Abortion Was Illegal in All 13 American Colonies in 1776

National   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Jul 5, 2012   |   4:43PM   |   Washington, DC

Americans celebrated the 236th birthday of the United States on Independence Day yesterday. As Americans hearken back to a time of freedom and independence, recalling some of the glory days of the Old Republic, Texas Alliance for Life points out an interesting note.

Referencing Abortion Questions And Answers: Love Them Both, a pro-life book written by Dr. Jack Willke, the pro-life groups points out an interesting item about the status of legalized abortion at the time of the founding of the nation. In the book, Willke, a physician, quotes J. Dellapenna in the article “The History of Abortion:
Technology, Morality, and Law” written in 1979 in the University of Pittsburgh Law Review:

At the adoption of the Declaration of Independence 236 years ago on July 4, 1776, abortion was banned in all of the 13 American colonies.

The colonies inherited English Common Law and largely operated under it until well into the 19th century. English Common Law forbade abortion. Abortion prior to quickening was a misdemeanor. Abortion after quickening (feeling life) was a felony. This bifid punishment, inherited from earlier ecclesiastic law, stemmed from earlier “knowledge” regarding human reproduction.

In the early 1800s it was discovered that human life did not begin when she “felt life,” but rather at fertilization. As a direct result of this, the British Parliament in 1869 passed the “Offenses Against the Persons Act,” eliminating the above punishment and dropping the felony punishment back to fertilization. One by one, across the middle years of the 19th century, every then-present state passed its own law against abortion. By 1860, 85% of the population lived in states which had prohibited abortion with new laws. These laws, preceding and following the British example, moved the felony punishment from quickening back to conception.