Abortion care as moral work

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This article traces the history of moral arguments for abortion care. Prior to the legalization of abortion, clergy members and physicians who participated in the Clergy Consultation Service constructed a clear moral framework for abortion as they referred women to underground abortion services. With the legalization of abortion in 1973, supporters of legal abortion turned from arguments that articulated the morality of abortion to language that emphasized women's privacy and rights. Moral arguments receded to the background, to be taken up by anti-abortion activists who argued that abortion was immoral. With the rise of the religious right, the stigma surrounding abortion increased significantly. Fearing that ending their pregnancy was immoral, patients frequently struggled with their abortion decision. Beginning in the 1990s, abortion clinics began to address questions of foetal life and death head-on. By doing so, they offered patients the opportunity to explore topics previously considered too politically sensitive-questions concerning the value of life, the meaning of foetal death, religious beliefs, and frameworks as they related to the abortion decision. Patients and abortion providers asserted that their decisions were moral decisions and drew on their religious beliefs to guide their choices in favour of abortion.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)262-279
Number of pages18
JournalJournal of Modern European History
Issue number3
StatePublished - Aug 1 2019

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • History


  • abortion morality
  • abortion stigma
  • conscience
  • religion and abortion
  • situational ethics


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