Body and Soul: Equality, Pregnancy, and the Unitary Right to Abortion

46 Pages Posted: 12 Oct 2009 Last revised: 5 Mar 2018

Date Written: October 12, 2009


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 show why equality arguments are needed - because our legal tradition's conception of liberty is based on male experience, and we have no theory of basic human rights grounded in women's reproductive experiences. Next, however, the Article shows that equality arguments, although necessary, can undermine women’s reproductive freedom because they require that pregnancy and abortion be analogized to male experiences. The result is that equality arguments focus on either the bodily or the social aspect of pregnancy, to the detriment of the other. Most recently, for example, Jack Balkin has argued that there are "two rights" to abortion, one based in the right to bodily integrity and one based in the right to avoid motherhood. This is the wrong way to theorize pregnancy. The 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. The burden-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. A woman-centered vision of these rights would stand more firmly on its own footing. The Article proposes a relationship model for theorizing pregnancy as a starting point for developing a liberty framework directly from women’s experiences.

Keywords: abortion, equality, liberty, due process, equal protection, motherhood, pregnancy

Suggested Citation

Hendricks, Jennifer S., Body and Soul: Equality, Pregnancy, and the Unitary Right to Abortion (October 12, 2009). Harvard Civil Rights-Civil Liberties Law Review (CR-CL), Vol. 45, No. 2, 2010; University of Tennessee Legal Studies Research Paper No. 80. Available at SSRN:

Jennifer S. Hendricks (Contact Author)

University of Colorado Law School ( email )

401 UCB
Boulder, CO 80309
United States
303-735-5453 (Phone)


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