Abortion Politics, Women's Movements, and the Democratic State: A Comparative Study of State Feminism

Abortion Politics, Women's Movements, and the Democratic State: A Comparative Study of State Feminism

Abortion Politics, Women's Movements, and the Democratic State: A Comparative Study of State Feminism

Abortion Politics, Women's Movements, and the Democratic State: A Comparative Study of State Feminism

Synopsis

Containing the results of a cross-national research project on abortion politics in eleven democratic states (between the 1960s and 2000), this volume marks major progress in abortion research. It develops a comprehensive research design to examine whether or not women's policy agencies (institutional groups intended to improve the status of women) have functioned as necessary and effective allies of women's movements. It explores their efforts to gain access to power arenas and secure abortion laws that coincide with feminist goals. Indeed, these findings constitute a rigorous application of comparative methodology to assess explanations from social movement and democratic theory pertaining to variations in state feminism and movement success.

Excerpt

Stetson, Dorothy McBride

Is there really such a thing as 'state feminism'? A provocative question, certainly, especially for those who see it as an oxymoron. How can the state, representing the institutional power of a male-dominated social hierarchy, promote goals that will undermine its own power? Yet, for over 30 years, women's movements have sought to influence the state to use that institutional power to reach feminist goals and to open the state to access by women. At the same time, governments in advanced industrial democracies have put institutional machineries in place to improve the status of women. These machineries have taken a variety of forms, and they are ubiquitous and enduring (Stetson and Mazur 1995). The research described in this book addresses the role of these institutional actors inside the state—women's policy agencies—in advancing the goals of women's movements in advanced industrial democracies.

This research enterprise is a cooperative effort of the authors. We have opted to study the issue of abortion in order to understand the role of institutional actors inside the state in advancing the goals of women's movements in eleven countries in Western Europe and North America. Demands for changes in long-standing abortion laws, second-wave women's movements, and new women's-policy agencies all entered the public policy arenas of democratic governments around the same time. Policy actors faced growing discontent with restrictions on access to abortion and looked for solutions to the ensuing conflict. Interest in abortion-policy reform occupied all women's movements; in many, expanding access to abortion was the only goal that could unify disparate wings, from radical feminists in autonomous groups on the one hand to well-established traditional women's organizations on the other. At the time when women's movements were gaining public attention and contests over abortion reform

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