Before Roe

Before Roe: Abortion Policy in the States

Rosemary Nossiff
Copyright Date: 2001
Published by: Temple University Press
Pages: 216
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    Before Roe
    Book Description:

    Few issues in contemporary U.S> politics have remained on the public agenda so long and so divisively as abortion policy. The landmark Supreme Court decision ofRoe v. Waade,which held that laws prohibiting first trimester abortions were illegal because they violated a woman's right to privacy, still generates heated controversy today, a quarter of a century after it was made. The seeds of that controversy were sown in the seven years immediately precedingRoe, when state legislatures tried to reconcile religious opposition to abortion and individuals' civil liberties.In this groundbreaking book, Rosemary Nossiff examines the force that shaped abortion policy during those years, and the ways in which states responded to them. To provide in-depth analysis while still looking broadly at the picture, she studies New York, which passed the most permissive abortion bill in the country, and Pennsylvania, which passed one of the most restrictive. That these two states, which share similar demographic, political, and economic characteristics, should reach two such different outcomes provides a perfect case study for observing political dynamics at the state level.Nossiff examines the medical, religious, and legal discourses employed on both sides of the debate, as well as the role played by feminist discourse. She looks at the role of the political parties in the campaigns, as well as such interest groups as the National Council of Catholic Bishops, the Clergy Consultation Service, the National Organization for Women, and the National Association for the Repeal of Abortion Laws. In addition, she analyzes the strategies used by both sides, as well as partisan and institutionalized developments that facilitated success or failure. Finally, in the Epilogue, she assesses theRoedecision and its aftermath, including an analysis of the pro-life movement in Pennsylvania.As the author remarks, "Without question people's positions on abortion are shaped by a myriad of social, moral, and economic factors. But ultimately abortion policy is shaped in the political arena. This book examines how one of the most intimate decisions a woman makes, whether to continue or terminate a pregnancy, has become one of the most politicized issues in contemporary American politics.

    eISBN: 978-1-4399-0774-0
    Subjects: Political Science

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-12)

    Few issues in contemporary American politics have remained on the public agenda as long or split the country as divisively as abortion policy. Its inherent political, social, and moral dimensions make it an explosive issue that no institution, group, or religion has succeeded in containing.

    It was not always so. Until the nineteenth century it was not difficult for most women to have an abortion into the fifth month of pregnancy, generally with no penalty. It was only in the 1850s that the American Medical Association sponsored an antiabortion campaign in a bid to professionalize medical practice. By 1900, the...

  5. 1 Reform and Opportunity
    (pp. 13-27)

    When pro-abortion activists in New York and Pennsylvania began their campaigns to change the abortion laws, the obstacles they faced were similar: public opposition to reform, well-organized opponents, party indifference, and limited resources. Yet within five years the state legislatures in Albany and Harrisburg had passed radically different policies. Why activists in New York triumphed while their counterparts in Pennsylvania were defeated can be traced to a number of interdependent factors.

    The most important factor was the progress of political reform, because it affected both the degree of access new forces had to the parties and the political opportunities and...

  6. 2 Competing Discourses
    (pp. 28-55)

    Why a topic becomes a political issue is a central question addressed by theorists of agenda-setting.¹ Although these theorists focus on different aspects of the agenda-making process, what unites them is the significance they assign to discourse as a tool used by competing forces to get their respective issues into the policy stream. Discourse is the critical link between grievance and action. As Edelman notes, ʺpolitical beliefs, perceptions, and expectations are overwhelmingly not based upon observation or empirical evidence available to participants, but rather upon cuings among groups of people who jointly create the meanings they will read into current...

  7. 3 Gender Identity and Political Mobilization
    (pp. 56-76)

    The political conflict over abortion policy stems partly from competing ideas about the meaning of womanhood. Because opposing interpretations of gender, sexuality, and reproduction are central to the debate over abortion policy, the pre-Roeconflict provides a particularly appropriate context to examine the interplay between social and political factors, and how it led to the politicization of gender and to the repeal of abortion laws in the 1970s.

    Womenʹs political identity emerged in the years immediately preceding the pre-Roedebate largely as a result of their increasing levels of employment, education, and voting, and their emerging consciousness of their second-class...

  8. 4 Party Politics in New York
    (pp. 77-105)

    Among the first states to repeal its abortion law in the pre-Roeperiod was New York, which in 1970 joined Hawaii, Alaska, and Washington in legalizing early elective abortions with few restrictions. Unlike Washington, which bypassed the legislative route and its inherent obstacles by holding a referendum on repeal, pro- and antiabortion forces in New York fought it out on the legislative floor for four years. New York had the largest and most diverse ethnic and religious population in the country, as well one of the most powerful Catholic Conferences. Yet of the four statesʹ bills, New Yorkʹs had the...

  9. 5 Interest-Group Politics in Pennsylvania
    (pp. 106-126)

    In the midst of a nationwide effort to update abortion statutes, the one state that went against the tide was Pennsylvania. Beginning in 1967, the Pennsylvania Catholic Conference (PCC) built a well-organized, comprehensive campaign on the state and local levels that pre-empted its opponents and generated broad-based legislative support for restrictive abortion policy.

    Several factors contributed to the triumph of antiabortion forces in Pennsylvania. Chief among them was the reformersʹ lack of interest in taking control of the Democratic Party machine in the 1950s. As a result, the party was closed to new-interest, including pro-abortion, activists in the following decade....

  10. 6 Party, Discourse, and Policy
    (pp. 127-142)

    The pre-Roestory was one of winners and losers. To be sure, groups on both sides of the debate in New York and Pennsylvania encountered party systems that were more or less suited to their needs. But it is no coincidence that the winners in this study, pro-abortion activists in New York and antiabortion forces in Pennsylvania, framed their demands in ways that were in accord with the political conditions they faced, and that played to their respective strengths. The losers conducted campaigns that played into the hands of their opponents, either through poor use of their resources, as in...

  11. 7 After Roe: The Pendulum Swings Back
    (pp. 143-169)

    AfterRoe, abortion politics in America were transformed. The decision put abortion policy on the national agenda and expanded the influence of the womenʹs movement; later it did the same for the pro-life movement.¹Roedecriminalized early abortions: without it, most states would have retained their restrictive abortion laws and many women who wanted abortions would have had difficulty obtaining legal ones. In terms of the development of abortion policy in America, however, the chief significance of theRoedecision was the national debate it inaugurated, for the legal and feminist discourses based on womenʹs rights that were institutionalized by...

  12. Conclusion
    (pp. 170-176)

    With the 1973 decision inRoe v. Wade, pro-abortion activists succeeded in securing womenʹs rights to early abortions with limited state interference. ButRoedid not settle the issue. After 1973, abortion policy became a national issue, and the next twenty-five years saw a passionate struggle between supporters and opponents of the right to abortion. The conflict affected all levels and branches of government and both political parties, and spawned two social movements. It was also the catalyst for the formation of innumerable interest groups and political-action committees.

    In the 1980s, after a decade of pro-life marches and sitins at...

  13. References
    (pp. 177-188)
  14. Index of Cases
    (pp. 189-190)
  15. General Index
    (pp. 191-195)