BEFORE ROE V. WADE: Voices That Shaped the Abortion Debate Before the Supreme Court’s Ruling by Linda Greenhouse and Reva B. Siegel collects various speeches, articles, legislative statements and amicus curae briefs on the title topic. It’s a good addition to my reading for Undead Sexist Cliches but also shows there’s a point at which to stop researching.
The goal of the authors was to capture the period now 50 years gone when abortion was illegal in much of the country, activist groups helped arrange abortions (if you had the money, flying to Japan was one option) and reformers began to speak up. The debate over making moderate reforms was surprisingly different in the late 1960s, focusing on the right of doctors to give medical advice or the need to reduce population growth; it was only with feminism’s boom in the 1970s that the rights of women became the dominant issue.
On the right, nobody but Catholics focused on the life or rights of the fetus.For Phyllis Schlafly the issue was feminism: abortion was just part of the women’s libbers tricking women into giving up their god-given roles as mothers. Other conservatives saw abortion as a sign of society becoming more permissive about sex, which is why the Nixon campaign denounced McGovern (whose views on the topic weren’t very different) as the pro-permissive candidate of “amnesty, acid and abortion.” Nixon staffer Pat Buchanan (who would rant about feminism’s evils many times in his later career as a pundit) saw opposing abortion as a tactical move, a way to peel off Catholic working-class voters from the Democrats. It wasn’t until the end of the decade that “abortion is murder!” became the rallying cry of choice.
The authors conclude with an appendix in which they argue that contrary to some theories, the Supreme Court’s Roe decision did not spark a massive backlash against abortion rights which wouldn’t have happened if state legislatures had made the decision. At the start of the decade, several legislatures did liberalize their abortion laws, then the mostly Catholic opposition got organized and stopped further attempts. Unlike most pro-choicers, anti-abortion voters were single-issue focused, willing to vote against an otherwise favorable candidate on that basis alone.
This provided some useful context to my book’s chapter on anti-abortion cliches but not so much that I couldn’t have done without it. Which is my point about the limits of research: it’s not that I couldn’t learn more from other books, but I’m not going to learn so much that it’s worth the time to read them. I’m not sure it was worth the time for this one, though I did find it interesting (you can download it yourself for free, from a legit site, if you want). Seeking absolute knowledge is futile; at some point you’ve just got to jump in and start (and finish) writing. And with Undead Sexist Cliches, I think I’m there.