Mary Ziegler


Leading studies argue that Roe itself radicalized debate and marginalized antiabortion moderates, either by issuing a sweeping decision before adequate public support had developed or by framing the opinion in terms of moral absolutes. The polarization narrative on which leading studies rely obscures important actors and arguments that defined the antiabortion movement of the 1970s. First, contrary to what the polarization narrative suggests, self-identified moderates played a significant role in the mainstream antiabortion movement, shaping policies on issues like the treatment of unwed mothers or the Equal Rights Amendment. Working in organizations like Feminists for Life (FFL) or American Citizens Concerned for Life (ACCL), other activists also campaigned for what they defined to be alternatives to abortion: for example, laws prohibiting pregnancy discrimination or funding contraception or sex education. Roe did not undo these important opportunities for compromise. Ultimately, these advocates did lose influence in the movement. Their declining power, however, came as the result of a number of factors beyond Roe itself, including the rise of the Religious Right, the limited resources previously available to the antiabortion movement, and the Republican Party's endorsement of antiabortion goals.

This article offers new perspective on an increasingly rich scholarship on women of the Right. Current studies have not fully done justice to important "pro-woman" abortion opponents who defined themselves as feminists or sympathized with parts of the agenda set forth by the women's movement. These advocates offer reason to rethink the categories used to define women of the Right. To the extent that the history studied here offers an example, as this article suggests, we should not attribute so much of the polarization of the abortion debate to Roe itself. If Roe did not radicalize debate in the way that is conventionally thought, then should criticisms of the opinion's rationale, timing, or scope be reexamined? The history here makes more urgent a reconsideration of this question.