Whose Civil Rights? Abortion Politics and Historical Narrative in Atlanta, 1970–2010

Sunday, January 10, 2016: 11:40 AM
Crystal Ballroom A (Hilton Atlanta)
Cynthia Greenlee, Pennsylvania State University
The same day that Roe v. Wade was decided in 1973, the Supreme Court also declared unconstitutional Georgia's abortion law in Doe v. Bolton. Though that case is far less known than Roe, it signaled the significance of Georgia and, specifically, its capital, Atlanta, in producing the ideology and strategy of both anti-abortion movements and the predominantly black women-led reproductive justice movement. With institutions associated with the feminist women's health movement and the mainstream civil rights movement, Atlanta emerged as a central terrain for women's local organizing to mitigate the effects of the state's near-abortion ban by organizing "menstrual regulation" tours that taught women skills to self-induce abortion and also for black women's political organizing around unsafe abortion. At the same time, the visibility of liberal feminist activism and black women's activism spurred a vocal national opposition that responded in 1988's "Siege of Atlanta," a monthslong anti-abortion protest, and decades later, an anti-abortion billboard campaign in Atlanta's black neighborhoods. Organizers on both sides of the abortion debate harnessed Atlanta's history, including the Civil War and civil rights mobilization, as tools to galvanize support, and groups such as Operation Rescue used Atlanta as a training ground to hone their tactics. This paper re-situates the history of abortion rights in the U.S. South and explains how Southern organizing was not a remote frontier in the fight to legalize abortion, but a key location for both local, state, and national conservative and progressive movement building.