Analysis and Commentary on Reproductive Law

Marking the Fortieth Anniversary of Roe v. Wade Part Two: Why the Court Did Not Go Too Far Too Fast

Justia columnist and Cornell law professor Michael Dorf continues his two-part series of columns on Roe v. Wade on its 40th anniversary. Here, in Part Two of Dorf’s two-part series, he addresses a common criticism that has been voiced by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, prior to her joining the Court, and by others as well: the criticism that Roe went too far, too fast and that having more of a dialogue beforehand might have led to less controversy surrounding the decision. Dorf disagrees with this criticism of Roe and its timing, contending (1) that the criticism may well have been mistaken from the very beginning, and (2) that the passage of forty years since Roe was handed down has surely and clearly refuted the too far, too fast critique of Roe. (Part One of Dorf's series on Roe appeared on January 17 here on Justia’s Verdict.)

Marking the Fortieth Anniversary of Roe v. Wade Part One: Where Three Common Criticisms Go Wrong

In the first in a two-part series on Roe v. Wade on its 40th anniversary, Justia columnist and Cornell law professor Michael Dorf explains where three common criticisms of the controversial Supreme Court precedent each go wrong. The criticisms run as follows: (1) that the constitutional text nowhere mentions abortion; (2) that the original meaning of the Fourteenth Amendment did not encompass a right to abortion; and (3) that the courts ought to stay out of socially divisive issues. If these objections are carefully considered, Dorf concludes, none of them holds water. Still, Dorf notes, Roe was nonetheless a hard case. (Dorf will continue his commentary on Roe’s 40th in his Wednesday, January 23 column.)

The U.S Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit Upholds Restrictions on Medical Abortion: Why Should Anyone Care?

Justia columnist and Cornell law professor Sherry Colb discusses the ramifications of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit’s decision to uphold a series of restrictions on medical abortions (such as abortions effected by taking the drug RU-486) against various constitutional challenges by Planned Parenthood and others. Colb explains why making medical (as opposed to surgical) abortions more difficult can also have other ramifications, as well. For instance, she suggests that the restrictions at issue may be motivated by politics, and not by concern for women’s health. In particular, Colb points out that medical abortions do not require clinic visits where women seeking abortions must face down pro-life protesters; and that such abortions, with no health care provider involved, may defeat a pro-life strategy of vilifying abortion providers and painting women who seek abortions as victims of society’s decision not to fully support motherhood.

How Todd Akin’s Statements About Rape and Pregnancy Undercut the Pro-Life Movement’s Efforts to Sell Itself as Pro-Woman

Congressman and Senate candidate Todd Akin’s comments about “legitimate rape,” in which he claimed that a woman who is raped is especially unlikely to get pregnant, are now notorious for being both offensive and factually wrong. In this column, Justia columnist and Cornell law professor Michael Dorf contends that—in addition to being highly inaccurate and offending many—Akin’s comments have also harmed the pro-life movement’s ability to present itself as pro-woman. Dorf notes that Akin’s “legitimate rape” phrase harkens back to old stereotypes claiming that women often made false rape claims, when we now know that is untrue. Ultimately, Dorf suggests, Akin’s comments may well have the greatest significance for the abortion debate, and Dorf explains why—examining the pro-life claim that women experience “abortion regret syndrome,” and considering whether the pro-life movement can, or should, be deemed pro-women, given certain facts about the movement.

Can the Government Require Doctors to Provide Misleading Information to Patients Seeking Abortions? A Federal Appeals Court Says No, but Means Yes

Justia columnist and Cornell law professor Michael Dorf comments on a recent decision from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit. As Dorf explains, the decision upheld a provision of a South Dakota law mandating that women seeking an abortion be informed that, with the abortion procedure, comes “an increased risk of suicidal ideation and suicide.” Although the medical literature shows only a correlation, and not a causal relationship, between abortion and suicide, and although that correlation likely stems entirely from some of the underlying factors that lead women to seek abortions in the first place, the Eighth Circuit still upheld the law at issue. Although the Eighth Circuit’s decision was quite plainly the wrong one, Dorf notes, he also predicts that it’s very unlikely that the U.S. Supreme Court will take the case. He then explains why the Court is likely to decline review and why, if it does grant review, it might uphold the law, even though it ought to be struck down.

Some Reflections on the Texas Pre-Abortion Ultrasound Law, a Year After Its Passage: Part Two in a Two-Part Series of Columns

In the second in a two-part series of columns, Justia columnist and Cornell law professor Sherry Colb continues her analysis of the constitutionality of the Texas law, enacted about a year ago, requiring abortion providers to (1) perform an ultrasound on a patient seeking an abortion; (2) expose the patient to the resulting visual ultrasound image, as well as any extant fetal heart sounds; and (3) provide an explanation of the embryo or fetus as pictured on the screen. Here, in Part Two, Colb continues to address the important question whether a law mandating ultrasounds, as the Texas law does, imposes a burden on women that is qualitatively different from the burdens that the U.S. Supreme Court has already approved in the context of abortion, which express a pro-childbirth value judgment. Colb also analyzes the abortion-related laws that the Court has struck down, and explains why. Moreover, she considers the relevance, here, of cases regarding unwanted speech and targeted picketing. Finally, Colb parallels the law with another context in which disturbing images may be shown, and if they are, the showing can be controversial: Animal Rights classes.

Notre Dame Sues the Federal Government in Order to Avoid Providing Reproductive Services to Its Female Students and Employees

Justia columnist and Cardozo law professor Marci Hamilton comments on Notre Dame University’s and other Roman Catholic organizations’ recent suit against the federal government over federal executive regulations, promulgated through the Department of Health and Human Services (“HHS”), that require the University and the other organizations to include contraception, abortion, and sterilization in their healthcare plans. Hamilton focuses, in particular, on the federal court complaint filed by Notre Dame and the other plaintiffs, and the arguments they have made. Hamilton also describes a series of Supreme Court precedents in which various religious groups have failed to get exemptions from generally applicable laws, and argues that these precedents do not bode well for the plaintiffs’ success in this court challenge. Hamilton also discusses the role the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) plays in the lawsuit.

Some Reflections on the Texas Pre-Abortion Ultrasound Law, a Year After Its Passage: Part One in a Two-Part Series of Columns

In the first in a two-part series of columns, Justia columnist and Cornell law professor Sherry Colb considers the constitutionality of the Texas law, enacted about a year ago, requiring abortion providers to (1) perform an ultrasound on a patient seeking an abortion; (2) expose the patient to the resulting visual ultrasound image, as well as any extant fetal heart sounds; and (3) provide an explanation of the embryo or fetus as pictured on the screen. Colb focuses especially on the question whether a law mandating ultrasounds, as the Texas law does, imposes a burden on women that is qualitatively different from the burdens that the U.S. Supreme Court has already approved in the context of abortion, which express a pro-childbirth value judgment.

The GOP, Privacy and Reproductive Rights, and the Backlash

Justia columnist and Cardozo law professor Marci Hamilton comments on the recent attack on reproductive and privacy rights by GOP presidential candidates Rick Santorum and Mitt Romney. Hamilton notes that some state legislatures, such as those of Ohio and Utah, have also taken similar stances—with Arizona and Kansas very possibly following the trend. Hamilton questions the wisdom of these stances, in light of the fact that a sizable majority of the country is not opposed to contraception, and the fact that only with the support of independent and moderate voters could the GOP candidate possibly beat President Obama’s re-election bid. Hamilton also notes that there has been a substantial backlash against such measures, by female legislators who are registering their protest by introducing laws that would, for instance, make it harder for men to obtain Viagra, and regulate ejaculation except when it occurs in the context of conception. Vasectomies, too, have been the target of the female legislators’ efforts—which, of course, are not serious attempts at getting laws passed, but are very serious attempts to draw attention to what the legislators believe is a dangerous attack on women’s rights. Hamilton adds her own “modest proposals” to those of the female legislators, and warns that moving into this delicate and personal area may cost the GOP the presidential election and/or congressional seats.

Men Who Give It Away: The Potential Perils of Free and Non-Anonymous Sperm Donation

Justia columnist and Hofstra law professor Joanna Grossman comments on the legal consequences of different forms of free, non-anonymous sperm donation. As she explains, some of these donations are connected to the online Free Sperm Donor Registry. Grossman, relying in part on previous reportage by 20/20, comments on situations such as that of a man who has given away so much sperm that the government has told him to stop its “manufacture,” and men who donate sperm via what is called “natural insemination”—that is, sex. Grossman explains why in-person sperm donation, especially via “natural insemination” raises complex questions about the legal rights and obligations of the sperm donor—with donors potentially liable for child support, and potentially able to seek visitation or even co-parent status. She also notes that in-person sperm donation may be governed by—and may, in some instances, violate—FDA regulations pertaining to the donation of human cells and tissue. Among other legal sources, Grossman covers the original and revised Uniform Parentage Act (UPA) in the column.

A New York Woman Is Arrested for Self-Induced Abortion: What Does This Tell Us About Abortion Law?

Justia columnist and Cornell law professor Sherry Colb comments on a little-known but significant feature of New York abortion law: It defines self-induced (and other) abortion as a crime, when the woman at issue has been pregnant for more than 24 weeks (the estimated time of fetal viability), unless an abortion is necessary to save the woman’s life. This pre-Roe law was applied recently when New York authorities arrested a woman who allegedly had completed a self-induced abortion, using an abortion tea, when she was 25 weeks pregnant. (She was arrested after a building superintendent reportedly found the dead fetus in a trashcan.) In analyzing the New York law at issue, Colb also discusses relevant background regarding the constitutional, legal, and moral status of the right to terminate a pregnancy. Among other points, Colb notes that New York’s law may prove counterproductive, in that it deters women from seeking emergency care related to a post-viability self-induced abortion, for fear that revealing the abortion to healthcare providers will lead to prosecution. She also points out that it is odd that the woman in question is being charged under the anti-self-inducement law in particular, when at the time the abortion occurred, any kind of abortion would have been illegal, unless it was necessary to save the woman’s life. Colb looks to New York’s unique take on abortion—an approach that differs from those of both the pro-life and pro-choice movements—to provide an explanation for its unusual law.

Why Girls Under Seventeen Need a Prescription to Buy the Morning After Pill

Justia columnist and Cornell law professor Sherry Colb comments on regulations regarding the “morning after pill,” a form of emergency contraception that is only available by prescription to girls under seventeen—despite a recent recommendation by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration that it be made available over the counter (OTC) to girls of that age. The Secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), Kathleen Sebelius, overruled the recommendation, but was she right to do so? Colb explains how the morning after pill works; explains how the brains of young girls differ from those of older girls and women; offers a hypothetical to illustrate what may happen if young girls cannot access the OTC morning after pill; considers whether parents’ interests should come into play here; discusses the argument that this kind of OTC contraception is a form of abortion and its relevance or lack thereof; and expresses deep disappointment if this decision by the Obama Administration was at base a political choice.

Mississippi Initiative 26: The Significance of Saying That a “Person” Exists From Conception to Death

Justia columnist and Cornell law professor Sherry Colb comments on a Mississippi initiative that aims to amend the state’s constitution. If passed, the initiative would define a “person” to “include every human being from the moment of fertilization, cloning or the functional equivalent thereof.” The law, Colb notes, plainly clashes with Supreme Court precedent, by banning abortion even very early on in a pregnancy. However, Colb focuses, instead, on how the initiative raises the question of who is a person—arguing that this question only muddies the debate over abortion. She contends that there are two key debates about abortion: a factual debate about embryonic and fetal development, and a moral debate about the consequences of those facts (many of which are well established) for the law. Using the word “person,” Colb contends, might make the speaker seem as if he or she is stating a fact, but really should be characterized as reflecting the speaker’s normative point of view, whether it is pro-life or pro-choice—and thus, confuses the debate. To illustrate the point, Colb gives examples of several ways in which using the word “person” mixes moral and factual points and clouds clear thinking. She also points out that rhetorical problems here are not limited to the pro-life side, pointing out that it also clouds debate to refer to abortion as merely “health-care” as some pro-choice advocates do.

Meet our Columnists

Vikram David Amar
Vikram David Amar

Vikram David Amar is the Dean and Iwan Foundation Professor of Law at the University of Illinois Co... more

Neil H. Buchanan
Neil H. Buchanan

Neil H. Buchanan is an economist and legal scholar and a Professor of Law at The George Washington U... more

Sherry F. Colb
Sherry F. Colb

Sherry F. Colb is the C.S. Wong Professor of Law at Cornell University. Colb teaches courses in con... more

John Dean
John Dean

John Dean served as Counsel to the President of the United States from July 1970 to April 1973. Befo... more

Michael C. Dorf
Michael C. Dorf

Michael C. Dorf is the Robert S. Stevens Professor of Law at Cornell University Law School. He has w... more

Joanna L. Grossman
Joanna L. Grossman

Joanna L. Grossman is the Ellen K. Solender Endowed Chair in Women and Law at SMU Dedman School of L... more

Marci A. Hamilton
Marci A. Hamilton

MARCI A. HAMILTON is the Robert A. Fox Leadership Program Professor of Practice, and Fox Family Pavi... more

Joseph Margulies
Joseph Margulies

Mr. Margulies is a Professor of Law and Government at Cornell University. He was Counsel of Record... more

Anita Ramasastry
Anita Ramasastry

Anita Ramasastry is the UW Law Foundation Professor of Law at the University of Washington School of... more

Lesley Wexler
Lesley Wexler

Lesley Wexler is a Professor of Law at the University of Illinois College of Law. Immediately prior... more