top of page

Constitutional Perspective

There are five constitutional rights that are relevant to abortion and reproductive rights: The right to religious liberty (Amendment I) grants us free exercise of religion and protects us from being forced to obey religious laws that contradict our personal conscienceThe right to security of person (Amendment IV) grants us bodily autonomy, bodily integrity, and privacyThe right to rights (Amendment IX) protects us against having our rights denied on behalf of other rights. The right to freedom from slavery and involuntary servitude (Amendment XIII) protects us from being owned by another person, government, or entity and protects us from forced labor. Last but not least are the rights to life, liberty, and property (Amendment XIV). The right to life is the right to not be murdered. The right to liberty is the right to enjoy freedom for oneself while simultaneously respecting the rights of others. And the right to property is the right to own land, tangible assets, and intellectual assets. You can find each of these amendments in their original wording copied in the slider below.

The Constitution for the United States of America_edited_edited_edited_edited_edited.jpg

"We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America."

The Constitution of the United States of America, Preamble

A common trend in abortion debates is for each side to claim, given a conflict between the right to life and the right to liberty, that one outweighs the other. For an originalist perspective, take a look at a newspaper clipping from 1775, provided below. It shows how our nation's founders weighed life and liberty:

Give me liberty, or give me death!

Source: Library of Congress 9LC-DIG-pga-08961

In 1775, when tensions between the American colonies and Great Britain were rising to a boiling point, Delegate Patrick Henry gave a speech to the Virginia Assembly in favor of revolution (source). He passionately concluded his speech by saying,

"Is life so dear, or peace so sweet, as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery? Forbid it, Almighty God! I know not what course others may take; but as for me, give me liberty or give me death!"

His final declaration, "Give me liberty, or give me death," resonated so deeply with the American people that "Liberty or Death!" became the war cry for the American Revolutionary War. It is because of that very sentiment—"Liberty or Death!"—that thousands of people bravely fought and gave their lives in war to give rise to a new country, the United States of America. The historical precedent is clear: life without liberty is not worth living, and the American people, gritty and tenacious as we are, will fight at risk of death to secure liberty for ourselves and our kin.

Because the rights to life and liberty are so intimately intertwined, we must be very careful to ensure both are respected in reproductive rights law.

bottom of page