By Mary Ziegler
As Joanna Wuest writes, the role played by science in the LGBTQ+ movement “is at once a celebratory and cautionary story.” Something similar could be said of struggles over reproductive rights in the half century since the Supreme Court decided Roe v. Wade.
Today, after decades of staying on the sidelines, physicians have once again been at the forefront of struggles over abortion, launching a ballot initiative in Ohio, bringing lawsuits, and speaking against state criminal bans. Physicians’ investment in the struggle — and the scientific arguments they bring to bear — seem like a possible turning point in future struggles over reproductive rights and justice. After all, medical professionals have both special expertise and political capital that could make a difference at a time when disapproval of abortion bans is already high.
But history suggests that arguments based on science have played a far messier role in struggles over reproductive rights. As often as scientific evidence has advanced reproductive rights, abortion foes have used claims about scientific uncertainty to justify new restrictions — and have harnessed claims of biological difference to assert that there is no connection between sex equality and abortion.