Abortion and American Politics


How the deeply divisive abortion controversy has played out on state and national levels during the past two decades provides an illustrative portrait, even if in some ways a disappointing reflection, of the operation of American government and politics. In Abortion and American Politics, Barbara H. Craig and David M. O'Brien tell the story of this explosive social issue, from the Supreme Court's landmark 1973 ruling in Roe v. Wade, through the years of grass-roots activism and public debate that led to the ...
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How the deeply divisive abortion controversy has played out on state and national levels during the past two decades provides an illustrative portrait, even if in some ways a disappointing reflection, of the operation of American government and politics. In Abortion and American Politics, Barbara H. Craig and David M. O'Brien tell the story of this explosive social issue, from the Supreme Court's landmark 1973 ruling in Roe v. Wade, through the years of grass-roots activism and public debate that led to the de-turning 1989 decision in Webster v. Reproductive Health Services and to the no less controversial 1992 ruling in Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pennsylvania v. Casey. Against the background of ambiguities of public opinion polls, the authors trace the strategic maneuvering of interest groups in bringing litigation and in pushing for legislation and executive action. And they underscore the prospects for further changes in the national debate over abortion with the Clinton administration's policies and its judicial appointees. Without attempting to resolve the abortion controversy or to advocate one or another position, Craig and O'Brien present a comprehensive analysis of the complex interaction of interest groups, the states, the courts, Congress, and the president and the executive branch. As a case study of institutional conflict over public policy, Abortion and American Politics demonstrates the enduring vitality of the Founders' vision of a system of constitutional politics that allows for incremental change as a means to ensure stability in the face of unyielding social controversy.
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Editorial Reviews

Susan Gluck Mezey
ABORTION AND AMERICAN POLITICS provides a comprehensive account of the abortion controversy in the U.S. since the Supreme Court announced ROE V. WADE in 1973. It examines the political and legal ramifications of a debate that has taken up so much of the time, energy, and money of the citizenry, the politicians, the lawyers, and the judges. Ironically, the issue in dispute here: whether women have a fundamental right to choose to terminate a pregnancy is one that is so simple for so many people. Paradoxically, it is the simplicity and manifest "rightness" for such large numbers of people that makes this controversy so unmanageable and the sides so intractable. The authors of ABORTION AND AMERICAN POLITICS do a nice job of portraying the twists and turns, setbacks and victories of each side of the debate and produce a well-balanced and objective account. Although there is not a great deal of original research in the book, that is, it does not contain much that is not already known to most people familiar with the topic, the authors deserve credit for compiling this information and presenting it in well-organized tables and figures throughout the book. Especially useful are state abortion regulations and the posture of state political leaders around the time of the PLANNED PARENTHOOD OF SOUTHEASTERN PENNSYLVANIA V. CASEY decision, an array of public opinion polls on attitudes toward abortion and abortion regulations, the wording of the abortion planks in the Democratic and Republican party platforms from 1980 to 1992, and excerpts from the briefs submitted to the Supreme Court. Chapter 1 analyzes the ROE decision in the context of Supreme Court decisionmaking and U.S. politics at the time, placing it in the context of the political scene dominated by controversy surrounding Watergate and Vietnam. It presents the cast of characters in ROE, and most helpfully, it reproduces the Texas antiabortion statute in addition to excerpts from the opinion. Chapter 2 focuses on interest group politics and presents an account of the see-sawing of prochoice and antiabortion group activities over passage of favorable (to their side) abortion laws and judicial decisions. Because of prochoice judicial victories throughout the 1970s and mid-80s, the antiabortion demonstrations dominated at the national level, followed by increasing emphasis by prochoice groups on marches and rallies beginning in the late 80s. Chapter 3 discusses the politics of abortion within the states, dominated by battles over restrictions on public funding for poor women and consent/notification requirements. Interestingly, in light of the present controversy over the wisdom and necessity of ROE, the chapter begins with a table demonstrating that the majority of the nation was not moving in the direction of ROE-like reforms before the Supreme Court announced its opinion: only four states and the District of Columbia permitted a woman to choose to terminate a pregnancy as ROE ultimately did. Chapter 4 looks at congressional divisions over ROE (through the middle 1980s) over five kinds of issues: constitutional amendments to confer due process rights on the fetus, constitutional amendments to return the abortion issue to the states, bills conferring due process rights on the fetus, funding restrictions, and so-called conscience-clause provisions. Chapter 5 examines twenty years of presidential politics relating to abortion -- beginning in 1972. It demonstrates that before Ronald Reagan, most presidents and presidential candidates expressed themselves as antiabortion Page 96 follows: but took few active measures to implement their views. With Reagan, although there was also much rhetoric, his appointments of lower federal court and Supreme Court judges made him a formidable ally of the antiabortion movement. Chapter 6 is devoted to analysis of the WEBSTER [V. REPRODUCTIVE HEALTH SERVICES] decision: the origins of the Missouri statute that led to the decision; the amici briefs presented by both sides; the oral argument; and excerpts from the decision. Especially interesting is the passage from the brief by the 281 American Historians showing how U.S. abortion laws have historically been related to attitudes toward the role of women in society. In chapter 7, arguably the best chapter, the authors examine the results of a variety of public opinion polls and make order out of the chaotic first impression presented by disagreement among these polls. After explaining why polls in general, and abortion questions in particular, are subject to differing interpretations, the authors demonstrate that the same position can lead to different results with one or two minor changes in the wording or positioning of the question. And they rightly suggest that the polls are often better at inflaming the debate than in illuminating it -- a point that probably both sides would agree with. With the last three chapters, 8, 9, and 10, the authors largely present a chronology of the events following WEBSTER and continuing through to CASEY, with brief mentions of two other important recent cases, RUST V. SULLIVAN and BRAY V. ALEXANDRIA CLINIC. During this time there was a prochoice resurgence that was evident in local elections, governors races, state legislative battles, and congressional elections, as well as the politics of judicial confirmations. The latter, of course, was most obvious in the battles over the appointments of Judge Robert Bork, a prochoice victory, and Justice Clarence Thomas, a prochoice defeat. At the state level, as invited by the plurality opinion, WEBSTER led abortion-rights opponents to attempt to pass laws inconsistent with ROE, in part intended to force the Court to reconsider and overrule ROE. However, as the authors point out, abortion-rights supporters also succeeded in passage of abortion rights legislation. These opposing positions are demonstrated in the case studies of passage of the Connecticut and Louisiana abortion laws. Looking at the executive and legislative branches, these chapters demonstrate the importance of the role played by President Bush, a role that was perhaps even more crucial to the antiabortion side than Ronald Reagan's was. Largely because of WEBSTER and the strength of the prochoice position, Congress was motivated to attempt to provide a counterweight to the executive and judicial antiabortion posture, primarily on funding matters. Bush's threatened and actual vetoes thwarted these attempts, given Congress' inability to override. In the judicial arena, the authors present an analysis of CASEY, including oral arguments and excerpts from the opinion with a cogent analysis of the debate over whether CASEY actually overruled ROE or not, regardless of what the Court said. Interspersed here are also brief discussions of the appointments of Justice David Souter and Clarence Thomas. Although this book provides an extensive analysis of the politics of abortion in the U.S., not surprisingly, it has a few flaws. For one thing, as the title suggests, ABORTION AND AMERICAN POLITICS is also a text about U.S. politics and that is both a plus and a minus. On the positive side, the authors place the abortion controversy in the context of the political system and show how the politics of abortion touch on, and are touched by, every part of our political system from the president down to urban mayors and city councils. The downside of this American politics approach is that the authors frequently intersperse their analysis with primers on Page 97 follows: U.S. politics; such primers are helpful for undergraduates struggling to integrate the abortion debate with their knowledge of the political system but are often distracting to others. Second, although the authors include some references to the 1992 election and the executive orders instituted after the inauguration in January 1993, the book disappointingly does not assess the role of abortion politics in the 1992 presidential election. Because most would probably agree that the Republican's party adherence to a fixed antiabortion position was one important factor leading to George Bush' defeat, this is an unfortunate omission in an otherwise thorough treatment of the issue. If the timing was such that information on events as late as January 1993 could be included, then it is hard to understand why the 1992 election campaign was omitted. Finally, and perhaps this is a semantic quibble: the authors use the terms "pro-life" and "antiabortion" interchangeably. "Pro-life" is not a neutral term as "antiabortion" is, and it detracts from the objectivity of the book when referring to one side of the debate by the public relations image it has selected for itself. Overall, despite these concerns, this book will be educational and enlightening to all sorts of people and should be widely read.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780934540896
  • Publisher: SAGE Publications
  • Publication date: 5/1/1993
  • Series: American Politics Series
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 402
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 0.82 (d)

Table of Contents

Tables, Figures, Boxes
1 Roe v. Wade, the Burger Court, and American Politics 1
2 Interest Groups Battle over Roe 35
3 The States as Battlegrounds 73
4 A Reluctant Congress Faces the Abortion Issue 103
5 Abortion and Presidential Politics 157
6 The Tide Turns: The Rehnquist Court and Webster v. Reproductive Health Services 197
7 Public Opinion and Abortion 245
8 Abortion and State Politics after Webster 279
9 Abortion and National Politics 307
10 Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pennsylvania v. Casey, the Rehnquist Court, and American Politics 325
Selected Bibliography 363
Index of Cases 371
Index of Names and Subjects 373
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