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Are the Declaration of Independence Self Evident Truths Really Pro-Life?

by Lucas Eaves, published

The GOP's draft platform made references to the Declaration of Independence and its self evident truths as a pro-life argument, according to CNN.

More precisely the GOP draft platform is said to mention: "Faithful to the 'self-evident' truths enshrined in the Declaration of Independence, we assert the sanctity of human life and affirm that the unborn child has a fundamental individual right to life which cannot be infringed."

Knowing the importance of ancient documents in America and that making references to them can give an incredible authority to whatever you say, I thought that the GOP had a great argument. But having caught the disease in law school, I like to check my sources to be sure a citation is used in the right context. But due to my condition of being French, I remain vastly ignorant as to the content of the Declaration of Independence and its "self-evident" truths. So I went back to the original declaration to see if the "self-evident" truths were applicable to the situation of an "unborn child".

The draft platform makes a reference to this particular sentence of the Declaration: "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."

At first sight, there is no reference to "unborn child" having a right to "life", but to "men" having such rights. But maybe the writers of the Declaration had the intention to define men broadly enough to include "unborn child" within its definition. So I checked to see if they added an appendix defining the terms of the declaration. No such luck. The next step in the exegesis of a text, is to look at the normal meaning of a word in its historical context, thus seeing if in 1776 the word "men" meant "living human being AND unborn child". And to my great surprise, this seems to be highly improbable. Indeed, in 1776, at the same time the Declaration of Independence stated "all men are created equal", slavery was legal in all of the signatory states. The conventional meaning of the word "men" in 1776, therefore, did not include slaves, that is to say living human beings unlucky enough to be African or Indian. And the consequence for being excluded from the "men" category is that the fundamental right to life did not apply to this part of the American population (that represented a good 18% of the population in 1790). Indeed, most slavery codes gave Masters the rights to kill slaves for various motives.

Taking into account historical context, and without going into details about the 16th century knowledge of the reproductive process, I highly doubt that the Declaration of Independence and its "self-evident" truths were meant to protect the fundamental right to life of an "unborn child", as they did not even give this protection to every living human being in America. The GOP Committee has every right to advocate for such right, but the use of the Declaration of Independence to support their position is legally inappropriate and I am afraid they will need to find another ancient document to give authority to their position.

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