The Politics of Abortion and Birth Control in Historical Perspective

By Donald T. Critchlow | Go to book overview

SUZANNE STAGGENBORG


The Survival of the Pro-Choice
Movement

The battle over abortion in America is seemingly endless. The longstanding nature of the conflict is due in part to the ability of both the "pro-choice" or abortion rights movement and the "pro-life" or antiabortion countermovement to continue to organize support for many years. The pro-choice movement is particularly remarkable in that it has not only survived for more than twenty-five years, but it has grown stronger since achieving its greatest victory, legalization of abortion in 1973.

In this article I want to explain the longevity of the pro-choice movement by looking at both internal organizational changes in the movement and external changes in the political environment of the movement. I begin with a general discussion of these theoretical factors in the growth and maintenance of social movements. I then describe the history of the pro-choice movement in the United States, showing how these elements come into play. I conclude with a discussion of the lessons of this history for theories of social movements. 1


The Growth and Maintenance of Social Movements

The Political Opportunity Structure

One explanation as to why particular social movements emerge and flourish at certain times and not others is that the political climate is more or less receptive at different times. A number of theorists argue that movements are most likely to arise when the "political-opportunity structure" is

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