Originalism and the problem of writing in stone

Published May 5, 2022

By Lib Campbell

The word abortion does not appear in the Constitution. Neither do words that address women’s votes… or votes of African Americans. Neither are there words that address gender differences and other revelations that have come to us over time. Words are set. Plain. Never enlarging, never revealing. Static. Period. End of discussion.
Yet here is life.  Life reveals change, seasons. Movement. Expansion. Revelation. Enlightenment. The movement of the universe is expansion. The “what is next” is the most exciting part.
To be stuck with glorious words in a Constitution… to be stuck with words in the Bible or any other document written in a particular time into a particular circumstance denies every dawn that brings a new light and a new creation. God is always doing a new thing among us.
 A new opinion leaked from our Supreme Court reveals that Roe versus Wade will be struck down. Struck Down. Sent back to states who are ready and chomping at the bit to strike it down.
 I was a freshman in college in the fall of 1964. I was in Cotten Hall at East Carolina. Third floor. The women on the hall talked. Abortion was a topic. There was conversation about a woman in Pitt County who could “help you out” if you got pregnant. Coat hangers were involved. Bleeding. Inability to have any other children was a frequent consequence. The constitution does not address this. But enlightened people do.
The US Constitution was written by white men, mostly landowners, some slave owners. From the beginning, articles, bills of rights, and amendments were written and ratified to address glaring omissions mostly around civil rights. To date there are 27 ratified amendments, and 6 as-of-yet unratified amendments. The Equal Rights Amendment is still unratified. Uppity women have always been a problem.
Riding through Lenoir County recently, a pick up truck passed that had a bumper sticker that stated: Repeal the 19thAmendment. Women’s right to vote is protected by the 19th amendment. And here in 2022, someone is against women’s rights enough to put a bumper sticker on his truck. Wonder what his mother or his wife or his sister or his daughter think about that?
As a pastor and a person of faith, I will honestly say that I do not support abortion as a means of birth control. But I do support a woman’s right to choose. I support life, full abundant life for all people. I support appropriate sex education. I support punishing pedophiles and abusive men and women. I resent being told that I would have to carry a child of rape or incest. I support monogamy and covenant relationship among consenting adults. Human rights are broad rights that are shaped in value systems, in healthy homes, schools, and churches.
Historian and Author Joseph Ellis says of the US Constitution, “The Constitution is the framework for an ongoing argument about who we are as a people and where power resides and it is assumed that each new generation will be engaged in that argument and will take it in new directions.”
The Constitution alone does not cover the breadth of the human condition in a civil society. The Constitution is a living, dynamic document that for every generation speaks to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness for all people. It swells with each Amendment that is ratified. Losing civil rights, dropping precedent, passing the buck to the states will leave a patchwork of tailored rights that likely will leave women and marginalized people in the dust. This uppity woman does not like the dust.