Questions on Roe v. Wade

Roe v. Wade, the 1973 U.S. Supreme Court case, is perhaps the most written-about case of the late 20th Century. The recent march on Washington, D.C. by pro-lifers got me thinking.

The Institutes of the Lawes of England- cited in over 70 high court cases, among them Roe – were penned by Sir Edward Coke. Coke’s Institutes are cited as evidence that under old English common law, an abortion performed before the quickening, the movement of the fetus in about the fourth month, was not an indictable offense.

Coke was closely associated with the Puritans. It was William Staunford who introduced the idea of the quickening an earlier English scholar. Coke and his brother Joseph and another group of Puritans joined Thomas Shephard the minister at what would be Cambridge England about the mid-1630s. Shephard Thomas and others sailed to the new world on Aug. 10, 1635.

Sighting land on Oct. 2, a Friday, by Monday, the 5th, the group is in Newtown and shortly after can be found in Hartford, Conn. It is understood that the Institutes played a key role in helping form New England law. The teacher John Witherspoon at the College of New Jersey later Princeton University brings over 500 books with him in 1768. Adding to the 1,200 donated by Gov. Jonathan Belcher in 1755, it is believed that James Madison enters his freshman year, the library has over 2,000 books. Among the notes gleaned from the student notebooks of John E. Calhoun 1774 and William Bradford 1772, Andrew Hunter 1772 in the concept that “A Right to Private Judgement in Matters of Opinion.” Among the books on the library shelf is the Law of New England.

The question is debate then as now, does life begin at conception or after the quickening? Aristotle held life begins at the quickening. William Blackstone cites Coke’s writings in his work. When does the ensoulment take place? This brings into play a grandfather complex. If a time traveler could stop Coke from writing the quickening, would Roe have been ruled the other way?

Michael Traubert