In a comment to one of my prior posts, Barry pointed out that backlash may not be the right way to see the immediate period after Roe v. Wade, since there is some evidence that the Religious Right did not develop a firm anti-abortion position until several years later. This is a really good point, and serves as a nice lead-in to this entry, which highlights the excellent work on this topic being done by Mary Ziegler (one of the presenters at the Legal History panel at AALS).
In particular, through extensive oral interviews and archival research, Mary has unearthed an intriguing and complicating counter-narrative to the commonly held view that Roe itself polarized political and social dialogue over abortion and abruptly halted political compromises and outcomes. To the contrary, Mary’s work shows that after Roe, advocates on both sides of the abortion issue initially sought compromise positions: some moderate pro-life advocates explored pro-feminist supports for a range of reproductive choices for women, and some members of the pro-choice movement explored positions and policies that recognized some level of fetal rights.
While Mary acknowledges that Roe affected the debates and positions, she rejects the idea that it played the dominant role attributed to it by many, including both Justices Ginsburg and Scalia. Mary concentrates on the political shifts that were taking place simultaneously, in particular the rise of the New Right and its alliance in the late-70s with the emerging Religious Right. Her work shows how the political dynamics shaping and reforming the Republican and Democratic Parties overwhelmed the other possible alliances and initiatives surrounding reproductive policies and women’s rights.
I am really looking forward to reading Mary’s book, After Roe: The Lost History of the Abortion Debate, which will be available from Harvard University Press this coming May. For those of you who can’t wait that long, Mary’s recent article, Beyond Backlash: Legal History, Polarization, and Roe v. Wade, 71 Wash. & Lee L. Rev. 969, covers some aspects of this study and is also well worth a read (as are other articles from that volume, a 40th Anniversary symposium about Roe.) Unfortunately that volume is right now only available through Hein, Lexis, or Westlaw, so I cannot link you there.