The Dobbs decision, which gives states complete control over abortion laws, has unleashed conflicts that resemble the battles that arose when enslaved people fled slave states for free states, and enslavers, in turn, mobilized state and federal power to get them back. The Supreme Court’s decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization has prompted frequent allusions to slavery and the antebellum United States. The history of those struggles reminds us of the corrosive impact of interstate conflict and of the importance of federal protections for freedom and individual rights. The history of the United States in the nineteenth century also reminds us that when we bring the power of the federal government to bear on an issue, it must be done with respect for people’s dignity and capacity for moral decision-making.
*Professor Masur delivered the Spring 2022 Regula Lecture at the Center for Constitutional Law at Akron based on her book, Until Justice Be Done: America’s First Civil Rights Movement, From the Revolution to Reconstruction (2021), a finalist for the 2022 Pulitzer Prize in History.
Kate Masur, Abortion Rights and Federalism: Some Lessons from the Nineteenth Century United States, 14 ConLawNOW 151 (2023)