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American Society of Law, Medicine & Ethics and Boston University School of Law




In this Article, I explore how nearly continuous public rhetorical challenges to abortion in the political realm first led the public and the courts to turn away from a particular abortion procedure (intact dilation and extraction, also known as partial-birth abortion) which political agitators labeled as “barbaric” and then to view physicians who performed abortions not as legitimate professionals, but simply as “abortionists,” and sometimes as evil “Frankensteins.” “Abortionists” use no “medical judgment” and are unworthy of deference by state legislatures, Congress, or the courts when deciding how or when to perform an abortion. The concentration on the welfare of fetuses and the actions of physicians permitted the abortion debate to bypass discussion of both the rights and welfare of pregnant patients, including their right to health, and to virtually never mention that abortion restrictions primarily affect people in poverty who cannot afford to seek reproductive health care, including an abortion, by traveling to a nonrestrictive state. Understanding the power of extreme rhetoric, including the use of social media in political campaigns and the use and misuse of concrete terms such as murder, infanticide, brutality, and dismemberment, and abstract concepts such as “human dignity,” can help us plot a post-Dobbs way forward. Perhaps the demise of Roe can lead to a birth of a new rhetoric on abortion, one that concentrates on the right to health of everyone, including the right to make reproductive decisions, and requires moving abortion back into the realm of contemporary medicine, complete with a meaningful doctor-patient relationship protected by privacy and financed in a way that is accessible to all pregnant patients.

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