Academics address continuing legal challenges facing abortion

BY KATE SPENCER

Helena Silverstein
Khiara Bridges

The Reproductive Rights and the Right to Information event at HLS on Friday, October 9 was held to educate and inform its audience on the current position of information in relation to reproductive rights in the U.S. Panelists discussed a number of current issues pertaining to the relationship between the law, its interpretation, medical providers and patients, touching on topics ranging from minors’ rights to bodily integrity to the state legislation that commands ultrasounds for women seeking a termination. Throughout, the focus was on abortion and its surrounding issues. 

Helena Silverstein spoke on the requirement of parental consent and her research into whether courts actually knew that the judicial bypass process actually required them to relent from asking for consent in certain situations. Unsurprisingly, many are completely ignorant of the procedure and minors are not provided with the services they are legally entitled to.

Khiara Bridges, a Columbia Law School fellow, made an interesting comparison between the way the law regulated securities information, mandating “full and fair disclosure,” and the biased information women often receive when deciding on whether or not to undergo a termination. She maintained that women should not be exposed to merely one philosophical position on the fetus. South Dakota, she said, where declaratory statements tell women that abortion terminates the life of a “whole, separate, unique, living, unborn human being,” is doing explicitly what mandatory ultrasounds and biased counselling do implicitly. Professor Sanger expanded on the issue of mandatory ultrasounds, arguing that the measure was designed to transform “an abstraction into a baby” and gives a “visual construction of loss”. Professor Sanger suggested that the effect of the ultrasound, through the image itself and the entire experience, was to turn all pregnant women into “mothers-to-be” even if they were undecided on an abortion. 

A highlight at the event was the lunchtime talk by Reva Siegel, the Nicholas deB. Katzenbach Professor of Law at Yale and an extensive publisher on constitutional law meets reproductive rights. Entitled “Dignity and Decision-Making in the Abortion Debate,” the premise of her discussion was that women cannot be said to have “dignity” until they control their own reproductive processes. Siegel culminated with the observation that “dignity” can be construed as autonomy or “dignity” as equality and that U.S. case law suggests that meanings of dignity are plural and potentially shifting. 
The conference, which explored the current issues prevalent in adoption rights law, also provided insight into the academic and activist work ongoing in this area of women’s rights. 

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