The Rise And Continuation Of The Pro-Choice Movement On January 22, 1973, the movement to legalize abortion achieved its greatest victory with the Roe v. Wade ruling. This paper will analyze the rise and continuation of this movement over the course of the past forty years. Unlike other social movements, the Pro-Choice movement as maintained it’s power even after apparent victory was achieved. Due to this, the abortion argument continues today and will probably continue into this century and beyond.
The emergence of the Pro-Choice movement did not occur via the usual social movement routes. Most social movements emerge from within established institutions, with support from elites, or with origins that involved professional movement organizers. The early Pro-Choice movement, however, emerged as a collection of concerned physicians and professionals who wanted to help legalize abortion and keep it safe. In the 1950s and 1960s several published articles appeared that suggested needed reforms to the abortion laws and this began public attention on this issue. Two events occurred during the 1960s that also brought media attention to this emerging movement.
The first was the highly publicized case of Sherri Finkbine, a woman who attempted to get a legal abortion in the United States after learning that a drug she had taken, thalidomide, could cause fetal defects. This incident caused nationwide concern about the drug as well as sparking a nationwide debate over abortion. The second event was the epidemic of rubella measles that occurred in the United States. This disease can cause fetal defects when contracted by a pregnant woman. Both of these events gave a rise to the movement by influencing public opinion toward the reform of abortion law. These events forced doctors to confront the differences within their profession over abortion. This caused some liberal doctors to support the reform of the abortion laws. The Association for the Study of Abortion (ASA) was formed as a result of the professional interest in this issue.
This association was formed in 1964 by Dr. Alan Guttmacher of Planned Parenthood as an educational association. Only twenty active members, consisting of doctors, lawyers and other professionals, were actively involved in this group. However; the ASA was important in lending credibility and authority to the abortion movement in the early years when this support was badly needed. It should be noted that in the early years the ASA was not in the forefront of the movement as it refused to support aggressive measures to change the abortion laws.
The ASA was crucial in bringing together activists who disagreed with the ASAs cautious approach. These activists later worked together to found the National Association for Repeal of Abortion Laws (NARAL). Lawrence Lader, NARAL founder, had become a ASA boardmember as a result of his research on abortion. Ruth Smith, another NARAL founder, had served as executive director of the ASA. Also, Dr.
Lonny Myers was crucial to the founding of NARAL and Lader contacted her through his ASA contacts. Early organizers used their connections to recruit professionals who would lend this movement prestige and influential power. The early Pro-Choice movement also benefited from other social movements of the era. Women, college students and other young people who were activated by earlier movements of the 1960s became the grass-roots constituents of the movement to legalize abortion. These constituents were available and also felt very strongly about the issues at hand. The population organizations of the time also aided the early Pro-Choice movement. The Association for Voluntary Sterilization (AVS) and Zero Population Growth(ZPG) shared members with NARAL.
ZPG, especially, had local chapters that were heavily student influenced. These local chapters became deeply involved in the mobilization of the movement. The women’s movement was emerging as the abortion movement was getting off the ground. The National Organization for Women (NOW) endorsed abortion appeal, although narrowly, at the second national convention in 1967. NOW participation in the abortion movement was minimal in the early years, but was there nonetheless.
NOW was loosely organized in the beginning and was unable to promote grass-roots participation on the issue. The organization did form a national committee to deal with abortion but lacked an ample supply of resources. Other women’s groups were also emerging at this time. The ones that had memberships almost solely comprised of younger women, especially those in college, had the most to offer the abortion movement. Many of these young women became key players in the mobilization in these early years. Not only did the emerging abortion reform movement have the advantage of the preexisting organizational bases and concerned constituents, this emerging movement had a tactic. This tactic was abortion referral and it aided the movement in getting publicity, mobilizing activists, and helped to build a constituent base.
Many women who had undergone illegal abortions stepped forward to help other women. Also, religious groups stepped in to aid the early reform movement. The national Jewish and Protestant religious denominations did not become heavily involved in the movement but a number of these religious institutions did step forward to support reform of the abortion laws. Prior to 1973’s Roe v. Wade decision, the abortion movement’s principal source of political opportunity was the expanded social movement sector. Activists who fought for civil rights, women’s rights, and the like were also joining this emerging movement.
Immediately felt grievances also aided the movement’s mobilization due to the volunteers who had strong feelings about abortion rights. The movement was off the ground. 1973 was the year of the Supreme Court decision that made sweeping changes in the abortion laws. Few abortion law repeal supporters had anticipated the changes that would occur as a result of that decision. After such a major success, activists in the pro-choice movement might have been expected to glow in their victory and then close down shop.
Some reconstructors of the history of this movement have claimed just that. However; it is now believed that in light of the victory achieved, via Roe v. Wade, another movement emerged that should be considered separate from the original abortion reform movement. After the decision there was some decline in the movement, although this did not occur immediately after legalization and the movement never disappeared entirely. There were battles that needed to be fought due to the surge in membership and power of the counter-movements that were rising up.
These countermovement activities created immediate threats to the newly won right to abortion and this helped keep the pro-choice movement mobilized. The continuing multi-issue population and women’s movements assisted the single-issue pro choice groups in surviving the victory. The re-organization of the national Pro-Choice movement also allowed the group to stay mobilized for a continued battle over this issue. A large difference between the pre-1973 movement and the one that emerged out of the decision was the rise of organizational group and interest group support. Prior to the decision these groups had not been heavily involved.
These groups provided resources and stability for the pro-choice movement that was not there so readily before. Among the established groups joining forces with the pro-choice movement were professional associations such as the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. Most critical to the movement were the support of the American Civil Liberties Union and Planned Parenthood. The feeling of victory after the 1973 decision was short lived for the pro-choice movement. It soon became apparent that the war was continuing on new fronts.
The legalization of abortion brought out the anti-abortion activists who were able to create a real threat to the newly won right to abortion. These anti-abortion activists pressed Congress for a constitutional amendment to outlaw abortion and were pressing for legislation that would cut off federal funding of abortions. In response to the anti-abortion threats, single-issue abortion movements did not disband but regrouped. The National Association for Repeal of Abortion Laws changed its name to the National Abortion Rights Action League after it became apparent that this fight over abortion rights would continue for some time. Local groups also took to renaming their organizations and continuing on with the fight to protect their victory.
Even legislators who had supported the movement prior to the victory were preparing for the next wave of fighting. Tactics that were used following the Roe v. Wade decision were much like the tactics leading up to that decision. It had become apparent that litigation was a successful tool for social change and legalization offered the movement the opportunity to use tactics that had been used successfully in the past. It was not just the victory but the past experience of the movement’s leaders that allowed the movement to take advantage of the Supreme Court decision.
Pro choice groups used litigation to carry out Roe v. Wade. Pro-choice groups teamed up with the ACLU and filed lawsuits that would force hospitals to provide abortions. After several successes with this litigation, pro-choice groups began mailings to hospitals showing the successful results of these lawsuits. These groups urged the hospitals to provide abortions so that they could avoid litigation. Also, pro-choice groups supported the creation of independent abortion clinics and made efforts to ensure that the services offered at these clinics were of high quality and accessible. Seminars were held nationally to teach how to effectively set up one of these clinics with the support of Planned Parenthood.
Prior to the Supreme Court decision there was no organized pro-choice lobby inside Washington. However; the movement did not lack insiders who were in touch with legislators. NARAL had leaders who had “inside” connections and established organizations, like Planned Parenthood, had lobbyists who reported on legislative developments and reactions to elected officials. Through these sources, pro-choice leaders learned that the anti-abortion movement was flooding Congress with mail supporting an amendment banning abortion. The pro-choice movement responded to the counter-movement threat with tactics of its own. They urged their supporters to write their own letters to congress when it became clear that the pro-choice side was making a poor showing in this area.
It became very important to counter the large number of letters being sent from anti-abortionists and to make it known that the pro-choice movement was still in the arena. Also, a pro-choice lobbying coalition was established that utilized both movement organizations and established organizations. In late 1973, NARAL opened a lobbying office in Washington to create an ongoing NARAL presence on Capital Hill and to participate more fully in the newly emerging lobbying coalition. When NARAL moved its headquarters to Washington in 1975 it had become clear that institutionalized tactics in defense of legal abortion had become very important to the movement. The years following the Roe v.
Wade Supreme Court Decision show a change in the organization of the pro-choice movement. The political opportunity structure had changed for the group as more formalized organizations stepped forward to support the Supreme Court decision. Also, the political environment of the movement had changed with the victory as the group was now on the defensive rather than the offensive. Movement victories help mobilize counter-movements and they provide opportunities for the opposition to constrain the movement activities by putting the group on the defensive. However; in the case of the pro-choice movement the challenge was risen to. The pro-choice movement responded to the countermovement and began to create an organizational structure that allowed them to play in institutionalized arenas like Congress. The years following the Roe v.
Wade decision can be seen as a transitional period for the movement. The leaders established themselves as political insiders and lobbyist organizations were created. Pro-choice groups were implementing organizational tactics that would prepare them for the long term battle ahead of them. The fight was really just beginning. The anti-abortion countermovement scored its first victory in 1976 with Congressional passage of the Hyde Amendment which banned the federal funding of abortions. The countermovement also gained publicity during the 1976 election year which helped to reinvigorate it. Ne …