Professor Carter Snead Testifies Before U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee

Author: Kenneth Hallenius

O. Carter Snead at Senate Judiciary 20240320

O. Carter Snead, Charles E. Rice Professor of Law and director of the de Nicola Center for Ethics and Culture at the University of Notre Dame, offered expert testimony on March 20, 2024 before the U.S. Senate Committee on the Judiciary on the current legal landscape following the landmark Supreme Court decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization.

Snead is one of the world’s leading experts on public bioethics—the governance of science, medicine, and biotechnology in the name of ethical goods. His research explores issues relating to neuroethics, enhancement, human embryo research, assisted reproduction, abortion, and end-of-life decision-making.

In his remarks at the hearing, Snead first explained that the Supreme Court’s decision in Dobbs (which overturned Roe v. Wade) restored the authority of the people to address the issue of abortion through their elected representatives, thus bringing the United States into “alignment with most nations around the world, who have always addressed the issue through the political process.” He noted that the majority of countries around the world “restrict purely elective abortion to the first 10 to 14 weeks of pregnancy.”

Snead offered the committee “three suggestions for good governance in this difficult area.”

First, he argued that to govern ourselves wisely, justly, and humanely, the issue of abortion must be discussed in its full complexity. Those who support abortion rights must squarely acknowledge that it is not simply a matter involving the important goods of women’s equality and autonomy in the face of difficult circumstances but also involves the life of the unborn child—a whole, living member of the human species, who “is not a trespassing stranger; she is the biological child of this particular mother.” On the other hand, pro-life elected officials must “acknowledge and work to alleviate the sometimes crushing burdens of unplanned pregnancy and parenthood.”

Second, Snead suggested, discussions about abortion and reproductive technologies must “fairly and accurately characterize the legal landscape.” He discussed recent reporting surrounding a legal case about in vitro fertilization (IVF) in Alabama that “has been widely misdescribed as a theocratic power grab heralding the demise” of the procedure. “In fact, the victorious plaintiffs there were IVF patients suing a clinic for the negligent destruction of their embryos, using a civil statute [pre-dating Dobbs] that already allowed such claims for the death of embryos in the womb.” He continued, “The Alabama Supreme Court decision did not depend on and had nothing to do with Dobbs.” (Snead made an expanded version of this argument in a recent co-authored article in The Atlantic.)

Similarly, Snead provided additional factual context to recent highly publicized cases from Texas involving the interpretation of its post-Dobbs abortion laws and the scope of their exceptions intended to protect mothers from threats to their lives or of substantial bodily impairment. In particular, he noted that the Texas legislature recently enacted bipartisan legislation clarifying that certain conditions were covered by such exceptions, the Texas Supreme Court recently held that such threats need not be imminent, and that the Texas Medical Board would be meeting this week to offer clinical guidelines. He also observed that the standard of “reasonable medical judgment” for such exceptions had proven workable since first adopted in the state’s 2013 law banning abortions after 20 weeks. In the state of Texas since then, there have been 238 abortions performed at 20 weeks or later in pregnancy and zero prosecutions.

Concluding his remarks with a theme that animates the de Nicola Center’s Women and Children First Initiative, Snead invited the committee members “to reimagine the framing of the human context in which the question of abortion arises. Instead of a zero-sum conflict among strangers over the permissible use of lethal force, think of it instead 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.”

Snead is the author of What It Means to be Human: The Case for the Body in Public Bioethics (Harvard University Press, 2020), which was named by the Wall Street Journal as one of the “Ten Best Books of 2020”; in 2022, it was listed in the New York Times as one of “Ten Books to Understand the Abortion Debate in the United States.” Snead also received the 2021 Expanded Reason Award, given by Francisco de Vitoria University, Madrid, and the Joseph Ratzinger/Benedict XVI Vatican Foundation, in recognition of his work. Prior to joining the law faculty at Notre Dame, Snead served as general counsel to the President’s Council on Bioethics (chaired by Dr. Leon R. Kass), where he was the primary drafter of the 2004 report, “Reproduction and Responsibility: The Regulation of New Biotechnologies.”

Originally published by Kenneth Hallenius at on March 21, 2024.