Harris Lecture: Abortion and the 'Woman Question': Forty Years of Debate
16 Pages Posted: 4 Feb 2015
Date Written: September 27, 2012
For the last four decades, abortion has been the site of struggles over the woman question, just as for decades schools were the site of struggles over the race question, or today the institution of marriage is the site of struggles over the standing of gays and lesbians. This lecture commemorates Roe’s fortieth anniversary by reconstructing how the woman question became entangled in the abortion debate in the twentieth century.
The abortion debate is commonly thought to concern the question of when life begins. But the question of when life begins is not the only question that makes the abortion debate explosive. I will show how the entrance of women’s rights claims into the abortion debate fatefully changed it, and led opponents of abortion to engage the woman question in terms that have changed shape over the last several decades, from the frames of “pro-family” to the more contemporary discourse associated with claims that “abortion hurts women.” Tracing the four decade arc of this conversation allows us to see more clearly the many forms in which the “woman question” can be expressed in cases that will reach the Roberts Court in the coming decade.
Keywords: abortion, Roe, constitution law, privacy, equality, life, women
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