Q&A: Professor Geoffrey Stone Discusses His New Book on Reproductive Rights

Professor Geoffrey Stone with his newly released book, Roe v. Dobbs: The Past, Present, and Future of a Constitutional Right to Abortion
Geoffrey R. Stone, the Edward H. Levi Distinguished Service Professor of Law, with his new book, published by Oxford University Press on February 27.

Geoffrey R. Stone, ’71, along with longtime collaborator Lee C. Bollinger, coedited a recently released book on reproductive rights titled, Roe v. Dobbs: The Past, Present, and Future of a Constitutional Right to Abortion. As the name implies, the book delves into the historic roots of the framework of reproductive rights, including the 1973 landmark US Supreme Court decision in Roe v. Wade, examines the present landscape as we close in on the two-year anniversary of the US Supreme Court’s decision in Dobbs v. Women’s Health Organization, and peers into the future of reproductive rights given the current trends. The contributing authors, all experts in the field, provide insightful analysis on all sides of the abortion debate.

Stone recently answered a few questions about his new book, which was released by Oxford University Press on February 27.

Why did you decide to undertake this book project?

Lee Bollinger, the former President of Columbia, and I have published seven books together over the past decade. Some have been “real” books by the two of us, such as our recent book, The Essential Constitutionality of Affirmative Action. Others, like this one, have been collections of essays by a group of distinguished authors with a wide range of varying perspectives. Because the Supreme Court’s decision in the Dobbs case, which overruled Roe v. Wade, was highly controversial and impactful, we decided that this was an excellent topic for a broad range of scholars from different backgrounds and areas of expertise to offer their thoughts. Our goal was to present readers with the opportunity to explore innovative, perceptive, and, quite honestly, brilliant insights on the issue.

You and your coeditor are both former US Supreme Court clerks. How, if at all, did that experience shape your views on reproductive rights?

We were both clerking at the Supreme Court when Roe was decided in January of 1973. I was clerking for Justice William J. Brennan, Jr. and Lee was clerking for Chief Justice Warren Burger. At the time, even though this was the Burger Court, the issue in Roe was not seen by the justices as especially divisive or controversial. Indeed, seven of the nine justices, including five appointed by Republican presidents, joined the decision, and even the two dissents were quite modest in tone. In our view, this was a profoundly important decision that correctly recognized a fundamental right of women to control their own lives and their own destinies. That the Roberts Court, half-a-century later, decided to overrule Roe was, to us, and to so many other legal and other scholars, truly shocking.

What are a few key takeaways from the book?

That all depends on the essays, which offer very different perspectives, ranging from history to philosophy to comparative international law to religion to health care to American constitutional tradition and theory. Overall, though, I would say that among the key takeaways are the profound importance of the right to terminate an unwanted pregnancy to the lives and freedom of women; the recognition that throughout almost all of human history, including at the time our Constitution was adopted, abortion was legal; and the sharp and (in my view) correct criticism of the current Court for its utterly unprincipled decision in Dobbs. That was certainly not the uniform view of our many authors, though.

What distinguishes your book from others on this topic?

No other book on this topic offers such a broad range of truly insightful perspectives. By focusing not only on the constitutional issue, but also on history, religion, medicine, comparative law, gender discrimination, and so on, this book offers readers an opportunity to confront the many different ways in which this issue can, and indeed has, been understood across the world and throughout history.

Did anything you discovered working on this book surprise you?

In the end, when all was said and done, we both remained convinced that Roe had been correctly decided and that Dobbs was a disaster, but the rich array of arguments and insights on all sides, expressed by this group of truly outstanding scholars, were surely illuminating. Working on this book certainly deepened our understanding of the issue.

What do you think the future of reproductive rights will look like?

The public reaction to Dobbs has been largely, although certainly not uniformly, critical. Predictably, though, many states have taken advantage of the decision to deny women a fundamental freedom to decide their own destinies, and they have done so for reasons that are largely framed by religious views of the issue. The freedom of a woman to make profoundly important decisions to control her own life and destiny will no doubt remain a divisive issue throughout our nation for decades to come. This is, in my view, tragic. The Court in Roe had it right, and now we are back to a world in which the Court has empowered states to deny women a truly fundamental freedom to shape their own lives and futures. When all is said and done, the Court in Dobbs has empowered the religious views of some Americans to override the essential freedom of women. But, of course, this is by no means the view of all of our authors.

Abortion Faculty books