The Street Politics of Abortion: Speech, Violence, and America's Culture Wars

The Street Politics of Abortion: Speech, Violence, and America's Culture Wars

The Street Politics of Abortion: Speech, Violence, and America's Culture Wars

The Street Politics of Abortion: Speech, Violence, and America's Culture Wars


The U.S. Supreme Court decision in Roe v. Wade stands as a historic victory for abortion-rights activists. But rather than serving as the coda to what had been a comparatively low-profile social conflict, the decision mobilized a wave of anti-abortion protests and ignited a heated struggle that continues to this day.

Picking up the story in the contentious decades that followed Roe, The Street Politics of Abortion is the first book to consider the rise and fall of clinic-front protests through the 1980s and 1990s, the most visible and contentious period in U.S. reproductive politics. Joshua Wilson considers how street level protests lead to three seminal Court decisions- Planned Parenthood v. Williams, Schenck v. Pro-Choice Network of Western N.Y., and Hill v. Colorado. The eventual demise of street protests via these cases taught anti-abortion activists the value of incremental institutional strategies that could produce concrete policy gains without drawing the public's attention. Activists on both sides ultimately moved-often literally-from the streets to fight in state legislative halls and courtrooms.

At its core, the story of clinic-front protests is the story of the Christian Right's mercurial assent as a force in American politics. As the conflict moved from the street, to the courts, and eventually to legislative halls, the competing sides came to rely on a network of lawyers and professionals to champion their causes. New Christian Right institutions-including Pat Robertson's American Center for Law and Justice and the Regent University Law School, and Jerry Falwell's Liberty University School of Law-trained elite activists for their "front line" battles in government. Wilson demonstrates how the abortion-rights movement, despite its initial success with Roe, has since faced continuous challenges and difficulties, while the anti-abortion movement continues to gain strength in spite of its losses.


When the United States Supreme Court decided the case of Roe v. Wade in January 1973, it simultaneously struck down state abortion laws and helped fuel the creation of the modern social conservative movement. Up through the early 1970s the legality of abortion was largely seen as a “Catholic issue.” That changed in the aftermath of Roe v. Wade. While it did not happen immediately, legalized abortion became a central issue for social conservatives who came to see Roe as a particularly morally intolerable example of the political Left once again marshaling the unelected federal judiciary to undo the popular will of the states.

In this line of conservative thinking, the Supreme Court, headed by Chief Justice Earl Warren, was seen as forcing racial integration, banning prayer and religion from public life, creating soft-on-crime policies, and liberating sexual taboos. This growing catalog of offenses helped bring Nixon’s “Forgotten Americans” to the polls in 1968, but even that was apparently not enough to stop the Court’s socially disruptive progressive trend. Nixon was almost immediately able to reform the Supreme Court in his first term with four judicial appointments, including Chief Justice, but the Court persisted in producing progressive rulings. Over two decades of controversial court cases and social turmoil had helped to move the Forgotten Americans and the “Silent Majority” to vote, but Roe v. Wade was the ruling that would mobilize a more sustained and not-sosilent movement.

The anti-abortion movement has taken many forms in the four decades since. In the 1980s and 90s one of its identifying hallmarks was . . .

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