Category Archives: Roe at 40

Moving Forward or Standing Still? The Battle Over Abortion in the 21st Century

By Deana Rohlinger

It is difficult to predict the future of social movements. The political world is in flux; so are the composition and dynamics of the social movements operating in it. This makes it difficult to say with any certainty what movement will succeed during a particular historical moment, let alone predict what may happen to a given movement next. The uncertainty surrounding a movement’s trajectory does not disappear simply because it is an established part of the political landscape. Indeed, some issues have the ability to mobilize segments of the population year after year. Yet, it is difficult to divine what these movements will look like a decade from now. Continue reading


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Refreshing the Movement

By Sujatha Jesudason

A long-time soldier and sometime general in the battle for reproductive freedom, I have marched, organized rallies, served on boards, testified before legislators, sent letters, signed petitions and founded organizations. Yet, when I look at this field, I’m neither bolstered by our victories nor galvanized by our vision.

According to Gallup, over the last three decades there has been a modest increase in public support for abortion and, paradoxically a decline in number of people who identify as “pro-choice.” But the proof of a movement is in the social conditions it creates and cements: we’re barely keeping our heads up in the wave of anti-abortion legislation proposed and passed in many states. Continue reading


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40 Years of Stability in American Attitudes toward the Legalization of Abortion

By Michele Dillon

News headlines frequently convey what is alleged to be a major shift in public opinion on abortion. At the beginning of February this year, for example, NBC online news had the headline: “NBC/WSJ poll: Majority for the first time, want abortion to be legal” (February 7, 2013; italics mine). Other headlines convey a polarization on the issue, with one from Gallup in 2011 stating, “Americans still split among ‘pro-choice,’ ‘pro-life’ lines” (Saad 2011; italics mine). The sociological reality, however, is less sensational and indeed less newsworthy if criteria for newsworthiness include the expectation of change and/or conflict. Continue reading

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The Standoff Between the Social Movements

By Carole Joffe

At this 40th anniversary of the Roe v Wade decision, both of the social movements most connected to the abortion issue find themselves in a cup half full/half empty situation and, as I shall discuss, both face considerable challenges. But first a note on nomenclature.  Given the extraordinary politicization surrounding virtually every aspect of abortion, the very names these movements have used are often contested by others; for example, many who support abortion object that those who oppose abortion have appropriated the term “pro-life”—therefore implying that the former are not. Moreover, in polls many Americans claim to be both “pro-life” and in support of legal abortion. Similarly, the term “pro-choice” has been criticized for its apparent obliviousness to the fact that some women do not have the resources to “choose” abortion. For purposes of this blog, I shall use the neutral terms, “abortion rights movement” and “anti-abortion movement.” Continue reading

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From Civil Rights to Women’s Rights to Reproductive Justice

By Robin Marty and Jessica Mason Pieklo

In the days before Roe v. Wade, the landmark Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion in all fifty states, a woman’s ability to control her destiny by controlling when she became a parent was a luxury afforded only to those who had income and connections. Forty years later, that’s largely once more true.

Although Roe was celebrated as a victory for the right to privacy—with the court ruling that prior to fetal viability a woman’s healthcare decisions were for her consideration alone—activists failed to fully explain the human rights aspect of the ruling.  By decriminalizing abortion nationwide, the ruling was supposed to allow all women, not just those who were wealthy or well connected, the right to control the size of their families, their personal health and their physical and economic future. This is a matter of fundamental civil rights. Continue reading

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Co-Opting Choice One Woman at a Time

By Ziad Munson

The abortion debate has mobilized millions of people and hundreds of millions of dollars in the United States over the last 40 years.  What is perhaps most surprising about the battle over abortion, then, is that public opinion toward abortion has remained remarkably and stubbornly stable over this time.  According to Gallup polls, approximately 52 percent of Americans today believe abortion should be legal under some, but not all, circumstances—not very different from the 51 percent in 2002, 53 percent in 1992, 52 percent in 1981, or 54 percent in 1975.  The ideological debate over abortion during this period has remained stable too: the pro-life movement has focused on the humanity of the fetus, and sees abortion as the killing of a human being; the pro-choice movement has focused on the rights of women, and sees abortion as a woman’s choice necessary for her to retain control over her own body. Continue reading


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“Not in Her Shoes”: Tactical Changes in Reproductive Rights and Feminist Movements

By Alison Dahl Crossley

In anticipation of the fortieth anniversary of Roe versus Wade, Planned Parenthood Federation of America commenced a campaign titled “Not in Her Shoes.” The tagline means that because we are not “in her shoes,” nobody should make health care decisions about another woman’s body. The organization also released a video on the website: “Moving Beyond Pro-Life vs. Pro-Choice Labels: You’re Not ‘In Her Shoes.’” Under two minutes in duration, the video includes eye-catching and vibrant graphics. The woman narrator’s soothing voice asks viewers to stop using “labels” pro-choice and pro-life in favor of conversations “based on mutual respect and empathy.” The crux of the video’s argument is that abortion is too complex for dichotomous categories:

Most things in life aren’t simple. And that includes abortion… The truth is these labels limit the conversation and simply don’t reflect how people actually feel about abortion… Women don’t turn to politicians for advice about mammograms, prenatal care, or cancer treatments. And they shouldn’t…When it comes down to it, we don’t know a woman’s specific situation. We’re not in her shoes. Continue reading

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