.. w anti-abortion organizations were formed and fundamentalist Christians and political conservatives were attracted. Other anti-abortion successes occurred with anti-abortion victories in the courts that permitted state abortion funding bans. The majority of states responded to these ruling by refusing to fund most abortions and many states continued to consider additional restrictive legislation including parental consent requirements. The pro-choice movement had been successfully threatened and its prior victories were being challenged.
By 1982 the period of threat to the pro-choice movement was showing signs of decline. Pro-choice candidates won out over many anti-abortion candidates that year. In 1983 anti-abortion legislation was defeated in Congress and the Supreme Court struck down most of the restrictions that had been passed by state and local governments. Obviously, the countermovements victories produced an overwhelming mobilization of pro-choice forces. In response to the countermovement’s successes, new pro-choice organizations were formed to attract a greater assortment of constituents.
Also, existing organizations took advantage of the concerns raised among pro-choice supporters to increase their resources and expand their operations. Because the movement had not demobilized following the 1973 decision, it was in a position to respond to the countermovement’s threats. The National Abortion Federation was formed in this post-Hyde period. This organization was comprised of clinics and other service providers. Also formed during this time was the Friends of Family Planning and Voters for Choice. These two groups were political action committees specifically formed to counter anti-abortion PAC activities.
The threat imposed by the countermovement reinforced both national and local pro-choice organizations. With the exception of the reproductive rights organizations, pro-choice organizations became more professionalized in their leadership and formalized in their structures. These new changes put the movement in a better position to obtain the resources necessary to act in institutionalized arenas. NARAL needed to counter anti-abortion activities and in order to do that they needed to greatly increase their resources, which included money and participants. The professionalization of leadership along with the threatened political environment enabled the organization to greatly increase these resources. The increase in resources lead to the hiring of more professional leaders and the creating of a bureaucratic organization.
Staff members now took responsibility for more differentiated functions such as public relations, lobbying and political campaign work. Another key tactic of this time was the development of an advanced direct mail technique to raise money and membership. This new technique included the hiring of professionals who could get the message out and deliver the desired results. NARAL’s direct-mail drive was a success that greatly increased the membership and financial resources. Constituents mailed their checks in record numbers in response to visible threats to abortion rights.
The influx of resources allowed NARAL to expand and formalize its ties to local activists. NARAL recruited affiliates by offering training for local leaders, low-cost professionally produced NARAL literature, ‘how to’ manuals, and audiovisual aids. The national organization was eventually able to offer financial aid as well which allowed the national organization to have more control in implementing state and local strategies. This emphasis on grass-roots organizing resulted in activists pushing to increase the involvement of the board of directors. Board members began attending at least four meeting a year and terms were shortened so that more activists could be brought into the decision-making process.
Changes were occurring within this organization. By 1983 the pro-choice groups were no longer acting in the defensive to the countermovements. There was a fear that the victories that had been achieved in over-ruling many of the anti-abortion decisions may lead to complacency among their constituents. The director of NARAL demanded that his activists continue to take the anti-abortion threat seriously and that the pro-choice lobby continue in Washington. It was also essential that work continued to prohibit the reelection of the President Reagan and the possible opportunity of appointment of Supreme Court Justices by a conservative leader.
NARAL and other pro-choice organizations began lobbying Congress for a Reproductive Health Equity Act that would restore Medicaid funding and federal employee insurance coverage for abortions. As feared, the pro-choice constituent support began to decline as the movement shifted into the offensive. Local and national informants reported a drop in financial resources and active participation as threats to abortion rights began to subside. People felt that the issue had been settled so they backed away. Luckily, for the movement, national organizations like NARAL had professional leaders who helped sustain the momentum and continue movement activities despite the changes in the political environment. Informally organized groups, such as the Reproductive Rights National Network, began to dissolve as they were running out of funding.
The severe financial problems that these small groups faced began after the 1983 Supreme Court ruling. Even though there was activity and support for the regaining of Medicaid funding and the providing of abortion services to teenagers, momentum was being lost because the new issues at hand held less appeal than the original legality issues. The survival of the movement during this time, when no victories were being won and when the constituents felt nothing more could be done, was due largely to the Reagan-Bush Administrations continued attack on abortion rights and the continued threats to the victories that had been won. The countermovement responded to its losses by changing the arena. The new arena was public relations. The centerpiece of the new anti-abortion strategy was the film The Silent Scream, which was produced by the former NARAL activist turned anti-abortionist, Dr.
Nathanson. This film was released in late 1984 and used sonography in an attempt to make its case that the fetus suffers pain in an abortion. The idea was to shift the debate on abortion to “scientific” issues. The film was issued to members of Congress and received a great deal of media attention, including network news coverage around the time of the anniversary of Roe v. Wade in January 1985. Pro-choice movements were forced to respond to this public relations threat. The countermovement tactic was beneficial to the pro-choice movement in that it aroused supporters and created opportunities for local and national pro-choice movements to mobilize.
Some organizations used their own experts to refute the “scientific” arguments while other groups attempted to reframe the debate. NARAL formed its own tactic through “Abortion Rights: Silent No More”. This strategy involved asking women around the nation to write letters about their experiences with abortion. The letters were addressed to President Reagan and other elected officials. The letters were read at an open forum on a scheduled day and it aroused much media attention.
The NARAL message: “We are your mothers, your daughters, your sisters, your friends, and abortion is a choice we have made” became a battle cry. NARAL was effective in the reframing of the debate. Emphasis had been taken off the fetus and placed on the role of the woman. Also, feminist groups used this time to develop responses, including some feminist films, to the anti-abortion strategy. Although the outrage and activism produced by the countermovement’s tactics could not sustain the pro-choice movement indefinitely, it came along at a critical time. It provided opportunities which utilized the energies of activists and helped revive the sense of immediately felt grievances that had rallied the activists prior to the legalization of abortion in 1973.
Following the Silent Scream strategy, the countermovement continued to use tactics that helped to keep the pro-choice movement on the alert. Direct action techniques were developed by the countermovement during this time. These tactics were often aimed at abortion services, their workers, and their clients. They often employed the use of bombs and other forms of harassment. The countermovement, by engaging in direct action and bringing the abortion conflict back to the level of women’s experiences, helped the pro-choice movement revitalize it’s grass-roots movement.
In July of 1989 the Supreme Court, now including Reagan appointees, upheld provisions of a Missouri anti-abortion statue in Webster v. Reproductive Health Services. The court did not overturn Roe v. Wade but it allowed states leeway in limiting abortion rights and appeared to invite challenges that might dismantle the 1973 ruling. The Webster ruling was a critical event in marking the beginning of a new round of intense conflict over abortion.
The changes that took place in the pro-choice movement as a result of this decision resemble those that occurred during the post-Hyde period. Prior to the July 1989 ruling the pro-choice movement organized a massive abortion rights march in Washington on April 09, 1989. The march was intended to send a signal to media reports and received a great deal of publicity. This march provided the generations of activists to unite and gain a sense of solidarity and commitment to the pro-choice cause. This march was an important mobilizing event for the movement.
Although the ruling was in favor of the countermovement, the pro-choice movement gained much from the anticipation leading up to the decision. NARAL had built up its resources and membership increased by one hundred percent. NOW membership also rose considerably as did Planned Parenthood and the ACLU. In the light of the defeat, the pro-choice movement was now opened up to new tactical opportunities. Politics began to play an important part of the movement’s tactics. Pro-choice candidates began to win sweeping elections.
New Jersey elected a pro-choice governor as did Virginia. Framing of the argument shifted into private choice versus government involvement. The perception among many politician following the Webster decision was that the pro-choice position had become politically advantageous. The pro-choice movement had influenced politics despite the defeat at the Supreme Court. The pro-choice movement is unique in it’s development and continued force throughout the decades.
It succeeded in overturning abortion laws in 1973 and remained mobilized in order to continue to influence politics and prevent the destruction of the Roe v. Wade decision. The cycle of protest that occurred in the sixties and seventies was the most significant source of political opportunity for the pro-choice movement. The ability to motivate constituents from other ‘fights’ into the pro-choice movement was key to it’s early success. After the initial Roe v. Wade decision the political opportunities changed and more organized constituents were to become involved.
Formalization of the movement occurred and the structure of the movement changed. Resources from the established organizations provided an opportunity to lobby the legislature and created a trend of mainly reactive, institutionalized actions. The framing argument that took place all throughout the history of the pro-choice movement has also been important. In the beginning the frame was about safety and keeping 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. References 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 Sociology Issues.