Carol Sanger Delivers Marks Lecture at University of Arizona's Law School

Annual lecture Was Endowed by the Late Jack Marks '35 and his Wife Selma Marks

New York, May 1, 2012Carol Sanger, the Barbara Aronstein Black Professor of Law, spoke about abortion as a medical issue, a political issue, and a legal issue in a talk titled “About Abortion: Meaning and Methodology,” for the 32nd Isaac Marks Memorial Lecture at the University of Arizona’s James F. Rogers College of Law.

“Abortion is not an easy subject to talk about,” she said. “But there must be discussion in a society that takes lawmaking and the well-being of its citizens seriously.”

The annual lecture, established in 1979, was endowed by the late Jack Marks ’35, a Superior Court Judge in Arizona, and his wife Selma Marks, in memory of his father. Speakers at recent Marks Lectures have included U.S. Supreme Court Justices Stephen Breyer and Ruth Bader Ginsburg ’59.

Sanger, a nationally known expert on family law and women’s reproductive rights, is also a senior research fellow at St. Anne’s College, Oxford. She has written numerous articles on motherhood and reproduction and is currently working on a book titled About Abortion (Harvard University Press) that focuses on the social and legal regulation of abortion in the United States. 

Abortion is first a medical procedure, which governs how it is treated under the law, Sanger told the audience of students, faculty, and members of the public. She added that it is the most regulated medical procedure in the United States. Since the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1973 decision in Roe v. Wade, she noted, state legislatures have passed thousands of statutes regulating abortion, and it also has been subject to popular referenda on such issues as fetal personhood. “All this voting, by legislatures and by citizens, makes abortion an essentially political and therefore an essentially unsettled subject,” she said. 

Although the basic legality of abortion appears to be firmly established, Sanger said, the ongoing debate continues in part because abortion is about so many things: states’ rights, parental authority, religion and perceptions of morality. The subject permeates matters of all sorts, she said, ranging from what health-care services available to pregnant members of the military serving overseas to whether Doonesbury should run on the funnies pages.

Sanger observed that in addition to abortion being a medical, a legal, and a political issue, “it is also a deeply personal decision that over a million women in the United States make each year.”  In this way, abortion is also about all the things women consider when they assess the place of a child and the meaning of motherhood in their lives at a particular point in time. She noted that almost a third of all women will have an abortion at some point in their reproductive lives.

“There is always going to be abortion, the question is whether it is going to be legal and regulated or not,” Sanger said, urging each side in the debate to consider the concerns of the other.

Click here to see a video of the lecture.