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Abortion and the Politics of Motherhood

Abortion and the Politics of Motherhood

Kristin Luker
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  • Book Info
    Abortion and the Politics of Motherhood
    Book Description:

    In this important study of the abortion controversy in the United States, Kristin Luker examines the issues, people, and beliefs on both sides of the abortion conflict. She draws data from twenty years of public documents and newspaper accounts, as well as over two hundred interviews with both pro-life and pro-choice activists. She argues that moral positions on abortion are intimately tied to views on sexual behavior, the care of children, family life, technology, and the importance of the individual.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-90792-8
    Subjects: Sociology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Foreword
    (pp. ix-xii)
    Brian Barry and Samuel L. Popkin

    How do people decide whether to regard fetuses as the single-celled creatures they once were or as the babies they will become?

    Kristin Luker’s book explains why the opposing positions in the abortion debate are held with such fervor and why the issue of the appropriate legal status of abortion has become such a divisive one in American society. On the basis of extensive interviews with activists on both sides of this issue, Dr. Luker shows how positions on abortion depend on broader commitments and, in particular, on contrasting views of the place of motherhood in a woman’s life.


  4. Preface
    (pp. xiii-xiv)
  5. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xv-xvi)
  6. 1 Introduction
    (pp. 1-10)

    In two short decades, the issue of abortion has moved from the fringes of public concern to center stage. By now, no level of American political life has escaped a confrontation with it. Adoption of the federal budget has been delayed several times over the past decade while Congress has debated the issue.¹ The same kinds of delays have confronted state legislatures across the country. Even on the local level, once-sleepy school boards have become tumultuous when asked to consider the place of abortion in sex education curricula, and zoning boards have split over whether an abortion clinic should be...

  7. 2 Medicine and Morality in the Nineteenth Century
    (pp. 11-39)

    Surprising as it may seem, the view that abortion is murder is a relatively recent belief in American history. To be sure, there has always been a school of thought, extending back at least to the Pythagoreans of ancient Greece, that holds that abortion is wrong because the embryo is the moral equivalent of the child it will become. Equally ancient however is the belief articulated by the Stoics: that although embryos have some of the rights of already-born children (and these rights may increase over the course of the pregnancy), embryos are of a different moral order, and thus...

  8. 3 The Century of Silence
    (pp. 40-65)

    By the end of the ninteenth century, the success of the first “right-to-life” movement meant that abortion had become a medical rather than a moral issue. For almost a century, the philosophical issue involved—whether or not the embryo is a full human person—was obscured by the fact that physicians made almost all “official” decisions on abortion.

    Although this new state of affairs had its opponents, controversy on abortion was remarkably low-key for the better part of a century. Some observers, particularly those concerned with maternal and child health, worried about the public health problems inherent in the criminal...

  9. 4 Abortion Reform: The Professionals’ Dilemma
    (pp. 66-91)

    As the control of abortion by physicians eroded, the consensus on the meaning of abortion eroded as well. Agreement among physicians that they alone should decide when to perform abortions depended upon the existence of a continuum of reasons for performing abortions. As “preserving the life of the woman” in the physical sense of the word became a medical rarity, the continuum collapsed and the consensus broke down. For the first time since the nineteenth century, medical technology—in this case, advances in obstetrical science—set the stage for abortion to reemerge as a political and moral issue.

    This reemergence...

  10. 5 Women and the Right to Abortion
    (pp. 92-125)

    Prior to 1967, the abortion debate in California was conducted in a spirit of compromise and civility; professional men and women tied to one another by bonds of colleagueship and sociability endeavored to create a new compromise on abortion that they envisioned would provide the basis for a second century of calm. But their efforts failed. Within a very short time, intense passions and moral concerns became central to the debate. A group of women who valued motherhood, butvalued it on their own timetable,began to make a new claim, one that had never surfaced in the abortion debate...

  11. 6 The Emergence of the Right-to-Life Movement
    (pp. 126-157)

    The headlines on Tuesday, January 22, 1973, were momentous. On the previous day former President Lyndon Baines Johnson had died of a heart attack in his Texas home. Peace negotiations in Paris were beginning to make the end of the war in Vietnam look almost possible. And in Washington, two landmark opinions delivered by the U.S. Supreme Court—Roe v. WadeandDoe v. Bolton—struck down all state abortion laws, not only the remaining nineteenth-century laws but also the new, liberal “reform” laws such as California’s.*

    For many of the anti-abortion people we interviewed, the 1973 Supreme Court decision...

  12. 7 World Views of the Activists
    (pp. 158-191)

    As previous chapters have suggested, when pro-life and pro-choice activists think about abortion, abortion itself is merely “the tip of the iceberg.” Different beliefs about the roles of the sexes, about the meaning of parenthood, and about human nature are all called into play when the issue is abortion. Abortion, therefore, gives us a rare opportunity to examine closely a set of values that are almost never directly discussed. Because these values apply to spheres of life that are very private (sex) or very diffuse (morality), most people never look at the patterns they form. For this reason the abortion...

  13. 8 Motherhood and Morality in America
    (pp. 192-215)

    According to interested observers at the time, abortion in America was as frequent in the last century as it is in our own. And the last century, as we have seen, had its own “right-to-life” movement, composed primarily of physicians who pursued the issue in the service of their own professional goals. When abortion reemerged as an issue in the late 1950s, it still remained in large part a restricted debate among interested professionals. But abortion as we now know it has little in common with these earlier rounds of the debate. Instead of the civility and colleagueship that characterized...

  14. 9 The Future of the Debate
    (pp. 216-246)

    In the years since the 1973 Supreme Court decision, the political successes of the pro-life movement have been dramatic. In 1976, for example, the Republican party platform supported a constitutional amendment banning abortions. In the same year, Congress passed the Hyde amendment, which prohibited the use of public funds to pay for the abortions of poor women, and in 1978 the Supreme Court held that amendment to be constitutional. Congress has taken action to cut off federal funding of the abortions of government employees, Peace Corps volunteers, and members of the military and their dependents. In the 1980s, the Senate...

  15. Appendix 1: Methodology
    (pp. 247-256)
  16. Appendix 2: Tables
    (pp. 257-262)
  17. Notes
    (pp. 263-290)
  18. Bibliography
    (pp. 291-310)
  19. Index
    (pp. 311-324)
  20. Back Matter
    (pp. 325-325)