Mandating Nature's Course

44 Pages Posted: 19 Sep 2023 Last revised: 28 Sep 2023

See all articles by Sherry F. Colb

Sherry F. Colb

Cornell University - Law School

Michael C. Dorf

Cornell Law School

Date Written: September 14, 2023


Laws that substantially restrict abortion, gender-affirming care, and aid in dying do not merely forbid particular acts; they effectively mandate burdensome bodily obligations. Yet many proponents of such restrictions purport to support a right to bodily autonomy in other contexts, for example by opposing public health vaccination and masking mandates. They distinguish the former restrictions on the ground that such laws merely allow nature to take its course (NTIC). The NTIC claim is widespread. It may appeal to religion, a tendency to equate nature with wholesomeness, or a version of the act/omission distinction. Nonetheless, the NTIC defense fails because it rests on unarticulated normative grounds for attributing to nature some but not all results of legal prohibitions. Setting aside NTIC claims rightly focuses attention on whether strong countervailing interests justify restrictions on bodily autonomy.

Keywords: Abortion, Gender, Physician-assisted suicide, Transgender, Gender-affirming care, Minors, Nature

Suggested Citation

Colb, Sherry F. and Dorf, Michael C., Mandating Nature's Course (September 14, 2023). Cornell Legal Studies Research Paper 23-20, Available at SSRN: or

Sherry F. Colb

Cornell University - Law School ( email )

Myron Taylor Hall
Ithaca, NY 14853
United States

Michael C. Dorf (Contact Author)

Cornell Law School ( email )

Myron Taylor Hall
Cornell University
Ithaca, NY 14853-4901
United States


Do you have negative results from your research you’d like to share?

Paper statistics

Abstract Views
PlumX Metrics