O. Carter Snead joins de Nicola Senior Fellow for hearing on abortion post-Dobbs.

O. Carter Snead, Charles E. Rice Professor of Law and Director of the de Nicola Center for Ethics and Culture, and Dr. Monique C. Wubbenhorst, de Nicola Center Senior Fellow, testified before the Senate Committee on the Judiciary last week.

At a hearing entitled “The Continued Assault on Reproductive Freedoms in a Post-Dobbs America,” the two Notre Dame affiliates joined three pro-choice activists for a panel discussion on March 20. Both Professor Snead and Dr. Wubbenhorst spoke on the importance of protecting unborn children in light of recent state activity governing IVF and abortion access. 

Alabama and Texas were the primary focuses of the hearing after controversial rulings on the unborn in both states. In LePage v. Center for Reproductive Medicine, the Alabama Supreme Court decided in favor of IVF patients whose embryos were killed through the clinic’s negligence. The decision prompted nearby IVF clinics to close for fear of similar lawsuits. 

Democrat witness Jamie Heard testified about her experience with IVF. She detailed her experience when her clinic stopped offering treatments after the LePage decision. Fellow witness Lourdes Rivera, president of the pro-choice legal organization “Pregnancy Justice,” expressed concern that similar laws will “criminalize pregnancy” in the U.S. if adopted on a national scale.

Texas S.B.8, commonly known as the state’s “Heartbeat Bill,” was another topic of discussion of the panel. Passed in 2021, the bill bans abortions after a fetal heartbeat is detected, though it provides an exception for “medical emergencies” that would threaten the mother’s life. Senate Democrats called Dr. Austin Dennard, an OB-GYN from Texas, to testify about the effect the bill had on both her work and personal life. Dennard told the Committee about her experience procuring an abortion out-of-state after discovering that her baby had anencephaly, a fatal condition that would have ended the child’s life a few hours after birth. 

In his testimony, Professor Snead argued that the Supreme Court’s decision in Dobbs v. Jackson brought the United States into “alignment” with most of the world by making abortion a question for the legislative, rather than judicial, sphere. Snead then offered three suggestions for governing the “complicated” landscape of abortion laws in the U.S. today. 

First, Snead advised that the Senators keep in mind the complex nature of the abortion debate. “[T]he 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,” Snead said. He added that both pro-choice and pro-life advocates suffer when they fail to acknowledge this complexity. 

Second, Snead addressed common misconceptions about the Alabama and Texas controversies. Snead clarified that the LePage case was not “a theocratic power grab heralding the demise of IVF,” pointing out that the Alabama state legislature promptly acted to protect IVF clinics by granting them civil and criminal liability. 

Turning to Texas’ “Heartbeat Bill,” Snead refuted claims that the legislation denies Texas women “life-saving care.” Snead explained that the bill’s exception applies only to cases when the mother’s life is at risk, not the unborn child’s, and he argued that such guidelines have operated “without issue” in the state since 2013.

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

The Republicans’ second witness, Dr. Monique Wubbenhorst, brought her medical expertise to bear on the subject matter. Relying on scientific research, Wubbenhorst argued that abortion is harmful to women and is “not safer than childbirth,” contrary to pro-choice claims. 

Wubbenhorst also spoke on the hearing’s name, saying, “‘Reproductive rights,’ so-called, are not human rights, because… they dispose of the fetus. So-called ‘reproductive justice’ is in fact reproductive injustice, because it selectively destroys black and brown babies.” 

Although most of the senators focused on the majority’s pro-choice witnesses, both Snead and Wubbenhorst argued for more thorough IVF regulation during the hearing’s questioning period. 

In response to Ranking Member Lindsey Graham, Professor Snead compared the U.S. to other Western nations, most of which have abortion limits at 15 weeks and more robust regulations for IVF treatments. Dr. Wubbenhorst added that those working in the IVF industry “say that it’s like the Wild West” because of the lack of national treatment standards. Going forward, Snead recommended that elected officials build upon the 1992 “Fertility Clinic Success Rate and Certification Act” in order to best protect families seeking fertility care. 

Sophomore Shri Thakur expressed both skepticism and inspiration following Notre Dame’s appearance at the Senate, calling it “very encouraging” to see Notre Dame represented “on the front lines of the pro-life battle in the United States.” He added, “Though I am uncertain of the impact Professor Snead’s testimony will have legislatively, it is undoubtedly a positive development for Catholics to boldly be asserting their faith in the public square.”

Haley Garecht is a sophomore studying political science, constitutional studies, and Irish studies currently in Washington, D.C., where she works for the Senate Judiciary Committee as a part of Notre Dame’s Washington Program. Her most recent accomplishment is placing first in her family’s March Madness bracket competition. Please send all congratulations, questions, and comments to hgarecht@nd.edu.

Photo Credit: de Nicola Center for Ethics and Culture

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