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Dignity and the Politics of Protection: Abortion Restrictions Under Casey/Carhart, 117 YALE L.J. 1694 (2008)


This essay on the law and politics of abortion analyzes the constitutional principles governing new challenges to Roe. The essay situates the Court’s recent decision in Gonzales v. Carhart in debates of the antiabortion movement over the reach and rationale of statutes designed to overturn Roe—exploring strategic considerations that lead advocates to favor incremental restrictions over bans, and to supplement fetal-protective justifications with womanprotective justifications for regulating abortion. The essay argues that a multi-faceted commitment to dignity links Carhart and the Casey decision on which it centrally relies. Dignity is a value that bridges communities divided in the abortion debate, as well as diverse bodies of constitutional and human rights law. Carhart invokes dignity as a reason for regulating abortion, while Casey invokes dignity as a reason for protecting women’s abortion decisions from government regulation. This dignity-based analysis of Casey/Carhart offers principles for determining the constitutionality of woman-protective abortion restrictions that are grounded in a large body of substantive due process and equal protection case law. Protecting women can violate women’s dignity if protection is based on stereotypical assumptions about women’s capacities and women’s roles, as many of the new woman-protective abortion restrictions are. Like old forms of gender paternalism, the new forms of gender paternalism remedy harm to women through the control of women. The new woman-protective abortion restrictions do not provide women in need what they need: they do not alleviate the social conditions that contribute to unwanted pregnancies, nor do they provide social resources to help women who choose to end pregnancies they otherwise might bring to term. The essay concludes by reflecting on alternative—and constitutional—modes of protecting women who are making decisions about motherhood.

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