The Politics of Abortion in the United States and Canada: A Comparative Study

By Raymond Tatalovich | Go to book overview

1

Background to Controversy
Origins of American and Canadian
Abortion Policy

In both the United States and Canada, the origins of the abortion controversy date back to the mid-1960s, though the first agitations for reform in the United States can be traced to the 1950s. The similarities between these countries are more revealing than any differences, and indicate that the period of abortion reform was more an elitist phenomenon than a mass movement. At the margins, however, one could argue that public opinion was more instrumental in the United States than north of the border. The powerful normative lesson of this early period is that the way a controversial issue is defined for purposes of public debate can affect in large measure the ability of elites to manage the scope of conflict and, therefore, engender consensus building. In both cultures, abortion reform was tied to health care and thus was not polarized in moral terms. This is especially important for the United States to the extent that its Catholic population— even though smaller than Canada's—had not been mobilized into a pro-life counteroffensive. In the United States, the abortion question had also undergone a longer incubation period before it gained a place on the policy agenda, unlike the relatively quick pace by which the abortion issue was transformed into public policy in Canada. Differences between the U. S. separation-of-powers system and the parliamentary regime of Canada largely explain that situation.


Agenda Setting in Two Nations

What motivated the 1960s abortion reformers in the United States and Canada was medical need, not feminist theory or rights jurisprudence. In

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