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Amid Abortion Debate, the Pursuit of Science

Posted on Jan 8, 2014

By Nina Martin, ProPublica

(Page 3)

TW: There is no consistent standard for how science is or is not incorporated into the legal decisions. Across the decisions, the same scientific studies are adjudicated very differently. Overwhelmingly what we do see is political ideology substituted for objective standards in adjudicating scientific claims. We were very disheartened to find that many of the judicial decisions were discounting the science altogether. I think I was a little naive. I had this idea that the courts were more objective.

Since I started this work, I’ve been intrigued to discover that there’s a whole body of criticism 2014a lot of it around climate change 2014 over whether courts should have anything to do with science. When the D.C. federal court was set up, all the patent cases went there. There was a recognition that these issues were really complicated 2014more science-y 2014 and you needed to have judges who had specific expertise to decide them. Now, whether they’re about environmental science or, in our case, health-related science, these cases are being spread out across multiple courts, and judges with absolutely no scientific training are being asked to make adjudications about science. Should we be training judges to review science? Should we be thinking about specialty courts with scientific expertise?

One of the more troubling findings is the way that controversy has become a reason to discount science. There’s a great book called “Merchants of Doubt” [Naomi Oreskes and Erik Conway, Bloomsbury, 2011]. It’s about the production of scientific controversy as a way to discount legitimate scientific research and clear-cut consensus about tobacco or climate change, but it also applies to abortion. As the book points out, you don’t need to disprove science anymore. All you need to do is suggest that the science is actually in doubt. Courts will then look at and say, “It’s a controversy, so deference should go to the Legislature,” or “It’s a controversy, so we’ll do whatever we want.”

A contributing problem is that, in the legal context, medical experts and scientists who do abortion or study abortion have been seen as suspect. Lisa Harris, at the University of Michigan, has written some great stuff on what she calls “The Legitimacy Paradox.” It goes like this: By virtue of doing an abortion, you’re not a real doctor. Therefore, real doctors don’t do abortions. Therefore, you have the right to regulate them because they’re not real doctors.

NM: That brings me to the last thing I want to talk about, which is the issue of stigmatization. That’s a major thread in your research and writings. Why is this issue is so important to you?

TW: A stigma is a mark that makes you seen as morally suspect.It’s not just bad. It’s bigger than bad.

In the abortion context, stigmatization means that your position on abortion says everything about you as a human being. To do abortion means that you are morally corrupt. The fact that you would have an abortion means you’re a different kind of person. And the consequences associated with disclosure 2014 whether it’s “I support legal abortion,” “I do abortions,” “I’ve had an abortion” 2014 now carry huge social weight. That leads to silence.

Now, I’m a person who fundamentally believes in doing anything that I can to help women have their families when they want to have their families. If I can help her figure out how she gets the contraception she wants and she picks the partners she wants and she has the money she wants so that she never has to have an abortion, then I’ve been a success.

But if she needs an abortion, she needs an abortion. And I’m there for her with that support. I’ve never met a woman who said, “It’s on my bucket list to have an abortion.”

I want everyone to have every tool in their tool-box to be able to have a family, when and if they want to. Any of those strategies are legitimate strategies. That includes abortion.

Correction: This post originally stated that the FDA approved the morning-after pill in 2000. The abortion pill was approved in 2000.



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