The Politics of Abortion and the Rise of the New Right Public Deposited

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  • March 20, 2019
  • Donnally, Jennifer
    • Affiliation: College of Arts and Sciences, Department of History
  • The Politics of Abortion and the Rise of the New Right argues that pro-life activists were pivotal to both the demise of the liberal New Deal Coalition and the rise of a conservative Reagan Coalition in the United States between 1973 and 1983. Prior to Roe v. Wade, the anti-abortion movement was single-issue. It sought to defend criminal abortion statutes and Republicans, Democrats, liberals and conservatives made up the small and predominantly Roman Catholic movement. After Roe v. Wade, the United State's largest anti-abortion organization, the National Right to Life Committee, pursued two campaigns to overturn the decision. One campaign sought to establish fetal personhood through a Human Life Amendment that granted fetuses the rights of citizenship from the moment of conception. This was a new legal concept that would revolutionize American law, science, medicine and society. The other campaign sought to restrict abortion access within the confines of the decision, narrowing the window in which a legal abortion could be performed with the ultimate goal of making most abortions illegal. This campaign drew on a longer history of abortion opposition that sought to regulate women's bodies and sexuality. The two campaigns generated a heated conflict over strategy within the National Right to Life Committee that propelled the movement's growing alliance with conservatives mobilizing in the Republican Party. Using the Human Life Amendment as a campaign litmus test, one group created a single-issue anti-abortion voter constituency and used that constituency to polarize the American party system. When the Republican Party endorsed the Human Life Amendment in 1976, these activists then sought to shift Roman Catholics and Evangelical Protestants out of the Democratic Party and into the Republican Party. The other pro-life activists championed abortion restrictions that regulated teenage, single and poor women's sexual practices and mobilized previously apolitical conservative Protestants. These two competing pro-life groups united to cut federal funding of abortions for women on public assistance. Through this campaign, pro-lifers championed an anti-government ethos and defended their rights as taxpayers, paving the way for the social and economic conservative alliance that characterized the winning Reagan coalition of 1980.
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  • In Copyright
  • Hall, Jacquelyn Dowd
  • Doctor of Philosophy
Graduation year
  • 2013

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