Woman Scorned: Resurrecting Infertile Women's Decision-Making Autonomy

Jody Lynee Madeira

Indiana University Maurer School of Law-Bloomington


Maryland Law Review, Vol. 71, No. 2, 2012
Indiana Legal Studies Research Paper No. 251

Legal scholarship portrays women as reproductive decision makers in conflicting ways. The distinctions between depictions of infertile women and women considering abortion are particularly striking. A woman seeking infertility treatment, even one who faces no legal obstacles, is often portrayed as so emotionally distraught and desperate that her ability to give informed consent is potentially compromised. Yet, the legal academy has roundly rejected similar stereo-types of pregnant women considering abortion, depicting them as confident and competent decision makers. This Article argues that legal scholars’ use of a "desperate woman" stereotype denies women’s ability to critically assess the health risks and life benefits of fertility treatments, particularly when similar stereotypes have been met with scorn in the abortion context. These constructions perpetuate emotional paternalism; undermine the dignity, autonomy, and capacity of infertile women; and justify restrictions on decision making in the Assisted Reproductive Technology context. Infertility may well produce emotional distress; however, the construction of infertile women as governed by desperation unnecessarily impugns their capacity for autonomous decision making. To these ends, this Article examines the contributions that emotion can make to autonomous decision making, and the need for a more relational model of autonomy that acknowledges the socially embedded nature of treatment decisions. Because current constructions of "desperate" infertile women ignore available clinical research and have serious ideological and practical consequences, it is crucial to unmask and reframe them to prevent them from being incorporated into jurisprudence or legislation.

Number of Pages in PDF File: 73

Keywords: ART, IVF, abortion, infertility, infertile, emotion, desperation, desperate, stereotype

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Date posted: June 19, 2013 ; Last revised: July 9, 2013

Suggested Citation

Madeira, Jody Lynee, Woman Scorned: Resurrecting Infertile Women's Decision-Making Autonomy (2012). Maryland Law Review, Vol. 71, No. 2, 2012; Indiana Legal Studies Research Paper No. 251. Available at SSRN: http://ssrn.com/abstract=2281448

Contact Information

Jody Lynee Madeira (Contact Author)
Indiana University Maurer School of Law-Bloomington ( email )
211 S. Indiana Avenue
Bloomington, IN 47405
United States
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