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Carter Snead testifies before US Senate Judiciary Committee

O. Carter Snead, the Charles E. Rice Professor of Law and director of the de Nicola Center for Ethics and Culture at the University of Notre Dame, offered expert testimony on Wednesday (June 12) before the U.S. Senate Committee on the Judiciary.
Professor O. Carter Snead testifies before U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee
O. Carter Snead

O. Carter Snead, the Charles E. Rice Professor of Law and director of the de Nicola Center for Ethics and Culture at the University of Notre Dame, offered expert testimony on Wednesday (June 12) before the U.S. Senate Committee on the Judiciary on “Crossing the Line: Abortion Bans and Interstate Travel for Care After Dobbs.”

One of the world’s leading experts on public bioethics — the governance of science, medicine and biotechnology in the name of ethical goods — Snead also testified March 20 before the Senate Judiciary Committee on the current legal landscape following the landmark Supreme Court decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, which overturned Roe v. Wade.

In his remarks, Snead again noted that the Supreme Court’s decision in Dobbs restored the authority of the people to address the issue of abortion through their elected representatives, thus bringing the United States into “alignment with nations around the world, who have always addressed the issue through the political process.” He noted the majority of countries around the world “restrict elective abortion between 10 to 14 weeks of pregnancy.”

Snead offered “four suggestions for good governance in this difficult area.”

First, he stressed that to govern wisely, justly and humanely, the issue of abortion must be discussed in its full complexity — that it is not simply a variation of the health care debate (only 7 percent of OB/GYNs in private practice provide abortions), nor is it reducible simply to the values of equality or bodily autonomy of women facing serious burdens on their health and future.

Snead testified, “The issue challenges us to consider how these goods stand in relation to the life of the unborn child — a whole, living, distinct member of the human species who, if all goes well, will move herself along the trajectory of development from embryo to fetus to newborn, provided she has the necessary support and sustenance in her mother’s womb — the first place of belonging for every human being. She is not a trespassing stranger; she is the biological child of this particular mother and father.”

Snead argued that public debate is impoverished when those who support abortion rights fail to acknowledge this reality, but our discourse also suffers when pro-life officials fail to address the sometimes crushing burdens of unwanted pregnancy and parenthood.

Second, Snead urged lawmakers to be clear about their positions on the limits on elective abortion.

“There are 10,000 late-term abortions in America every year — more than six times the number of annual gun homicides for children and teens,” he stated. “At least 148 U.S. clinics provide them. Social science evidence and the statements of late-term abortion practitioners such as Warren Hern suggest that these are frequently not limited to cases involving health risks to mothers or a diagnosis of fetal abnormality.”

Third, Snead underscored the need to fairly and accurately characterize the legal landscape. He noted that every state in America allows abortion to save a mother’s life and the vast majority allow it for lesser health risks, providing factual context to recent highly publicized cases from Texas.

“Texas’ law allows abortions where in a physician’s ‘reasonable medical judgment,’ a mother has a life-threatening condition that could cause substantial bodily impairment,” he testified. “Texas just passed a bipartisan law clarifying that previable premature rupture of membranes falls under the health exception and reaffirming that treatment of ectopic pregnancy is not an ‘abortion’ under the law. There are no restrictions on miscarriage management. The Texas Supreme Court just affirmed that serious health risks need not be imminent to justify abortion and that any clinician who says so ‘is simply wrong in that legal assessment.’”

Snead noted that Texas does not authorize abortions solely because of an unborn baby’s disability or poor prognosis. The state also extended postpartum Medicaid coverage from six months to one year; allocated $165 million to support mothers, babies and families; and passed a recent maternal mental health law.

In his fourth recommendation, Snead invited committee members to reimagine the human context in which the question of abortion arises — a theme central to the de Nicola Center’s Women and Children First Initiative.

“Instead of a zero-sum conflict among strangers over the permissible use of lethal force, think of it as a crisis facing a mother and her child,” Snead said. “Then ask how we can work together across our differences to come to their aid not just during pregnancy, but throughout life’s journey.”

Snead’s research explores issues relating to abortion, neuroethics, human embryo research, assisted reproduction and end-of-life decision-making.

He is the author of “What It Means to be Human: The Case for the Body in Public Bioethics,” which was named by the Wall Street Journal as one of the “Ten Best Books of 2020.” In 2022, it was listed in the New York Times as one of “Ten Books to Understand the Abortion Debate in the United States.” Prior to joining the law faculty at Notre Dame, Snead served as general counsel to the President’s Council on Bioethics.

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