Pain that only she must bear: on the invisibility of women in judicial abortion rhetoric

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The graphic and bodily facts of a legal question of rights are relevant to the courts, particularly in questions that directly implicate physical bodies and pain, such as right to die cases, or what level of search may be allowable and when. However, in the case of abortion, or more specifically the bodily ramifications of pregnancy and childbirth, this detail is conspicuously absent. This article, relying on a content analysis of over 220 legal opinions on abortion rights, documents this absence of rhetoric. Particularly in the context of other discussions of pain and physical health risks in these very same cases, the complete absence of an acknowledgement of the bodily ramifications of pregnancy and childbirth appears purposeful, if perhaps not conscious. Reviewing prior literature on abortion rights and abortion rhetoric, it is likely that this lack of language both reflects and reinforces an assumption of women's roles as mothers, a general reluctance to acknowledge the totality of the sacrifices women make in giving birth, and the refusal to acknowledge women's individual interests as whole persons.

Original languageEnglish
Article numberlsac003
JournalJournal of Law and the Biosciences
Issue number1
StatePublished - 1 Jan 2022


  • abortion
  • bodily integrity
  • pain
  • pregnancy
  • sacrifice
  • substantive due process


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