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Right To Life
Donald L. Billman, J.D.
REPRINTED FALL, 1971 FROM
A Publication of the Student Bar Association
The University of Toledo College of Law
57-782 - 76 - 29
THE CASE FOR THE UNBORN BABY: THE CONSTITUTIONAL RIGHT TO LIFE
by Donald L. Billman
The Constitution of the United States is a law for rulers and people ... and covers with the shield of its protection all classes of men, at all times, and under all circumstances. 1
neither pay us, vote for us or thank us-may one day soon find himself with a handful of "rights" as difficult to retain as a handful of sand for that right which gives all other rights meaning the right to life-has ceased to exist.
The issue therefore is one of the gravest Constitutional proportions--whether a life may be taken without "due process of law" and whether a segment of society can be deprived of the "equal protection of the laws", or stated another way-whether "the shield" of the Constitution does in fact, as Justice Davis believes, act to protect "all classes of men, at all times and under all circumstances".
1. The Unborn Baby-An Autonomous Human Being The human-ness of the Unborn Baby-the fetus-is the crux of the "abortion" controversy for if the subject of the surgical procedure termed "abortion" is not in fact a small human being but is in fact "mere protoplasm" or a mere "appendage of the woman" then there is nothing here of concern to the law. The issue then, concisely put, is what is it that the mother seeks to have removed from her body?
The issue of "what is life" is a medical question-and medical science now recognizes that life is a continuum, from conception to the grave. Modern science-embryology, fetology, genetics, perinatology, and all of biology-has established conclusively the essential humanity of the Unborn Baby.
Professor Ashley Montagu of Columbia University has put it very succintly--the basic fact is simple: Life begins, not at birth, but at conception". 4 The "mystery of life" begins with husband and wife in the constitutionally protected privacy of the marital bed-thus the beginning of life for a third person. It is in this instant that the fertilized female egg, which until being fertilized by a male sperm cell was on its own incomplete and even unable to preserve its own existence, in the words of Professor Patten, has become the "initiation of the life of a new individual" 5 The future of the new human being has been established by acquiring half of his forty-six chromosomes from his mother and half from his father.
The conceptus-the new fetus-is now in possession of the qualities which begin the somewhat "secret' but sure journey into the life cycle. The "genetic code" is present within the labyrinth of the chromosomes which is composed of "genes" which contain the complex chemical DNA (Deoxyribonucleic Acid) which holds the secret of life and growth.
The stakes are high-for the Unborn Baby, his life and for those of us who have crossed that "bridge between (the) two stages of life"'2 the existence of the rights which are ours by virtue of the Constitution including the right to continue in the state of being alive"
The assault against the basis of all legal rights--the individual's right to continue in existence “The right to life" -- has been launched against the most helpless member of our society. The Little Unborn Baby has been recognized by the courts to have interests deserving of protection in all major areas of law-property, tort and equity. The law, which has continuously expanded its protection of interest of the Unborn Baby in accord with advances in medical science, which has demonstrated conclusively the humanity of the Unborn Baby, has been put in the anomalous position of protecting the legal rights of one who it is argued, by those classified by Professor Robert Byrn as "quality of life jurisprudents":3, has no legal right to live.
The goal of the "quality of life jurisprudents" is to establish that the individual does not have an "unalienable" right to life but that "life" is only possible by the "grace" of the state and that it may be withdrawn when the specific life has lost its "usefullness" to society.
To establish this unique concept straight out of the prophesy for the future of Orwell's 1984 and Huxley's Brave New World the proponents of this future "utopia" chose with care the epitome of the "unpopular client"-who they felt, possibly not incorrectly, would find few defenders. Were this inroad upon the vitality of the Constitution successful, a most powerful precedent would have been established for the proposition that an individual's life may be snuffed out at the whim of "Big Brother" while circumventing the safeguards of the Constitution.
The attorney and the jurist who does not rush to the defense of the helpless Little Unborn Baby-a client who can
FOR THE UNBORN BABY ...(cont. from page 8)
in the first weeks the baby's body not only exists-it also functions. The brain in contiguration is already like the adult brain and sends out impulses that coordinate the function of the other organs. The brain waves have been noted at forty three days. 6 On an electroencephalogram there is possitive recording of electrical activity the absence of which today is used as the absolute determination of death for its presence signifies LIFE! The heart beats sturdily. The stomach produces digestive juices. The liver manufactures blood cells and the kidney begins to function by extracting unic acid from the child's blood. The muscles of the arms and body can already be set in motion.
A complete medical study of the Little Unborn Baby is beyond the scope of this paper, but the writer would note that trom this point until adulthood, when full growth is achieved somewhere between the 25th and 27 the year the change in the body will be mainly in dimension and in gradual refinement of the working parts. It is most clear that the doctor of a pregnant woman has two patients before him-the mother and the baby. This is most obvious in the treatment unique for the unborn child - a physician can now grve a blood transfusion to the Unborn Baby using a technique developed by Di A Liley of New Zealand.
For those who desire visual evidence of the validity of Dr Liley's statement that the fetus *18 a tiny human being, as independent as though he were lying in a crib with a blanket wrapped around him instead of his mother" 7 the writer would direct attention to the outstanding series of photographs taken by Lennart Nilsson, a Swedish photographer, which record the growing baby 8
Medical science has demonstrated conclusively that human lite begins at conception - and that the child is as much a child in those several days before birth as he is in those several days after The maturation process, commenced in the womb, continues through the post-natal period, infancy, adolescence, puberity, maturity and old age. With this recognition that lite is a continuum - from conception to the grave-the medical inquiry ends and the Constitutional protections afforded the Little Unborn Baby attach.
II. The Unborn Baby-and The Law Possibly no more horrendous philosophy has ever been advocated than the present thought that the Little Unborn Baby is not protected by the basic provisions of the U.S. Constitution-the 5th and 14th Amendments. Specifically the proponents of "abortion on demand" -the "quality of lite jurisprudentsa-argue that the Unborn Baby's life can be taken without complying with the basic requisites of "due process of law" and that he need not be afforded the "equal protection of the laws".
The primary argument of those advocating the destruction of the Little Unborn Baby is that he is not a "person" therefore the Constitutional safeguards as found in the 5th and 14th Amendments do not attach. Not since the "Negro" was excluded from the protection of the Constitution--for he was not a "person" he was a "slave" - and the "American Indian" was likewise denied the protection of the Constitution-for he
was not a "person" he was a "savage“-has terminology been used to rationalize away what is so clearly unconstitutional conduct
That the Unborn Baby is not a "person" is so blatently void of reason and lacks the slightest semblance of truth is evident upon even a cursory examination of the legal status of the Unborn Baby
The writer would pause here to explain the semantic problems which seem to cause so much difficulty when examining the legal status of the Unborn Baby. The use of the phrase "unborn baby" is perhaps somewhat imprecise but of all terms possible no other is more accurate. For as Mr. Justice Holmes has said "a word is not a crystal, transparent and unchanged, it is the skin of a living thought and may very greatly in color and content according to the circumstances and time in which it is used“,9 The use of terms like "embryo" or "fetus" which may be medically precise, is grammatically awkward since they refer only to specific stages of gestation 10 Words such as "quick" or "viable" are equally unclear since the law's own use of such words reflect little, if any, consistency with current medical practice. 11 If the writer's use of the phrase Little Unborn Baby is troublesome and makes one uncomfortable it is perhaps because the reader has not been as realistic as the members of the Judiciary Committee of the Minnesota House of Representatives who found that "abortion involves the taking of a human life". 12
III. Legal Status of the Unborn Baby Medical authority has recognized long since that the child is in existence from the moment of conception, and for many purposes its existence is recognized by the law. The criminal law regards it as a separate entity, and the law of property considers it in being for all purposes which are to its benefit, such as taking by will or descent... All writers who have discussed the problem have joined ... in maintaining that the unborn child in the path of an automobile is as much a person in the street as the mother ... 13
The legal status of the Unborn Baby has thus been summarized by Professor Prosser and its only shortcoming is that it does not reflect the advances of the law since that statement was penned in 1964.
It is not within the scope of this paper to develop the entire spectrum of the evolution of the law as relating to the recognition of the Unborn Baby as a "person", but a few cases of significance will show conclusively that the common law of past judicial decisions have placed the courts in the anomalous position of protecting the legal rights of one, who it is now
• One of the anomalies of the "abortion controversy" is to note that "women who have had difficulty in establishing that they were "persons"-albeit to lesser degree than the "Negro" and the "Indian" - and entitled to all rights under the Constitution have a segment- the "Women's Lib" gais-who are now "demanding" the "right" to destroy another, or stated another way, on achieving their due rights their first act is to deny to another a right which they always had--the "right to live" - perhaps this is a blatant indictment of the self-centered, non caring about others, direction in which our Nation is moving
(continued to page 11)
FOR THE UNBORN BABY ... (cont. from page 10)
Whereas the child, by reason of his physical and mental reflecting the advances of medical science of providing a more
immaturity, needs specific safeguards and care, including complete picture of the unique Little Unborn Baby in his
appropriate legal protection, before as well as after birth. somewhat "secret home".
. Preamble, Declaration of the Rights of the Child A. Tort Law
The Little Unborn Baby has not only been recognized The "landmark decision" which upheld the right of
by the domestic law of this Nation, but has also been the recovery for pre-natal injuries was Bombrest v. Katz 65F.
subject of an international treaty to which the United States is Supp. 46 (District of Columbia, 1946) in which the court
a signatory. The United Nations Declaration of November 20, held:
1959 clearly states that the Unborn Baby must be protected From the viewpoint of the civil law and the law of
"before as well as after birth". Those states which permit, with property, a child en ventre sa mere is not only regarded
impunity, the taking of the life of the Little Unborn Baby are as human being, but as such from the moment of
violating one of the most sacred commitments of this conception ... which it is in fact.
Nation-a treaty! The Ohio Supreme Court spoke of the constitutional rights
IV. Individualism and The Sanctity of Life of an unborn baby in Williams v. The Marion Rapid Transit,
In the "abortion debate" individualsim finds some strange Inc. 152 Ohio St. 114 (1949). The Court found the unborn
bed-fellows who seize upon that outstanding quality by baby to be a "person"
claiming that anti-abortion laws wrongfully invade the privacy If the common law protects the rights of the unborn
of the individual, of the family and of the physician-patient child and if every intendment in the law is favorable to
relationship. By some form of inverse reasoning, which is a him, the inference is inevitable that such unborn child is
mystery to this writer, the "quality of life jurisprudents" argue a person even though he is incapable himself to assert
that it is an invasion of privacy to restrain the hand of one them. If the unborn child may not legally be deprived of
who is about to destroy another. Conspiciously absent from his life, it is hard to understand how that life may with
the arguments of those proposing "abortion on demand" is impunity be totally impaired by the tort of a third
any mention of the Unborn Baby's right of privacy. person.
A. Personal Privacy The Court later stated in the same opinion:
The "right of privacy" is a very basic and highly cherished To hold that the plaintiff in the instant case did not
right-however one which is nowhere expressly mentioned in suffer an injury in her person would require this court to the Constitution or its amendments, but is only found in the announce that as a matter of law the infant is a part of "penumbra" of those articles. When the "right of privacy" is the mother until birth and has no existence in law until
attached to an "express" right such as the "right of freedom of that time. In our view such a ruling would deprive the
religion" a very strong constitutional basis exists for upholding infant of the right conferred by the Constitution to all the "right"-except when in conflict with the most basic and persons, by the application of time-worn fiction not
foundamental of all rights-the "right to life". founded on fact and within common knowledge untrue
The New Jersey Supreme Court was asked to decide just and unjustified.
such an issue-a conflict between the mother's privacy and the
life of the Unborn Baby. In Raleigh Fitkin-Paul Morgan B. Property Law
Memorial Hospital v. Anderson 14 the issue was whether the In the case of Phillips v. Herron 55 Ohio St. 478 (1896) the
rights of a child in utero were violated by his mother's refusal, court faced the question as to whether an unborn baby was
on religious grounds, to submit to a blood transfusion "in being" for the purposes of the statute restricting
necessary to preserve the lives of both the mother and the entailment of real estate. The Court held that "a child in utero
Unborn Baby. The Court's finding favored the right to life of at the testators death is in being."
the Unborn Baby over the mother's freedom of religion:
An unborn child, of a woman who did not wish to have C. Inheritance Rights
blood transfusions for the reason that they were The question of whether a "non-viable" unborn baby was
contrary to her religious convictions as a Jehova's in existence for inheritance purposes was considered by the
Witness, was entitled to the law's protection, and Supreme Court of Ohio in Evans v. Anderson 15 Ohio St. 324
appropriate order would be made to insure blood (1864). The Court found that a child had a right to inherit
transfusion to the woman in the event that the physician from his father who did not know of his existence at the time
in charge at the time should determine that blood of his death, saying:
transfusions were necessary to save the woman's life or It is doubtless a well-settled rule of law relative to
the life of her child. succession, and to most other cases in relation to infants,
B. Physician-Patient Privacy that a child in ventre sa mere, as to every purpose where it is for the benefit of the child, is to be considered in
The proponents of "abortion on demand" assert that anti-abortion laws unlawfully intrude upon the privacy of the
(continued to page 12)
FOR THE UNBORN BABY ... (cont. from page 11)
became a patient of the mother's obstetrician, as well as
The idea that a doctor should be free of legal restraints in making decisions-that he, the doctor, is above the law-has been rejected by the Supreme Court in Barsky v. Bd. of Regents, 347 US 442, at 449 (1954):
It is elemental that a state has broad powers to establish and enforce standards of conduct within its border relative to the health of everyone there. It is a vital part of a state's police power. The state's discretion in that field extends naturally to the regulation of all professions concerned with health ... including medicine.
The role of the doctor in society has been defined by Dr. Viktor E. Frankl as:
(0) t is not the doctor's province to sit in judgment on the value or lack of value of a human life. The task assigned to him by society is solely that of helping wherever he can, and alleviating pain where he must, of healing to the extent that he can, and nursing illness
which is beyond cure. 16 C. Family Privacy
The "right of family privacy" is also a most fundamental right which is most zealously guarded until the conflict involves the right of a person to live. In the case of Gleitman v. Cosgrove 17 the family-Mom, Dad and Little Jeffrey-sought damages from the two doctors who had attended Mrs. Gleitman during her pregancy on the grounds that they had not been advised that Little Jeffrey might be born with "detects" due to the mother's having contracted German measles during her pregnancy. The Gleitman's argued that they were thus deprived of the opportunity to destroy Jeffrey by abortion. The Court, in dismissing the complaint, emphasized the primacy of Little Jeffrey's right to live:
It is basic to the human condition to seek lite and hold
not talking here about the breeding of prize cattle. It
The Gleitman decision illustrates the inappositeness of the Supreme Court decision in Griswold v. Connecticut 18 in the "abortion" controversy. The decision of the Supreme Court in Griswold which is the major contention of the proponents of "abortion on demand" as supporting their position, recognized the right of marital privacy by voiding a statute preventing dissemination of contraceptive information and devices.
The proposition that the decision of the High Court relating to contraception should be extended to protect the "right" of a woman to destroy the product of conception after it has taken place is so ludicrous as not to merit any serious consideration. It is good law that no court should tell a husband and wife what they can do in the privacy of their bedroom to prevent conception - however once conception takes place and a new life has begun there is a new issue which extends beyond the bedroom.
The contraceptive relationship is between the husband and wite-the abortion relationship is between the parents and their child. The Little Unborn Baby changes the entire picture-his interest must then be considered. To equate contraception and abortion is to fly in the face of the basic facts of biology.
The Honorable Judge Don J. Young speaking for the court in the landmark decision of Steinberg et al. v. Rhodes et al. 19 put this debate to rest saying:
(T) he legal conclusions in Griswold as to the rights of individuals to determine without governmental interference whether or not to enter into the process of procreation cannot be extended to cover those situations wherein ... the preliminaries have ended, and new life has begun. Once human life has commenced, the constitutional protections found in the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments impose upon the state the duty of safeguarding it.
V. Our Legal Structure in Perspective A man's life, like a piece of tapestry is made up of many strands which interwoven make a pattern; to seperate a single one and look at it alone, not only destroys the whole but gives the strand itself a false value. 20
The mother who comes before a court of law, or a legislative assembly, arguing that her "right to privacy" is being violated, when the state acts to restrain her hand which would destroy another, runs counter to the wisdom of Judge Learned Hand and demeans her own existence for if her "life" were not the primary concern of medicine and law she would
(continued to page 13)