Lesbians and Abortions
CUNY School of Law
April 25, 2011
New York University Review of Law & Social Change, Vol. 35, No. 1, p. 247, 2011
While there are doctrinal and theoretical connections, the arguments for women’s freedom to be a lesbian or to have an abortion are usually articulated independently from each other. At one time, the abortion right seemed more secure than lesbian rights, but recently lesbianism seems to be accorded more legal protection than abortions. This article argues that lesbians have an important stake in the legal recognition of abortion rights.
The article rehearses the doctrinal linkages, distinctions, and relative strength of the rights of lesbians and the right to abortion in American jurisprudence. The remainder of the article discusses the specific overlaps between lesbians and abortion as lived realities and as subject to legal regimes. For example, the article considers the availability of reproductive choice after the choicelessness of rape committed against lesbians, including a discussing of hate crimes against lesbians involving rape and of the erratic "rape exception" to abortion regulations. The next section examines the difficulties lesbians, especially young lesbians, face as what might be called "reproductive amateurs" who can become pregnant. As minors, they may be legally forced to interact with parents or judges hostile to their sexuality as well as to their desire to terminate pregnancy. As both minors and adults, they may be less likely to discover their pregnancy early, and thus they may be more likely to encounter strict time limits in abortion statutes.
The final section considers the construction of lesbians and of women who have abortions as "independent" or as "man-hating" women. It argues that the paternalism of the law and specific statutes that seek to remove certain choices from women express male anxiety about the power of women, including, perhaps paradoxically, sex selection.
Number of Pages in PDF File: 33
Keywords: abortion, lesbians, reproductive rights, sexuality, LGBT, substantive due process, rape, criminal law
Date posted: April 26, 2011 ; Last revised: May 14, 2011