Humanities Center Fellow Addresses Abortion Discourse

The Abortion Debate
Jenna P Anglin

Harvard Law School Professor Jeannie Suk discusses abortion in "The Trajectory of Trauma: Bodies and Minds in the Abortion Discourse" in the Barker Center on Wednesday night.

Jeannie Suk, a senior fellow at the Humanities Center, discussed at the Barker Center last night how the threat of psychological trauma experienced by women has affected the abortion debate.

Suk, who is also an assistant professor at Harvard Law School, explained that the awareness of the potential trauma experienced by women has been used on both sides of the abortion issue.

The discourse about women’s psychological trauma first entered the legal conversation concerning abortion with the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision, in which pro-choice proponents argued that abortions could prevent the distress caused by an unwanted childbirth, according to Suk.

But after Gonzales v. Carhart in 2007, psychological trauma has appeared in common legal decisions as an argument against abortion, Suk said.

Gonzales v. Carhart signaled a move in Supreme Court jurisdiction toward a restriction of abortion rights, and it drew a connection between the threat of psychological trauma and partial-birth abortion.

Attendee J. Shoshanna Ehrlich, a Women’s Studies professor at University of Massachusetts Boston, questioned whether this shift in the discussion of psychological trauma was actually more indicative of an “effort to re-galvanize the anti-choice movement.”

Suk said that many criticized the decision as representing “archaic, paternalistic ideas” for believing that women cannot deal with the emotional aftermath of their decisions.

Suk also said that there have been discussions of cases in which coerced abortion is compared to rape. If a woman decides to have an unwanted abortion, then the trauma may begin to parallel that of a woman who has had coerced sex, Suk said.

But Shobi Ahmed, a student at the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, disagreed with this connection.

“I don’t see that there’s a strong analogy,” Ahmed said.

Some members of the audience said that they found Suk’s speech compelling.

GSAS student Paisid Aramphongphan said he found Suk’s discussion “very interesting, very thought provoking, especially in the way she explores the discourse on both sides.”

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