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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Constructing Abortion's Second Victim : Science and Politics in the Contemporary Antiabortion Movement

  • Author(s): Huff, April Nicole
  • et al.

This dissertation examines the development and consequences of what I call women-centered strategies within the prolife movement in the United States. While this movement has been characterized as a religious movement devoted to the rights of the unborn, I argue that since the early 1980s an important faction within the movement has contended that women, as well as the unborn, are victims of abortion. Drawing on textual analysis and interviews, I trace the rise of attempts to restrict access to abortion based on the claim that abortions are harmful to women who have them. The use of women-centered strategies has three consequences. First, the argument that abortion harms women has shaped scientific inquiry. Antiabortion organizations claim that abortion is associated with an increased risk of breast cancer and various mental disorders. However, these claims have been disputed by scientists and scientific institutions. Comparing the controversy over breast cancer risk with that over mental health outcomes, I show that researchers who are critical of abortion employ a range of tactics to prolong conflict and further politicize these scientific issues. Second, these strategies have led to new understandings of women who regret their abortions. These understandings are constructed within a network that includes women who regret their abortion, prolife researchers, therapists, movement leaders, and mental health researchers. Finally, women-centered strategies have had a profound impact on the policies that regulate abortion care in the United States. By juxtaposing scientific claims alongside narratives of abortion's harm to women, prolife groups have developed a framework that resonates with policymakers and federal judges. This research makes significant contributions to science studies and studies of social movements. Analyses of the process by which scientific debates end typically focus on the mechanisms that foreclose further inquiry and exclude dissenting voices. My research demonstrates that these mechanisms work differently depending on the social context and can, in some cases, serve to continue rather than end controversy. Additionally, this work expands on previous studies of the construction of identity and role of expertise in social movements as well as the impact of framing on social movement success

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