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Beginning of Life

Resources for researching legal and policy issues of reproduction, pregnancy, birth.

Secondary Sources

No matter what your topic, it is a good idea to begin your research with secondary sources - books or journals that can provide you with an overview of an area. The authors will cite relevant cases, statutes, regulations, and so on to speed along the rest of your research.

Many authors also comment on the law, advocating positions. Reading different views may give you ideas for your own approach to a problem.

Reproductive issues are in the news. You will probably want to watch for coverage of your topic: is there a new bill about abortion access? a new study of maternal health? a scientific initiative? someone urging reform?

(For more on secondary sources in law, see the Secondary Sources guide.)

Tips for Searching

  • Consider broad and narrow terms.Search icon
  • Searching for "law" and "reproduction" as keywords will retrieve very general works that might have a chapter or a few pages on your topic. (It might also pick up discussions of "reproduction" of materials covered by copyright! Remember that many search terms have more than one meaning.)
  • Searching for "prenatal screening for genetic defects" might get too few sources.
  • Generally, you'll use broader searches in library catalogs and narrower searches in periodical indexes.
  • Use a broader search in an index then when you search a full-text database (e.g., Westlaw Campus Research).
  • Experiment with different combinations of terms.
  • Once you find something, pay attention to its footnotes, bibliography, and links.
  • Whatever database you're in, look for help screens.

Books in the Law Library or Other Libraries

Why would you use them?

  • Topic overview
  • Citations
  • Analysis
  • Point of view

Why use books from outside the Law Library?

  • To learn factual and scientific context.
  • To gain perspective from other fields (e.g., ethics, public policy, public health).

How can you find them?

Search law library catalog using keywords or using subject headings such as:

  • Abortion -- Law and legislation
  • Contraception -- Government policy -- United States
  • Contraception -- Law and legislation -- United States
  • Human reproduction -- Law and legislation
  • Human reproductive technology
  • Human reproductive technology industry -- India
  • Maternal health services
  • Mothers -- mortality Newborn infants -- Legal status, laws, etc
  • Reproductive rights
  • Reproductive rights -- United States Sterilization (Birth control) -- Law and legislation
  • Surrogate motherhood -- India
  • Women's rights -- United States
  • Wrongful life

Tip: you can copy and paste any of these headings as is into the law library catalog search bar. Or use part of them but drop subheadings (like "United States" or "India").

Tip: start off with keywords searches. When you find relevant books, see what subject headings they were assigned and try searching with those.

Venn diagram of catalogs - UW Law, UW, UW + Summit

Limit your search to Gallagher Law Library when you want books that law librarians have selected, here in the Law Library, plus e-books available through the University Libraries.

Use the University Libraries to include Law Library materials plus all the materials that support the rest of the university, from Anthropology to Zoology, Medicine to Dance.

Use Summit to expand your search to 38 other college and university libraries in the Northwest.

"Articles, Books, and More" covers all of the above, plus articles from dozens of databases. This search will often get you much more results than you can easily handle. Instead use individual databases (such as PubMed or HeinOnline) to take advantage of their specialized search interfaces.

Law Journal Articles

Why would you use them?

  • In-depth analysis of narrow topics, major cases, or legislation.
  • Citations. (Mine the footnotes!)

How can you find them?

Finding Secondary Sources with Westlaw Campus Research

Westlaw Campus Research is available to UW users outside the law school. This video demonstrates finding secondary sources. (5:31)

Start Your Paper with HeinOnline

How do you get started on a paper when you don't even have a firm topic? This video shows how to use HeinOnline's Law Journal Library in the early stages of a research paper. Brainstorm some ideas, then try a broad search. Sort, filter, and refine your search to find a few articles to read first. Read those articles to get an overview of the issues and leads to primary and secondary sources. You're well on your way to a successful paper project! (11:02)

Journal Articles from Other Disciplines

Why would you use them?

Photo of Journals

  • Scientific and technical information
  • Analysis
  • Point of view

(Note: non-legal articles generally have fewer leads to primary law than law journal articles. But they may have more leads to other scientific and medical papers.)

How can you find them?

Need help using PubMed and Web of Science?

Oxford Handbooks

Oxford Handbooks (from Oxford University Press) are scholarly collections of original articles. The Law Library and the University Libraries have some in print, but we have licensed many more via Oxford Handbooks Online:

You can search across all the handbooks, or you can find a relevant handbook and browse its contents.

Examples of Oxford Handbooks:

Chapters tend to be 15-30 pages long. Each one has references to give your research a boost.