Abortion Debates in the United States and Europe, 1960–90: Problematizing the Standard Narrative

AHA Session 179
Saturday, January 7, 2012: 2:30 PM-4:30 PM
Missouri Room (Sheraton Chicago Hotel & Towers)
Richard S. Fogarty, University at Albany (State University of New York)
The Audience

Session Abstract

In advance of the fortieth anniversary of Roe v. Wade (1973), this panel will consider the communities and networks that supported and opposed the legal right to abortion in the United States and Europe from the 1960s to the 1980s. The panelists will identify the diverse interest groups who claimed a stake in debates over abortion reform, which included feminists, anti-feminists, physicians, clergy, and politicians. In particular, the panelists will explain how debates about individual rights and privacy were infused with anxieties about secularization, changing gender roles, and the regulatory powers of the state.

 Professor Reva Siegel will analyze conflict over abortion in the decade before Roe, asking what the history of this period can teach about the logic of conflict in the decade after the Supreme Court’s decision. Arguments for decriminalization of abortion in the 1960s evolved as new groups of advocates reframed the debate (e.g. from public health to population control to sex equality). Opposition to the decriminalization of abortion and to Roe itself changed frames, as opposition grew from a single-issue campaign led by the Catholic Church, to a coalition politics of the newly mobilizing “pro-family” movement, and to a realignment strategy of the Republican Party. In her paper on abortion controversies and Christian churches in Western Europe, Professor Dagmar Herzog will detail the influence of pro-choice theologians and clergy on parliamentary debates over abortion in the 1960s and 1970s. While feminists and sex liberals framed the way many ordinary Europeans thought about abortion rights, progressive religious thinkers provided an additional moral framework to politicians who sought to overturn restrictive laws. In so doing, Herzog elucidates the continued significance of religious authorities during a period of secular reform.

In her paper on women’s participation in the grassroots anti-abortion movement in the U.S., Karissa Haugeberg seeks to reframe the way scholars have understood pro-life women activists. The standard narrative suggests that peaceful Catholic women dominated the grassroots anti-abortion movement until the late 1980s, when evangelical Christian men joined the movement in significant numbers. However, Haugeberg’s research reveals that Catholic women initiated the use of provocative and violent tactics in the late1970s. Professor Kara Dixon Vuic will discuss U.S. military policy regarding abortion in the years before and after Roe. While scholars have examined the role of federal funding on abortion services to poor civilian women, Dixon Vuic is among the first to study debates over the federal funding of abortion for enlisted women. Crucially, debates about abortion funding occurred at the precise moment that significant numbers of women entered the ranks of the U.S. military.

 Collectively, these papers trace the history of the intellectual, social, and political communities that contested, sustained, and nurtured movements for legal abortion in the U.S. and Europe.

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