For most Americans today, Roe v. Wade concerns just one thing: the right to choose abortion. But the Supreme Court’s decision once meant much more. The justices ruled that the right to privacy encompassed the abortion decision. Grassroots activists and politicians used Roe—and popular interpretations of it—as raw material in answering much larger questions: Is there a right to privacy? For whom, and what is protected?
As Mary Ziegler demonstrates, Roe’s privacy rationale attracted a wide range of citizens demanding social changes unrelated to abortion. Movements questioning hierarchies based on sexual orientation, profession, class, gender, race, and disability drew on Roe to argue for an autonomy that would give a voice to the vulnerable. So did advocates seeking expanded patient rights and liberalized euthanasia laws. Right-leaning groups also invoked Roe’s right to choose, but with a different agenda: to attack government involvement in consumer protection, social welfare, racial justice, and other aspects of American life.
In the 1980s, seeking to unify a fragile coalition, the Republican Party popularized the idea that Roe was a symbol of judicial tyranny, discouraging anyone from relying on the decision to frame their demands. But Beyond Abortion illuminates the untapped potential of arguments that still resonate today. By recovering the diversity of responses to Roe, and the legal and cultural battles it energized, Ziegler challenges readers to come to terms with the uncomfortable fact that privacy belongs to no party or cause.
While much has been written about Roe v. Wade and abortion rights, we know relatively little about its impact on other areas of the law. Mary Ziegler reveals how Roe influenced a wide range of issues, including sexual liberty, the right to refuse medical treatment, and the right to die. Full of original and fascinating material, Beyond Abortion is a well-constructed and compelling book that makes crucial contributions to our understanding of Roe’s effects on law and social movements.
Meticulously researched and extremely well-written, Beyond Abortion combines an astonishing range of literature, archival data, and empirical research to provide a vivid account of how Roe v. Wade shaped a much wider range of political protest than simply abortion. Mary Ziegler’s account of how social movements debated the meaning of privacy and struggled to use it to pursue political ends will illuminate the thinking of activists and scholars alike.
Ziegler is the preeminent scholar of the ‘hidden history’ of Roe. She shows us how people fashioned new identities and new projects for themselves out of Roe’s ‘right to privacy’ and how the legacy of the most famous Court decision of modern times continues to reverberate through our own lives. This is a book that reaches beyond the contested politics of abortion rights, for it illuminates a much larger set of themes involving choice, autonomy, and the role of the state in twenty-first century life.
This in-depth look at the right to privacy, how it has been interpreted by different social movements, and their arguments is balanced with the stories of individuals within the movements.
- 400 pages
- 6-1/8 x 9-1/4 inches
- Harvard University Press
From this author
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