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
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 author...
... middle of paper ...
... women out of illegal abortion clinics where their life would be in danger. As the
countermovement emerged and began to win some victories the framing changed.
Pro-choice activists fought to keep attention on the woman and off of the fetus. They
fought to make it an issue of individual rights versus government rights. As the movement
changed and the tactics changed, so did these framing arguments.
The history of the Pro-choice movement as a social movement is unique to itself.
The movement has not behaved in a traditional sense in that it did not have its origins in
the traditional sources. The movement did not fall away after achieving its victories. In
fact it was at its strongest when in a defensive, not offensive, stance. The fight continues
today between the pro-choice and anti-abortion movements. It will probably continue
well into this century and beyond.
Solinger, Ricke (ed). Abortion Wars: A Half Century of Struggle, 1950-2000. University
of California Press. Berkeley. 1998.
Staggenborg, Suzanne. The Pro-Choice Movement: Organization and Activism in the
Abortion Conflict. Oxford University Press. New York. 1991
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