Sprinkle: Originalism, Jefferson, and the unborn infant

In a recent Carroll County Times column concerning Thomas Jefferson and originalism, we were reminded of Jefferson’s advocacy “for openness to revision to our laws.” From Panel 4 of the Jefferson Memorial: “But laws and institutions must go hand in hand with the progress of the human mind. As that becomes more developed, more enlightened, as new discoveries are made, new truths discovered … institutions must advance also to keep pace with the times.”

Jefferson was absolutely right, and on this issue originalists/conservatives can agree. But therein also is the conundrum. When once the “enlightenment” comes, when once “new discoveries” and “new truths” become known, how long does it take the human heart to shed the biases of the past and the blather of political sycophants and act affirmatively and decisively on those revelations?


Too frequently, truth leaps from the pages of genuine “new discoveries,” and those who have their own personal and/or political agenda and preconceived dispositions read and respond with a shrug. Why? Because the truth is troublesome. It challenges us to rethink what we had previously taken for granted. It tugs at our smugness and makes us uneasy.

The late Justice Antonin Scalia was mentioned in the piece as “a big proponent of Originalism and used it as the rationale to push for the reversal of Roe v. Wade.” So let’s review solely the issue of abortion and examine it in the light of “new truths” and “new discoveries.”

Women want to be in charge of their own bodies, and so they should be — their own bodies. An unborn infant is a separate and distinct person with a separate and distinct genetic code.

Through the progress of medical science and especially with the advent of 4D scans, we learn that an unborn human infant “will smile, recognize her mother’s voice and maybe even dream,” according to In the Womb, National Geographic, 2005. “One of the many things revealed by the 4D scans is that babies have rapid eye movement sleep.” And in the case of twins and other multiples: “Scientists have witnessed them playing games together.”

Referring to an unborn infant, Lennart Nilsson and Lars Hamberger wrote (A Child is Born, 4th Ed.): “It is known that the eye can sense light as early as the third month of pregnancy. When an endoscope is inserted into the amniotic sac, a fetus tries to protect its eyes from the light on the instrument, either by turning away or by using its hands and fingers.”

In her book, “Beginning Life” (1996), Geraldine Lux Flanagan writes: “New means of observation have made it possible to discover how responsive and active the baby already is in the months preceding birth.” Further, “it was not known that babies have such a diverse repertoire of movements at this early time, and perform these so smoothly and so frequently.”

Even the late journalist, atheist, and abortion advocate Christopher Hitchens concluded: “I think it has been demonstrated that an embryo is a separate body and entity, and not merely ... a growth on or in the female body” (God Is Not Great, 2007).

So, with all of this “enlightenment,” these continuing “new discoveries” and “new truths” about the personhood of an unborn human infant, whose heart begins to beat 21 to 22 days following conception (, where is the “advance … to keep pace with the times”?

When do we acknowledge that unborn infants are separate and distinct persons who can and do respond to external stimuli? When do we acknowledge that they, too, have the right to live?

And in the case of rape and incest? On Nov. 19, the CDC published its stats for 2015 — 638,169 legal abortions reported from 49 reporting areas in the United States, roughly 188 abortions for every 1,000 live births. Do we honestly believe that 638,169 tiny beating hearts were stopped because of rape or incest?

“Enlightenment,” “new truths,” and “new discoveries” as they relate to the subject of abortion are, indeed, disturbing. We know the truth; the question is: Do we have the courage and moral fiber to revise the laws accordingly?

In the worst-case scenario, perhaps we have lost our sense of decency. Perhaps we have reached a point where convenience eclipses human life. Perhaps the abortion industry is too profitable to terminate. Or perhaps abortion on demand actually is “in pace with the times.”

If that be the case, then may God have mercy on all of us for we are the fools who have strayed into territory from which even the angels of God would recoil. Jefferson warned us (panel 3, Jefferson Memorial): “Can the liberties of a nation be secure when we have removed a conviction that these liberties are the gift of God? Indeed I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just, that his justice cannot sleep forever.”

M.K. Sprinkle writes from Hampstead.