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Research Paper

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University of Nevada, Las Vegas

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Las Vegas, Nevada

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Advanced Undergraduate Winner

This paper applies Henri Tajfel’s “social identity theory” to the history of abortion politics, explaining the origins of pro-life, conservative Christian identity as part of a deliberate interest group agenda. For most of the nineteenth century, abortions were legal and governed by English common law. As inherently private procedures, abortions were not discussed in public life, nor were they considered a political concern. The first anti-abortion campaign was led by professionally motivated physicians who succeeded in illegalizing abortion by 1900. Powerful, nation-wide pro-life initiatives rooted in a moral concern for human life formalized only after the 1973 decision in Roe v. Wade. Modern Christian conservatism was linked to anti-abortion ideology through the machinations of three influential institutions in American life: the Republican party, Protestant Evangelicalism, and the Catholic Church. The complicated, oft-forgotten history of the pro-life movement emerges from an analysis of first-hand accounts – i.e., newspapers, political handbooks, medical journals, laws, church decrees, visual sources, and statistical info. Modern abortion politics is a manufactured controversy that exploits an inherently private choice for the sake of morally-based social identities. This research project contributes to current histography by exploring an aspect of the pro-life movement that is rarely discussed (i.e. its connection to social identity). A fresh perspective of abortion politics can help us understand why and when abortion, an inherently private matter, evolved into a public issue for interest group identity.


Abortion; Social identity; Gender equality; Political identity; Conservatism; Evangelical; Catholicism; Civil Rights; Pro-life; Women

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Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

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