Abortion Politics, Mass Media, and Social Movements in America (2015) is Deana A. Rohlinger’s tour de force thus far. The book coalesces her years of research on the abortion debate, social movement organizations, and media discourse in a way that is satisfying and compelling. I was pleased to see so many of the concepts she’s used over the last 10+ years (radical flank, organizational identity vs. reputation, professionalization, branding, etc.) deployed in this book. Finally, we are able to see her extensive data (that includes content analyses of thousands of newspaper, radio, magazine, and television accounts, as well as organizational newsletters, and in-depth interviews with members of the four organizations) used in a comprehensive analysis of a movement in which Rohlinger spent well over a decade of her research career immersed.
As she highlights in the introductory chapter, Rohlinger shifts the conceptual gaze away from examining the power of media outlets to select social movement events and issues for coverage and towards how activists strategize their interactions with mass media. For those of us knee-deep in research that assumes media power, it is refreshing to rethink these interactions as truly interactive, where activists use media as much as media use them. She crafted the entire book to emphasize activists’ and organizations’ ability to partly control and build a media repertoire. By repertoire I mean the very rich set of potential interactions organizations can choose to instigate or sustain with media outlets, including external media (mainstream outlets) and direct media (media organizations control, such as a website or social media profiles). Continue reading
The most recent Hobby Lobby decision reminded me of previous cases where the Supreme Court adjudicated whether federal and state funding could be used for abortions (Harris v. McRae and Williams v. Zbaras). In 1980 the Supreme Court heard two cases related to the Hyde Amendment of 1976. The Hyde Amendment is a “rider” type of legislation that prohibits federal funding of abortion when it is medically “unnecessary.” In both cases the Court affirmed the law. Scholars of the abortion debate often view the passage of this law and the Court’s support as a critical historical juncture (Ferree, Gamson, Gerhards, and Rucht 2002; Staggenborg 1989). Both the Hyde legislation and the Court’s affirmation represent the first major anti-abortion successes following the Roe v. Wade case (1973). The Roe v. Wade decision was a landmark success for the abortion-rights movement, and the victory sparked a countermobilization that was strong and effective at challenging abortion rights activists (Meyer and Staggenborg 1996). Given the most recent Hobby Lobby decision, the tangible benefits of Roe v. Wade may come into question. Continue reading
Following the U.S. Supreme Court’s recent decision to strike down the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), should we expect a strong backlash from opponents of gay marriage? If so, what will this backlash look like? Right now, we have heard statements from a few key opponents – from Michelle Bachmann to Mike Huckabee. But will opposition grow into a full-scale countermovement, especially as state legislatures increasingly become the site of the gay marriage conflict? I also ask this question in light of the recent French example where the legalization of gay marriage led to significant involvement of both grassroots and elite elements (albeit motivated by different grievances) converging to attack the Hollande government’s legalization of same-sex marriage.
Supporters of gay marriage celebrate after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the Defense of Marriage Act and declined to rule on the California law Proposition 8 in Washington, D.C., U.S. on Wednesday, June 26, 2013. Photographer: Joshua Roberts/Bloomberg
Countermobilization in France around the recent legalization of gay marriage raises several key issues. First, despite the fact that it was well known to activists that protests would not deter the French government from going through with the legislation, protests grew increasingly more intense and continued to do so following the legislation. Second, as I noted in a previous post, it became increasingly clear that what has people mobilized is not so much the right of gays and lesbians to marry but rather, the part of the legislation that deals with assisted procreation and surrogate motherhood for gay couples. Continue reading
Political sociologists and social movement scholars have often commented on the overly broad definition of “political opportunities.” Many have called for specifying the nature of political opportunities especially so as to better operationalize and link political opportunities to policy outcomes and social movement mobilization. Indeed, political opportunity structure has referred to the more static nature of a country’s institutional arrangements (for instance, type of political system, electoral representation, etc.), to the more dynamic kind focusing on the presence of sympathetic party elites, party control of government and agenda setting. Continue reading
Several of the commentators on this blog have already raised the issue of how to get beyond the classic framing of “pro-choice” vs “pro-life,” even as others use these characterizations in their contributions as if they were neutral descriptions of the movements mobilized to fight over the legal status of abortion in the US. Joffe alone points out explicitly how misleading these labels are to characterize the movements, and uses the more accurate terms “abortion rights” and “anti-abortion” for the two sides.
But neutral and accurate are not the principles on which one would strategically decide what a movement should be called. Continue reading
As other contributors to this series have observed, “pro life” and “pro choice” do not adequately capture the dimensions and diversity of opinions and experiences that people have with regard to abortion and, as we will make clear, a whole lot more. Drawing upon our own observations formed during decades of gender scholarship and legal advocacy, we join others in their critique of the pro-life/pro-choice dichotomy. As part of that conversation, we offer “pro-lives” as a term that more accurately reflects the values of people on all sides of the abortion debate. Continue reading
Many of the essays in this Mobilizing Ideas dialogue examine the successes and failures of the abortion movements—arguing for example that the anti-abortion movement succeeded by co-opting discourses of “choice” and “women’s health,” organizing through churches, and pursuing incremental change, but was hurt by its violence, extremist rhetoric and attacks on contraception; while the abortion rights movement failed by focusing on “abortion rights” rather than “reproductive justice” and on defensive litigation.
Here, I’d like to highlight a few additional factors that helped determine the successes, failures, and strategic options of the abortion movements: the policy legacies of the Roe v. Wade and Planned Parenthood vs. Casey decisions, the relationship of the movements to political parties, and the electoral fortunes of those parties. Continue reading
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
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
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