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"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

Constitutional Perspective

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. Let's look at what the constitution has to say first, and then let's look at what else our nation's founders had to say about the balance of life and liberty.

From a constitutional perspective, there are five amendments that are relevant to abortion and reproductive rights: 

  • The right to security of person (Amendment IV) grants us bodily autonomy, bodily integrity, and privacy

    • "The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized."​

  • The right to rights (Amendment IX) protects us against having our rights denied on behalf of other rights.

    • "The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people."​

  • 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.

    • Section 1."Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction."

    • Section 2. "Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation."

  • 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.

    • "All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws."​

Overall, the constitution never declares that either the right to life or the right to liberty is greater or more important than the other, and Amendment IX specifically asserts that we cannot have any rights denied or disparaged on behalf of other rights. As for what else our nation's founders thought on this subject, take a look at this newspaper clipping from 1775:

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 Revolution. 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. To do so, we need to collectively come to a consensus on when a person's life begins. Before that point, there is no problem with elective abortion, and after that point, click here to see how Respect People believes we can preserve both the rights to life and liberty.

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