Symposium Considers the Public Health Impact of Roe v. Wade
Web Editor - Published: April 29, 2013

“A large number of Americans know that there was a case called Roe, but many of them don’t know what it was about,” said H. Albert Young Fellow in Constitutional Law Erin Daly in opening remarks made at the “Roe After 40: Roe’s Impact on Public Health” symposium held in the Ruby R. Vale Moot Courtroom on Thursday, April 25, 2013.

The symposium’s first panel, moderated by Professor Susan L. Goldberg, examined how both sides in the abortion debate have invoked public health considerations. The panel featured Professor John G. Culhane, the Director of Widener Law’s Health law Institute, in addition to Northeastern University School of Law Associate Dean for Academic Affairs and Kathleen Waters Matthews Distinguished Professor of Law Wendy E. Parmet and her colleague at Northeastern, Assistant Professor of Law Aziza Ahmed.

“The reliance on public health law by both the proponents and opponents of abortion may be misplaced,” said Parmet, who spoke on “A Population-Approach to Abortion Access: Does Public Health Matter?”

Ahmed’s remarks, “Public Health, Medical, and Scientific Expertise in Abortion Jurisprudence,” looked at whether or not scientific and medical expertise really have the impact on the courts that many assume. She suggested that in Roe, the Supreme Court deferred heavily to medical authorities, but that the climate has since shifted and courts do not show such deference.

“Courts simply often ignore scientific and public health evidence when it is before them,” she concluded.

“Some of the things that are being done in the name of informed consent are really invasions of a woman’s physical autonomy,” said Culhane, whose remarks, “Short- and Long-Term Consequences of the Erosion of Informed Consent in the Abortion Context,” looked at the way that the doctrine of informed consent has been used in state laws.

“It really is going to corrode the physician-patient relationship, not only in the context of abortion, but really generally,” Culhane said of statutes that stipulate what physicians must say to their clients.

The second panel, moderated by Visiting Assistant Professor of Law Christopher R. Smith, considered abortion funding under the Affordable Care Act, particularly with regard to women in the military or the prison system and featured Sharon G. Levin, an adjunct professor at American University’s Washington College of Law and the Director Federal Reproductive Health Policy, National Women’s Law Center, Washington, DC; Kate Grindlay, a Senior Project Manager at Ibis Reproductive Health in Cambridge, MA; and Carol Petraitis, the Director of the Clara Bell Duvall Reproductive Freedom Project for the ACLU of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, PA.

“Increasing insurance coverage of – and access to – abortion doesn’t actually increase the number of abortions. In Massachusetts, it actually went down due to the increase in access to family planning,” said Levin as she discussed the costs of abortion, observing that the majority of women who have such procedures pay for it out of pocket.

“Roe After 40: Roe’s Impact on Public Health” was the fourth event in a series of six collective titled “Roe After 40.” Conceived of by Culhane and planned with assistance from Professor Daly, the collaborative series began in January with an event at the Offices of Montgomery-McCracken Walker & Rhoads in Philadelphia and continued with events at Temple University Beasley School of Law and the University of Pennsylvania School of Law. The final two events, scheduled for September and October respectively, will take place at Drexel University’s Earle Mack School of Law and Rutgers School of Law Camden.

For more information on the “Roe After 40” series, visit