Experts Discuss the Future of Abortion Law at Harvard Law School Panel


A panel of legal scholars hosted at Harvard Law School on Thursday discussed the future of United States abortion law following the Supreme Court’s decision in June to overturn the constitutional right to abortion.

The panel, hosted by the HLS Federalist Society — a conservative and libertarian student organization — featured Erin M. Hawley from the Alliance Defending Freedom and Nicole Huberfeld, a Boston University Law School professor. HLS civil procedure professor Stephen E. Sachs ’02 moderated the conversation.

Huberfeld, who specializes in state healthcare policy, stated that this moment in history can be characterized by “confusion, chaos, and conflict” as some states work to restrict abortion access while others try to protect it.

“You see states like Virginia and Vermont and California proposing this: allowing abortions up until the moment of birth, or right before birth, for absolutely no reason,” Hawley said. “On the other hand, I can see other states kind of saying that ‘our state has chosen to protect life.’”


Hawley cited a lack of societal support for motherhood as a prime factor to obtain an abortion, saying that employers are willing to help women access abortions but will often not accommodate mothers already raising children.

Hawley said she believes abortion “is not necessary for women to succeed" and noted the differences in the financial support offered to employed women seeking abortions compared to those managing childcare.

“They’re offering a flight for female attorneys or paralegals or office staff to different places in order to obtain abortions,” Hawley said. “But are those same companies offering diapers, are they offering childcare?”

“Seventy-five percent of women who obtained an abortion said that they would have chosen to parent if circumstances were different,” she added.

The discussion comes in the wake of a student walk-out in protest of a panel hosted by Harvard Law Students for Life — which also featured Sachs as a speaker — earlier this month. Roughly 75 HLS students participated in the protest.

Huberfeld added that the conflicting state and federal abortion policies will impact how care is provided.

“There's a lot of moral distress among healthcare providers — they don't know what this chaos means,” she said.

“Doctors tend to be risk averse, professionally speaking, and to operate in places where they are told to be risk averse,” Huberfeld added. “The default will be not to provide care rather than to, and so there will be impacts on care.”

—Staff writer Ryan H. Doan-Nguyen can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @ryandoannguyen.

— Staff writer John N. Peña can be reached at