- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 22, 2003

Could it be that one of America's most pre-eminent Founding Fathers, Thomas Jefferson, is also the "founding father" of the Right to Life Movement? Paragraph 2 of the Declaration of Independence begins, "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."
For Jefferson, the "right to life" was first and foremost, preceding both liberty and the pursuit or even the attainment of happiness. Today marks the 30th anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court's landmark ruling, Roe vs. Wade, and we can anticipate that the demonstrations throughout the country in support and those in opposition to the decision will surely be larger and far more venomous than ever.
The original Hippocratic Oath states in part, "I will give no deadly medicine to anyone if asked, nor suggest any such counsel; furthermore, I will not give to a woman an instrument to produce abortion." And, lest we forget, Hippocrates was a Greek pagan, who lived nearly four centuries before the birth of Christ, so he can hardly be conveniently dismissed as a "right-wing, religious fanatic."
In 1948, the World Medical Association adopted the "Declaration of Geneva," which was a modified version of the original Oath, and although the wording was slightly altered, the spirit of Hippocrates was completely preserved in the words, "I will maintain the utmost respect for human life from the time of conception; even under threat, I will not use my medical knowledge contrary to the laws of humanity."
Margaret Sanger, an ardent advocate for every imaginable form of contraception and the founding feminist of Planned Parenthood was a Catholic who became an atheist who said: "Abortion is the wrong way. No matter how early it is performed, it is taking life." Given such a statement, Margaret Sanger, if she were alive, would not be invited to speak at any pro-choice rallies today. Her use of the word "early" is particularly important in this context because it constitutes a complete refutation of the termination of pregnancy via the trimester argument, which is for some the cornerstone of the Roe ruling.
The widely held view that life begins at birth instead of conception is absolutely absurd because in accepting that point of view requires us to then conclude that the body of flesh inside the womb that is alive (what else can it possibly be since it is) growing and being prepared for its birth is indeed (by way of that convoluted logic) definitionally "dead."
Such an example of reverse reasoning is ludicrous and has sustained, for three decades, a "holocaust" waged upon the most innocent of the innocent that should be unthinkable for a nation founded on those noble, humanitarian principles and ideals so eloquently articulated by Jefferson in his Declaration of Independence.
Sanger, whose cause was to liberate women from the "slavery" of being "birthing machines," died in 1966, the year following the Supreme Court's Griswold vs. Connecticut decision that discerned in the text of the Constitution a previously undiscovered or as many claim, an invented "right to privacy" at least in matters of sexuality that paved the way for Roe.
Obviously, that rather restricted right to privacy does not extend to parents who abuse their children, to those who indulge in illegal drugs, or a vast array of other activities deemed to be unlawful in both public and private settings.
The Declaration of Independence was followed by the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. Today, sadly with the Supreme Court's support, we deduce from the grand majesty of the First Amendment the right to produce and provide pornography on demand. In the sexually satiated culture that we have evolved into, the word "vulgar" is virtually devoid of any meaning at all. By contrast, however, the males of the Founders' generation with the exception of their female family members rarely, if ever (unless perhaps in a painting), saw a woman's ankle, much less the more intimate areas of her anatomy.
Clearly, they would be aghast at the graphic sexual imagery so readily defended and made acceptable and available today as much as the nonviolent, Noble Prize-winning civil-rights leader, Martin Luther King, would be appalled by the hedonistic lyrics of "gangsta" rap music and the violent, predominantly black, self-destructive "hip-hop" culture it has helped spawn.
Therefore, if the misguided but prevailing deducement of the First Amendment protects the expansive and enormously profitable pornography industry from governmental censorship, and the subsequent financial ruin that would immediately ensue if censorship were imposed, certainly a similar such deducement of Jefferson's famous words protects the right to life of the unborn. Quite literally, no other conclusion can be drawn. After all, the Declaration is the "soul" of our society while the Constitution is the body of laws that governs our behavior as a free people.
Consequently, because of the distorted views of reality that "legitimized" the horrors of slavery and racial discrimination, and our near-extermination of the American Indians because they dared to stand in the way of our determined westward expansion and resist the progress of "civilization," and so now, for having committed the grave civic "sin" of 30 years of federal support for abortion, once again, we as a nation, have much for which we must atone.
In 1896, the Supreme Court in its Plessy vs. Ferguson decision by an 8-to-1 margin established the "constitutionality" of the separate-but-equal Jim Crow laws. The lone dissenting vote was offered by Justice John Marshall Harlan, who is buried in Washington's famous Rock Creek Cemetery.
In 1954, 58 years later, the court recognized its earlier error in judgment and reversed the Plessy ruling which was the source of so much agony for so many black Americans by way of the Brown vs. Board of Education decision through a 9-to-0 vote. One of the justices who voted for the rare unanimous ruling was Hugo Black, a former member of the Alabama Ku Klux Klan, who is buried in Arlington National Cemetery near the gravesite of Thurgood Marshall, the black NAACP lawyer who won the Brown case and who, in 1967, joined Black as an associate justice on the high court.
The table of ideas must always be plentiful with a fresh supply of food for thought. Therefore, when referring to slavery, and by implication to his own life of moral contradiction, in his book, "Notes on the State of Virginia," Jefferson said, writing as a lifelong slave owner, "Indeed I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just: that his justice cannot sleep for ever."

Edward C. Smith is the director of American studies at American University.


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