The Health Exception

80 Pages Posted: 6 Jun 2019

See all articles by Monica E. Eppinger

Monica E. Eppinger

Saint Louis University - School of Law; Department of Sociology and Anthropology

Date Written: August 1, 2016


The abortion doctrine laid out in Roe v. Wade permits a procedure necessary to preserve the life or the health of the pregnant woman, setting out what has come to be called the “life exception” and the “health exception.” This Article investigates the background and antecedents of the health exception, identifying three periods of formation and change up to the drafting of the Model Penal Code in 1959. It argues that theories of health lie at the heart of legal doctrine, shaping common-law treatment of abortion and persisting in nineteenth- and twentieth-century statutes. This account reveals origins of a health exception more robust and formative than previously understood and illuminates some of the otherwise puzzling formulations, distinctions, and legal categories that still shape abortion doctrine today.

Keywords: abortion, Roe v. Wade, health, life exception, health exception, reproductive rights, equality, legal history, history of medicine, biology, anthropology of knowledge

Suggested Citation

Eppinger, Monica E., The Health Exception (August 1, 2016). Georgetown Journal of Gender and the Law, Vol. 17, 2016, Available at SSRN:

Monica E. Eppinger (Contact Author)

Saint Louis University - School of Law ( email )

100 N. Tucker Blvd.
St. Louis, MO 63101
United States

Department of Sociology and Anthropology ( email )

220 North Grand Boulevard
St. Louis, MO 63103
United States

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