“On the question whether, under the Fourteenth Amendment as it stands, the unborn from their conception onward are persons entitled to the protection of its due process and equal protection clauses, there is only one right answer, writes John Finnis in First Things.
Begin with Blackstone’s Commentaries,” wrote presidential candidate Abraham Lincoln in 1860, when asked how to get a thorough knowledge of law; read them “carefully through, say twice.” (That’s four thousand pages, just to “begin” with.) Lawyers involved in drafting and debating the Fourteenth Amendment in 1866 were all acquainted with the Commentaries on the Laws of England, published in 1765 in time to be appealed to among the Framers at Philadelphia in 1787, and still foundational, in the original or in American editions, in early- and mid-nineteenth-century legal education. The Fourteenth Amendment was drafted to sustain the Civil Rights Act of 1866, whose sponsor, James F. Wilson, Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, said while introducing it:
What are these rights? Certainly they must be as comprehensive as those which belong to Englishmen. . . . Blackstone classifies them under three articles, as follows: 1. The right of personal security . . . 2. The right of personal liberty . . . 3. The right of personal property . . . The great fundamental rights are the inalienable possession of both Englishmen and Americans . . .
Wilson was quoting from the Commentaries’ first chapter, “Of the Absolute Rights of Individuals,” and Wilson, too, calls these rights absolute, meaning not exceptionless but rather natural or human. Blackstone delineates these rights:
The rights of the people of England . . . may be reduced to three principal or primary articles; the right of personal security, the right of personal liberty, and the right of private property: because . . . the preservation of these, inviolate, may justly be said to include the preservation of our civil immunities in their largest and most extensive sense.