Academic journal article Political Research Quarterly

Policy Struggle on Reproduction: Doctors, Women, and Christians

Academic journal article Political Research Quarterly

Policy Struggle on Reproduction: Doctors, Women, and Christians

Article excerpt


How best to govern reproduction is the subject of heated controversies and policies on abortion and reproductive technologies present strong variations. Through fuzzy-set qualitative comparative analysis, the article explores the interplay of institutional settings, Christian Democratic politics, women's movement, and Christian opposition in France and Switzerland since the 1970s. If little evidence is found for any institutional impact on policies regarding abortion and reproductive technologies, the analysis confirms the growing influence of the medical profession over reproductive issues and shows that the success of the women's movement has been fluctuating while prolife opposition seems to have gradually lost influence.


gender, abortion, reproductive technologies, public policy, European politics, fuzzy-set qualitative comparative analysis

How best to govern the field of reproduction has launched heated controversies for the past decades, and policy makers in Western countries have grappled with highly polarizing issues regarding abortion and assisted reproductive technologies (ARTs). The feminist movement defines procreation in terms of women's right to choose and calls into question the social obligation of mothering, while the prolife opposition argues in favor the protection of human embryo. Launched by the feminist claims for liberalizing abortion in the 1960s, the controversy has more recently been fueled and redimensioned by the development of the new reproductive technologies. The invention of in vitro fertilization in 1978 has indeed offered more than medical treatment for sterility and has unsettled the traditional family scheme by providing gay couples (Bryld 2001) with access to reproduction.

Most West European countries have been confronted with similar reproductive issues. Nevertheless, policies on abortion and ART present strong variations, both in terms of regulatory scope and content as well as in terms of the policy-making process (Engeli 2009a; Bleiklie, Goggin, and Rothmayr 2004; Stetson 2001). The literature has developed three main explanations for the variations in the regulation of the field of reproduction, which are, respectively, centered on institutional arrangements, on the party system and the presence of strong Christian Democrats, and on the strength of the medical community and women's movements (Bleiklie, Goggin, and Rothmayr 2004; Stetson 2001). Indeed several studies addressing either the issue of abortion or the ART one have emphasized the high complexity in regulating the field of reproduction and stressed the interplay of explanatory factors that vary across countries and time (e.g., Latham 2002; Mazur 2002; Outshoorn 1996; Stetson 2001; Varone, Rothmayr, and Montpetit 2006). The question remains to account for the full set of variations across the regulation on abortion and ART. To do so, this article aims at further developing the shiftfrom mono-causal to configuring thinking (Ragin 2008) and to take into account the whole spectrum of policy preferences involved in the regulation of the field of reproduction by examining the policies on abortion and ART in France and Switzerland since the 1970s. Faced with multidimensional policy differences, the analysis of policies on abortion and ART pleads for examining the phenomenon of multicausality through fuzzy-set qualitative comparative analysis (Fs/QCA). The configurational comparative method aims at assessing the multicausal nature of social phenomena by revealing how different causal processes may produce similar results.

The article is organized as follows. The first section reviews the main explanations presented in the literature and develops seven hypotheses related to the impact of institutional settings, the configuration of the party system, and the policy preferences of main actors in the field, that is, the medical community, women's movements, and the prolife movement. The second section discusses the advantages of using Fs/QCA to better apprehend the complexity in regulating abortion and ART and presents the operationalization of the variables and data used in the analysis. …

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