Interview on Abortion Politics with No Jargon

Listen to my recent interview on abortion politics and the elections (among other things) with Avi from No Jargon. Download this and other interviews here.

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Here’s Why Ammon Bundy’s Oregon Standoff Might Work (OP-ED in Fortune)

Occupations often make protestors look bad. Case in point: The armed militants, who last week seized the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in an effort to force the federal government to return the land to the people, are not exactly inspiring the masses. Quite the opposite. The protestors, who are calling themselves Citizens for Constitutional Freedom, became an immediate target of derision online. Using hashtags such as #YallQueda, #YeeHawdists, and #VanillaISIS, folks are having a field day mocking the militants. Some of the jokes take aim at the militants’ lack of clear messaging and standoff preparation; they recently used social media to ask the public to send supplies and snacks. Many of the posts, however, criticize their use of occupation as a tactic….

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Op-Ed on U.S. News & World Report: Republicans Need to Rein in Abortion Rhetoric for Their Own Political Good

Last week’s shooting at a Colorado Springs Planned Parenthood was tragic. Three parents died – Jennifer Markovsky, Ke’Arre Stewart and Garrett Swasey – and nine other individuals were injured. According to law enforcement officials, the shooter, Robert Dear, mumbled, “No more baby parts.” This statement, as well as his alleged affinity for the anti-abortion extremist organization Army of God, whose members have claimed credit for bombing clinics and murdering abortion providers in the past, have caused some to argue that Republican’s recent anti-Planned Parenthood rhetoric (and actions) are to blame….. Click here to read more.

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Reclaiming Abortion Narratives in America

My contribution to Gender & Society’s blog.

By Deana A. Rohlinger

Feminist Gloria Steinem made headlines when journalists and pundits learned that she dedicated her new book, My Life on the Road, to Dr. Sharpe – the physician who performed her illegal abortion in 1957.

According to Steinem, Sharpe asked her to not reveal his identity and encouraged her to pursue her life’s passion. In response, Steinem writes:

Dear Dr. Sharpe,  

I believe you, who knew the law was unjust, would not mind if I say this so long after your death:
I’ve done the best I could with my life.
This book is for you.

Mass media exploded with commentary on the controversial dedication.

Opponents of legal abortion criticized Steinem for “killing” her baby and advancing women’s rights by “destroying” the rights of the unborn. Others praised Steinem for being “badass” enough to tell her story and remind readers…

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Informing Activists: What do I need to know about the media environment?

Check out this video series by Jennifer Earl. These instructional videos are designed to help young activists affect social and political change. Here is mine on “What do I need to know about the media environment?”

Mobilizing Ideas

Deana Rohlinger

What do I need to know about the media environment?

Recommended Readings:


Gitlin, Todd. 1980. The Whole World Is Watching: Mass Media in the Making and Unmaking of the New Left. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Gamson, William A. and Gadi Wolfsfeld. 1993. “Movements and Media as Interacting Systems.” The Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science 528:114-25.


Gamson, William A. 2007. “Bystanders, Public Opinion, and the Media.” Pp. 242-61 in The Blackwell Companion to Social Movements, edited by D. A. Snow, S. A. Soule and H. Kriesi. Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishing.


Amenta, Edwin, Beth Gharrity Gardner, Amber Celina Tierney, Anaid Yerena and Thomas Alan Elliott. 2012. “A Story-Centered Approach to the Newspaper Coverage of High-Profile Smos.” Research in Social Movements, Conflict, and Change 33:83-108.

We would like to thank the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation for their…

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Planned Parenthood: The Battle Continues

[This is a draft of a short article written for Contexts on Planned Parenthood.]

Planned Parenthood found itself caught in the middle of a political maelstrom this fall after the pro-life group, Center for Medical Progress, released a video that allegedly showed the organization selling fetal body parts for profit. Republicans called for the immediate defunding of the health organization and Republican presidential hopefuls chimed in, accusing Planned Parenthood of “profiting” off of the abortion procedure. Rick Perry argued that “The video showing a Planned Parenthood employee selling the body parts of aborted children is a disturbing reminder of the organization’s penchant for profiting off the tragedy of a destroyed human life.” On the same day Carly Fiorina opined, “This latest news is tragic and outrageous. This isn’t about ‘choice.’ It’s about profiting on the death of the unborn while telling women it’s about empowerment.” Several states have made moves to defund (or have already defunded) the organization and, in September, the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee held hearings regarding tax payer funding of Planned Parenthood. More recently, the Outgoing House Speaker John Boehner appointed eight Republicans to a committee charged with investigating the practices of the group.

The attack on Planned Parenthood’s funding is not new. Republicans periodically seek to cut off the organization’s revenue, despite the fact that federal dollars are not used to pay for abortions. These efforts are, in part, an effort to appease pro-life activists and voters, who use a candidate’s commitment to the cause as a litmus test for their votes. As access to abortion has tightened at the local and state level, Republicans find it increasingly difficult to prove their commitment to pro-life loyalists.

Republicans are dealing with the consequences of their success.

The last frontiers of the war are making abortion virtually illegal – an idea that the recent debate over personhood legislation revealed is not universally popular even among Republicans – and dismantling Planned Parenthood.

The attack on Planned Parenthood reveals three troubling trends in American politics. First, there is a startling disconnect between knowledge and action. While politicians from both parties speak first and research later, the comments made by Republicans illustrate a clear lack of knowledge about women’s health issues and Planned Parenthood, particularly in terms of the services it provides and the services government reimburses. At the same, Republicans are willing to suspend Planned Parenthood’s funding for a year so that they can “investigate” the organization.

Sure. Didactic rhetoric and grand gestures makes for great news coverage, which is the second problem. Increasingly, journalists seem unwilling to bring clarity to the abortion issue beyond the editorial pages. While several newspaper editors took forceful positions from the “editor’s desk” on the video and Republicans’ responses to it, their coverage is remarkably shallow. No doubt, journalists’ reservations are partially motivated by the fact that activists and individuals can harass them for how they cover controversial issues in the virtual world. However, given that news media are considered the fourth leg of government, the reluctance to covering issues – as opposed to controversies about an issue – is problematic at best.

Finally, political calculation completely trumps party values. Notice that Democrats did not exactly run to Planned Parenthood’s aid this summer, even though they have publicly supported the organization’s focus on women’s health in the past. Look at Hilary Clinton’s response. Clinton maintained media-silence on the video for more than three weeks. When she finally commented on the organization in an interview with a reporter from the New Hampshire Union Leader she noted that some of the images were “disturbing” and that the video pointed to problems in “the process” rather than with Planned Parenthood itself. As I discuss in another Contexts piece, this should be understood as the new normal for Democratic politics. In the contemporary political environment women’s rights are pitted directly against religious rights, and Democrats don’t want to get caught on the least popular side of the debate.

What does this all mean for Planned Parenthood?

In the short term, it is unlikely to be defunded; at least by the federal government. States, however, are a different matter. Texas, which already defunded the organization, subpoenaed Planned Parenthood clinics for information regarding patients and employees as part of an investigation of its fetal tissue transactions. In the long term, Planned Parenthood should prepare itself for a public relations battle that, eventually, will have political and financial consequences. Sure, Planned Parenthood as faced other public controversies. The difference here is that an organizational representative looked bad in the context of the work Planned Parenthood conducts and this has costs. A recent Gallup Poll shows that only 59% of respondents view the organization favorably – down 22% from 1993. If these attacks continue, Planned Parenthood could find it has very few allies on Capitol Hill.

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How Do Individuals Use Their Identities in Claims-Making Aimed at Politicians?

Last week, I showed that individual claims-making on the Terri Schiavo case does not simply mirror those ideas discussed in mainstream media.

This, week I show how ideas are used in emails sent to Florida Governor Jeb Bush supporting and opposing his intervention.

Percentage of Frames Used to Support and Oppose Intervention in Emails to Bush

List of                                   Support Intervention                      Oppose Intervention
Frames                               (N of emailers = 1,533)                   (N of emailers = 976)    Total N
Death with Dignity                      24%                                               74%                            315***
Disability                                       91%                                                  7%                            407***
Right to Life                                  91%                                                  7%                            631***
Religious                                       63%                                                 35%                           211
Legal                                               74%                                                 24%                          851***
Medical                                          64%                                                 34%                          331
Political                                          47%                                                 51%                          958***

Note: Percentages do not equal 100% percent because 2% of the emails either did not mention a frame in their short email (e.g., “Save Terri!”) or the frame fell into the “other” category. Since the emails in the “other” category could not be meaningfully organized, they are excluded here.

* denotes p-value> .05   **denotes p-value> .01 ***denotes p-value>.001

 First, we see that frames are generally used to stake out different positions. Individuals supporting intervention are more likely to discuss the disability, right to life, and legal frames than individuals opposing it. Opponents of intervention are more likely to mention the death with dignity and political. Although some of the frames are clearly tailored to support a particular point of view and course of action (e.g., the death with dignity, disability, and right to life frames), this is not universally true. Political and legal frames are used to both support and oppose Bush’s intervention. In this case, individuals use these frames in more particularistic ways – a legal frame to support intervention and a political frame to oppose it.

Second, there are differences between supporters and opponents of intervention in terms of their use of identity. The tables below compares the frames used by individuals who do and do not deploy an identity in their emails. The tables also shows whether individuals supported or opposed intervention. This allows for more direct comparison.

Support Intervention
Identity Deployed Identity  not Deployed
Death with Dignity 4.1% 5.9%
Disability 23.8% 24.5%
Right to Life 52.8%*** 24.7%***
Religious 8.3% 8.8%
Legal 53.0%*** 31.2%***
Medical 10.3%*** 17.0%***
Political 20.9%*** 36.1%***
Oppose Intervention
Identity Deployed Identity  not Deployed
Death with Dignity 26.2% 26.1%
Disability 3.7% 2.7%
Right to Life 7.6%* 3.3%*
Religious 9.6% 7.3%
Legal 23.5% 22.8%
Medical 13.2% 11.2%
Political 59.6%* 51.0%*

* denotes p-value> .05   **denotes p-value> .01 ***denotes p-value>.001

Supporters of intervention who deployed one or more identities in their emails were more likely to frame their claims using rights language – i.e., the right to life and legal frames – than those who did not. Again, this largely can be explained by the “Thank You Bush” email campaign discussed last week.

The tables also indicate that individuals strategically use identity, particularly when individuals disagree with their political target. Opponents of intervention who deploy an identity in their claims-making are significantly more likely to discuss a political frame in their emails than individuals who do not deploy an identity. A closer analyses of the data confirms that individuals opposing intervention also are more likely to use a political identity in their emails – and that more than 75% of individuals opposing intervention identify as fellow Republicans; the party with which Bush is affiliated (analyses not shown).  In other words, some individuals strategically use an identity they share with their target in order to argue against a particular course of action.

Of course, individual experience shapes political engagement and claims-making, which means not all identities are used in such a clear cut fashion. Supporters and opponents of intervention use familial, occupational, religious, or person-with-disability identities in their emails to Jeb Bush.

Want to learn more?

Read our paper: Rohlinger, Deana, Christian Vaccaro, Miriam Sessions, and Heather Mauney. 2015. “Individual Claims-Making in the Terri Schiavo Case.” Social Currents. Available online (DOI: 10.1177/2329496515603726) and in print soon!

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