Procreative Torts: Enhancing the Common-Law Protection for Reproductive Autonomy
Kathy Seward Northern   |   1998 U. Ill. L. Rev.

Roe v. Wade's twenty-fifth anniversary is likely to herald widespread scholarly commentary on the decision's continued vitality and the future of abortion in the United States. However, if such commentary focuses solely upon the constitutional dimensions and political aspects of a woman's right to privacy, an important dimension of this right will be overlooked. Few commentators have considered the extent to which tort law safeguards a woman's interest in reproductive autonomy. In this article, Professor Northern argues that the interest in reproductive autonomy has not yet received the full protection to which it is entitled and that tort law is poised to evolve distinct causes of action for the interference with procreative autonomy interests.

Professor Northern begins with an overview of the medical and psychological literature on abortion-related risks. She goes on to discuss current trends in abortion malpractice litigation. The author then reviews the three basic types of malpractice causes of action--battery, negligence, and lack of informed consent--and explores their application to abortion malpractice claims. The focus of the article then shifts to the development of specialized procreative torts, and Professor Northern contends that courts should go beyond previous decisions to redress any substantial interference with procreative autonomy. Finally, the author asserts that legislative alternatives to the common-law development of procreative torts, such as right-to-know statutes, are less protective of women's interests. Professor Northern concludes that tort law could and should be used to more fully protect women's interests in procreative autonomy.

* Associate Professor of Law, The Ohio State University College of Law. B.A. 1980, Williams College; J.D. 1983, Harvard University Law School.