Human Life Sunday, a day to celebrate God’s gift of life, grieve the millions of lives lost to abortion and commit themselves to protecting human life at every stage.
After initiating the commemoration in 1983, President Ronald Reagan explained that it should be recognized annually on the closest Sunday to the original Jan. 22 date of the historic U.S. Supreme Court Roe v. Wade decision in 1973, when the highest court in the land ruled that individual state laws banning abortion were unconstitutional.
The annual tradition to commemorate the Sanctity of Human Life was continued by President George H.W. Bush, discontinued under President Bill Clinton, resumed under President George W. Bush, discontinued under President Barack Obama and resumed again under President Donald Trump. Trump was also the first president to give an address at the March for Life via live video feed.
With all these leaders and partisan politics vacillating back and forth on abortion, I wondered how America’s Founding Fathers viewed life in the womb. Let me give you some representative examples.
Benjamin Rush, a physician, politician, social reformer, humanitarian, educator, founder of Dickinson College, attendee of the Continental Congress and signer of the Declaration of Independence, said life’s “first motion is produced by the stimulus of the male seed upon the female ovum … No sooner is the female ovum thus set in motion, and the fetus formed, than its capacity of life is supported.”
In his book, “Abortion: What the Founding Fathers Thought of It,” Dr. Duane L. Ostler, a veteran lawyer and prolific author who received his PhD in legal history, explained: “[Benjamin] Franklin wrote two short rebuttals [of abortion] under the fictitious names of Celia Shortface and Martha Careful who were incensed at [another Philadelphia printer Samuel] Keimer’s having discussed abortion openly as if it were a commonly accepted practice approved by the majority. These writings directly contradict the Roe court’s assertion that abortion was commonly acceptable in that day.”
Dr. Ostler goes on to explain: “In the Shortface piece, Franklin had his character express outrage that ‘thou would have printed such things in it, as would make all the modest and virtuous women in Pennsylvania ashamed.’ With typical Franklin humor, the fictitious Martha Careful in her letter threatened that she, ‘with some others, are resolved to run the hazard of taking him [Keimer] by the beard, at the next place we meet him, and make an example of him for his immodesty.’ Again, the writings clearly show that abortion was definitely not socially acceptable or approved behavior.
“On other occasions, the founders used the term ‘abortion’ in a negative sense to describe self-destructive actions. For example, James Madison used the term in referring to the unwise combining of the question of where to locate the national capital with other issues, which could end in ‘an abortion of both.’ Alexander Hamilton used the term to describe the unsuccessful British attempt to tax tea imported to the American colonies, which resulted in the Boston Tea Party. And George Washington used the term to describe what would happen if each of the states were to attempt to regulate commerce on their own.”
Thomas Jefferson wrote about some Native American women who practiced abortions, referring to them as “uncivilized savages” who would cause abortions to continue accompanying their husbands on war or hunting expeditions. He then noted that “[t]he same Indian women, when married to white traders, who feed them and their children plentifully and regularly, who exempt them from excessive drudgery, who keep them stationary and unexposed to accident, produce and raise as many children as the white women.”
Thomas Jefferson and Alexander Hamilton both made comments about the “concealment laws” in their states that demonstrated how they approved of a murder charge for a woman who intentionally aborted her child. The “concealment laws” were adopted by most states, and they prohibited infanticide and even abortion, especially “post-quickening.”
John Adams, our second president, lauded the anti-abortion stance of the ancient Greek Lycurgus. He also spoke against the heinous brutality of British soldiers who, in 1761, showed zero regard for the value of innocent life in the womb as “six soldiers ripped open with a knife a woman big with child … the English gave a free course to their cruelty, and indulged themselves in all sorts of excesses, which the laws of war reprobate as well as those of nature.”
Therefore, it is no surprise that John Witherspoon – a signer of the Declaration of Independence and the president of the College of New Jersey (later Princeton University) for over two decades who taught an American president (James Madison) and a vice president (Aaron Burr), as well as 39 congressmen, 21 senators, 12 governors, nine Cabinet members and three Supreme Court justices – concluded: “Some nations have given parents the power of life and death over their children. But here in America, we have denied the power of life and death to parents.”
Lifeissues.net summarized some other key figures and pro-life sentiment from early Americans that warrant me to quote it at length:
“James Wilson was one of only six men to sign both the Declaration and the Constitution, and was a Supreme Court justice from 1789 to 1798. Recognized as ‘the most learned and profound legal scholar of his generation,’ Wilson’s lectures were attended by President George Washington, Vice President John Adams, Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson and a ‘galaxy of other republican worthies.’ For this reason, as constitutional scholar Walter Berns stated, ‘Wilson, when speaking on the law, might be said to be speaking for the Founders generally.’
“James Wilson’s ‘Lectures on Law,’ given at what eventually was to become the University of Pennsylvania, clearly affirm that the right to life encompasses the unborn. He said, ‘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.’
“Wilson, in agreement with the limited medical jurisprudence of his time, assumed that life begins with the ‘quickening’ of the infant in his mother’s womb. As taught by Aristotle, the quickening was the point at which the fetus was infused with a human, rational soul. John Bouvier’s Law Dictionary, first printed in 1839, defines the quickening as follows: ‘The motion of the fetus, when felt by the mother, is called quickening, and the mother is then said to be quick with child. This happens at different periods of pregnancy in different women, and in different circumstances, but most usually about the fifteenth or sixteenth week after conception. …’
“One of the sources of both Wilson’s and Bouvier’s opinion is William Blackstone’s widely read Commentaries on the Laws of England (1765-1769). Blackstone’s discussion of the quickening observes: ‘Life is the immediate gift of God, a right inherent by nature in every individual; and it begins in contemplation of law as soon as an infant is able to stir in the mother’s womb. For if a woman is quick with child, and by a potion, or otherwise, killeth it in her womb … 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 …'”
Blackstone’s commentary conveys striking reminiscence of – and gives foundation for – the opening words in the Declaration of Independence: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. – That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.”
It is the primary purpose of government to protect every human’s rights for life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. That is still true from the womb to the tomb.
(For more on how America’s founders regarded human life, I recommend reading Chapter 6, “Reclaim the Value of Human Life,” in my New York Times bestseller, “Black Belt Patriotism,” which is now more than half off at WND’s SuperStore. Also, check out all the resources at WallBuilders.com.)