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Book Chapter

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Political Science


Early in the debate over abortion, opposition to the procedure was primarily described in terms that reflected moral concerns about the protection of “the unborn.” Indeed, much of the media coverage and public discourse describing opposition to abortion since the time of Roe characterizes the movement as focused on securing rights for all human beings from the moment of conception (Huff 2014, 39). However, interviews with activists and movement leaders suggest that antiabortion groups have employed an array of public outreach strategies over time. As seen above, the former director of the antiabortion group National Right to Life described how market research into public perceptions of his organization led to a shift in its outreach strategy in the 1990s. But did this shift in public rhetoric and outreach strategy extend to litigation as well? While most of the literature on social movements and framing focuses on the media, here we focus on another important venue that social movement organizations use to push for policy change and to raise visibility: the Supreme Court. Given the primacy of Supreme Court decisions in the abortion debate, it is crucial to understand changes in groups’ use of frames in legal arguments presented to the Court. There is every reason to believe that the frames employed in briefs filed before the Supreme Court represent important strategic decisions by pro-life activists and groups in response to signals from the political environment and the current temporal context (Meyer and Minkoff 2004; Tilly 1978; Meyer 2004), or what is sometimes called the political opportunity structure. Framing in amicus briefs should align with the messaging strategy employed by the group in other advocacy contexts and be reflective of the political opportunity structure (Tarrow 1998:77) and adapted somewhat to fit the language of law and the contours of legal doctrine. (We explore this point more in the conclusion.)


This book chapter was published in Open Judicial Politics in 2019 as part of the Oregon State University Open Textbook Initiative.

This work is licensed by Rorie Spill Solberg (©2021) under an Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License (CC BY-NC-SA)