The Graduate Forum

an interdisciplinary forum at New York University 

October 27, 2010
Presenter: Liz Kilstein
Respondent: Laurie Lambert
“Driving While Pregnant: Criminalizing Pregnant Women’s Bodily Autonomy”

Liz’s presentation outlined a series of complex legal and political issues surrounding self-abortion and its consequences. Arguing that the law has been used increasingly to criminalize self-abortion, (and thus punish a disproportionate number of women from underprivileged classes who cannot afford or access safe and legal abortions), Liz tracked the rhetorical shifts in language used to describe and circumscribe the bodily autonomy of pregnant women. Her ultimate goal is to find a way of narrating the experiences of women who have been prosecuted for self-abortion so that the circumscription of the rights of these women becomes a more urgent issue within public and legal discourses on self-harm, abortion rights, and women’s rights more generally. Members of the forum engaged Liz’s project from various angles and areas of expertise. Some of the more pressing questions revolved around the identification of abortion as a moral issue and the resulting interaction between secular and non-secular interests within courts of law but also within the public sphere; the legal classification of a woman’s right to abortion as a matter of privacy and the problem of defining privacy under the law; mental health as a key concern for women who undergo self-abortion; the biological realities of pregnancy; and finally the possibility of locating self-abortion within a discursive space between decriminalization and legalization so that the decision to undergo self-abortion might cease to exist as a legal matter and instead become a moral decision for pregnant women.











New York University

Graduate School of Arts and Sciences