Document Type



Harvard Civil Rights-Civil Liberties Law Review




This Article explores equality-based arguments for abortion rights, revealing both their necessity and their pitfalls. It first uses the narrowness of the "health exception" to abortion regulations to demonstrate why equality arguments are needed--namely because our legal tradition's conception of liberty is based on male experience, no theory of basic human rights grounded in women's reproductive experiences has developed. Next, however, the Article shows that equality arguments, although necessary, can undermine women's reproductive freedom by requiring that pregnancy and abortion be analogized to male experiences. As a result, equality arguments focus on either the bodily or the social aspect of pregnancy, to the detriment of the other. Some scholars have suggested that the right to abortion be split in two, with one right to bodily integrity and a separate right to avoid motherhood. This is the wrong way to theorize pregnancy: body-focused arguments fail to resonate with the reasons most women seek abortions and the role that pregnancy and abortion play in women's lives. Burdens-of-motherhood arguments imply a sunset clause on abortion rights and lend credibility to arguments for a right to "male abortion." This division between the body and the social suggests that women's liberty can be protected only by breaking it into pieces that have analogs in men's experiences. When men are the norm, women's rights become derivative.

The Article proposes a relationship model for theorizing pregnancy as a starting point for developing a liberty framework directly from women's experiences. This model of pregnancy builds on Supreme Court precedent that uses pregnancy as a baseline for a constitutional definition of parenthood. It thus provides a basis for treating abortion as one of a range of reproductive rights rather than in isolation. It also offers the promise of a woman-centered vision that would put those rights on firmer footing.