With generous assistance from a 2013 Mary Lily Research Grant, I visited the Sallie Bingham Center for Women’s History and Culture last summer to do research for an article and for my book, now under contract with Harvard University Press, The Lost History of the Abortion Debate.
The Bingham Center offers researchers access to many forgotten voices from the abortion wars, from pioneering feminists to founding members of the women’s health movement. I focused on materials documenting the policies and struggles of abortion providers in the years after Roe v. Wade. My search uncovered documents chronicling the work of individual clinics and the activities of political organizations, like the National Coalition of Abortion Providers, that lobby for those working in clinics. These documents revealed a complex legal discourse forged by lay actors—women, clinic staff, providers and activists seeking to redefine what abortion rights meant. Non-lawyers routinely interpreted Supreme Court decisions, using them as raw material for new visions of reproductive freedom.
The story told by the documents housed at the Bingham Center differs substantially from the conventional narrative of post-1973 abortion politics. We often believe that the Supreme Court set the course for the abortion wars of future decades. In particular, by defining abortion as a privacy issue, the Court supposedly short-circuited popular debate about what abortion rights ought to mean. The materials I found complicated this narrative. Far from leaving constitutional issues to the courts, providers, patients, and political activists drew on judicial decisions in creating bold, new ideas about the rights women deserved. The documents I found at the Bingham Center provide indispensable evidence of the true impact of Roe, since the Bingham collections recapture the often-neglected voices of abortion providers. We stand to learn a great deal from studying these materials. I certainly did.
Post contributed by Mary Ziegler, an assistant professor of law at Florida State University College of Law.
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The Devil’s Tale Archive
- Bill Brown Zine Collection, 1981-2011. September 23, 2014
- Center for Justice and Accountability records. September 19, 2014
- Linda Gilbert account and scrapbook, 1894. September 18, 2014
- Frederick B. Nightingale stereographs of China, 1920-1921. September 18, 2014
- Lantern slides and art photos produced by the American Colony photographers illustrating Bible lands, 1910s-1940s. September 16, 2014
- Dealing in hate : the development of anti-German propaganda September 29, 2014
- How we smelled and why September 25, 2014
- River of grass September 25, 2014
- Words of Chan K'in : Lacandon jungle. September 25, 2014
- The heart wants what it wants. September 25, 2014
- Thirty-first annual report of the South-Western Bible Society : presented Jan. 16th, 1881. Also, an address of B.M. Palmer, D.D., "God's providence towards the Bible" September 23, 2014
- Of queens' gardens September 23, 2014
- A brief history of the imprisonment of James Saunders, of North Carolina, son of the Hon. R. M. Saunders, our minister to Spain, at the New Hampshire insane asylum, written by himself September 23, 2014
- The description of Bath. A poem September 23, 2014
- Der Genius : aus den Papieren des Marquis C* von G** / von Grosse September 17, 2014