The 14th Amendment, similar to the Civil Rights Act of 1866 it was meant to support, codified equal protection of the fundamental rights of persons — including life and personal security — as these had been expounded in William Blackstone’s “Commentaries on the Laws of England” and leading American treatises. The Commentaries began with a discussion of unborn children’s rights as persons across many areas of law. Based on these authorities and landmark English cases, state high courts leading up to 1868 declared that the unborn child throughout pregnancy “is a person” and hence, under “civil and common law,” “to all intents and purposes a child, as much as if born.” By the end of 1868, three-quarters of the states had enacted criminal laws against abortion at all stages. These statutes classified abortion as an “offense against the person,” and nearly all described the unborn victim of abortion as an “infant” or “child.”
Because state laws allowing elective abortion necessarily deprive a class of human beings — those at the earliest stages of development — of “the equal protection of the laws,” they violate constitutional rights. Such laws render generally applicable statutes against homicide inapplicable to a disfavored class of persons and expose unborn children to lethal violence.
These are precisely the sort of wrongs that the 14th Amendment was designed to rectify. It equipped Congress to meet this challenge by granting to it, in Section 5, “power to enforce, by appropriate legislation” the amendment’s due process and equal protection guarantees. As the Supreme Court explained in the 1880 case Ex Parte Virginia, whatever legislation is “adapted to carry out . . . the equal protection of the laws against State denial or invasion . . . is brought within the domain of congressional power.”