Wendy E Parmet

Document Type



In recent years, public health arguments have gained new prominence in debates over abortion and access to reproductive health services. Opponents of reproductive rights in particular have used the language of public health, and the deference that public health law generally accords to state health regulations, to justify a variety of stringent regulations of reproductive health services. This Chapter considers the impact of this development on reproductive rights. It begins by exploring how each side in the reproductive rights debate has employed public health arguments and the impact of those arguments on judicial decisions, especially the Supreme Court's decision in Gonzales v. Carhart, 550 U.S. 124 (2008). The Chapter then argues that a fuller embrace of public health's population perspective and the findings of epidemiological studies of reproductive health might lead to some very different, and far more nuanced, conclusions than advocates who employ the terms of public health in their debates recognize.

Date of Authorship for this Version



Reproductive health services, Reproductive rights, Public health laws, abortion rights, contraceptive rights, Health Law

Original Citation

Originally published in Chapter 1, pp. 15-39, Reconsidering Law and Policy Debates: A Public Health Perspective, edited by John G. Culhane, Copyright © 2011 Cambridge University Press., Cambridge book website:, Hardback ISBN 9780521195058 eBook ISBN 9780511922374