Protecting human dignity: Reframing the abortion debate to respect the dignity of choice and life

Samantha Halliday

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The Abortion Act 1967 constructs women as patients seeking care, rather than as women choosing abortion, portraying them as vulnerable subjects in need of assistance to make a responsible decision. This article reviews recent proposed women-protective amendments to the Abortion Act focussing upon the proposed introduction of a requirement that women be offered independent counselling. It argues that the issue of abortion should be reframed as a matter of the protection of human dignity, rather than as a conflict between the woman’s right to autonomy and the life of the foetus and, drawing comparatively upon case law from Germany and the United States of America, considers the way in which the U.S. Supreme Court and the Bundesverfassungsgericht have constructed human dignity in the abortion context. Ultimately it is argued that reproductive exceptionalism must end and that by locating the regulation of abortion within a framework of respect for dignity, it is possible to prioritise choice so that the woman’s dignity, which necessarily includes respect for her autonomy and bodily integrity, is not subject to the whims of the medical profession. It is suggested that dignity operates as a lens through which the woman’s claim to autonomy and the interest in foetal life are best viewed, enabling the conflicting interests to be reconciled and simultaneously protecting foetal life and the woman’s autonomy and bodily integrity. The protection of human dignity does not require that these interests be given an equal degree of protection throughout pregnancy and thus it is argued that at least during the first trimester a lower level of protection is demanded in respect of the foetal life, whilst the woman’s right to autonomy and bodily integrity are given precedence. With increased gestation dignity will require that the balance is adjusted so that from viability the foetal life should be prioritised over the woman’s autonomy, albeit with exceptions for risks to her health and life.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)287-322
Number of pages37
JournalContemporary Issues in Law
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2016
Externally publishedYes


Dive into the research topics of 'Protecting human dignity: Reframing the abortion debate to respect the dignity of choice and life'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this