Law: Reproductive Rights

Why reproductive rights?

Since the Roe v. Wade decision was overturned in 2022 in the United States, reproductive rights have once more moved into the global spotlight. The debate over abortion concerns issues that cut across religion and nonreligion, like, how is “life” defined and when does it begin, what role does the state play in regulating one’s body, how do scientific experts and religious actors shape ethics, and what kinds of language and discourses do religious and nonreligious parties use to make their arguments. 

How does the research work?

We have identified key moments of observation – that is, court decisions and parliamentary debates that were turning points in the expansion (or contraction) of reproductive rights – for Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Canada, Norway, and the United States. With these moments of observation selected, we are then analyzing the central themes that emerge in each case. 

Project design considerations

Discourses around “life” abound in these discussions. Questions that are raised include: is “life” considered “sacred”? When does an embryo or fetus become “human life” or “viable life”? What kinds of knowledge frameworks are used to answer these questions? 

Another theme concerns the question of autonomy. The debate centres on the bodily autonomy of the pregnant woman, but also the autonomy – if any – of the fetus. The question of harm, and how competing harms are balanced, is also a central feature of this debate. These questions also raise the issue of what constitutes good medical practice. 

We are also exploring how social actors, whether religious or nonreligious, deploy language around science. That is, do actors attempt to make universal arguments, or do they make arguments specific to their own religious tradition or community? 

Ultimately, reproductive rights provide a fundamental window into how we think about morality and what should guide us as we make moral decisions. 

Who is involved?