Doctors and Demonstrators: How Political Institutions Shape Abortion Law in the United States, Britain, and Canada

By Drew Halfmann
Since Roe v. Wade, abortion has continued to be a divisive political issue in the United States. In contrast, it has remained primarily a medical issue in Britain and Canada despite the countries’ shared heritage. Doctors and Demonstrators: How Political Institutions Shape Abortion Law in the United States, Britain, and Canada looks beyond simplistic cultural or religious explanations to find out why abortion politics and policies differ so dramatically in these otherwise similar countries.Drew Halfmann argues that political institutions are the key. In the United States, federalism, judicial review, and a private health care system contributed to the public definition of abortion as an individual right rather than a medical necessity. Meanwhile, Halfmann explains, the porous structure of American political parties gave pro-choice and pro-life groups the opportunity to move the issue onto the political agenda. A groundbreaking study of the complex legal and political factors behind the evolution of abortion policy, Doctors and Demonstrators will be vital for anyone trying to understand this contentious issue.


Winner of the 2012 Charles Tilly Best Book Award, Section on Collective Behavior and Social Movements, American Sociological Association2013 Distinguished Scholarship Award, Pacific Sociological Association

“The abortion issue offers Halfmann the opportunity to account for many of the ills that the U.S. system is manifesting across many other issues, and thus provides not only a comprehensive political history of the path the abortion issue followed but good indications of the sources of the havoc wreaked on U.S. decisions on other issues from climate change to tax policy.” (Myra Marx Ferree, American Journal of Sociology)

“Scholarship around abortion politics and policy may be nearly as crowded and contentious a field as the phenomena it seeks to explain. Drew Halfmann’s book, Doctors and Demonstrators, ventures boldly into this arena with a compelling tale of institutional mediation of abortion politics and policy in three nations.” (Mark Wolfson, Mobilization)

“…an interesting and absorbing analysis….” “His view that institutions were the key players in the differing developments in the [three countries] is a powerful one in light of his arguments, making this a book well worth reading.”  (Gloria Cox, Law and Politics Book Review)

Doctors and Demonstrators is an innovative, thorough, and expertly designed work of political analysis. There is much to admire here, but one of the most important elements is the use of a comparative historical approach to an issue of legal policy. Halfmann sets up an intriguing puzzle – why are abortion politics in the United States, Britain, and Canada so different? – and provides a subtle yet clear and powerful explanation.” (John Skrentny, University of California, San Diego)

“Halfmann’s analysis is an important contribution to sociology and a source of timely insight that goes beyond the specifics of abortion issues to controversies over health care generally.” (Craig Calhoun, London School of Economics and Political Science)

ISBN-13: 9780226313436
Publisher: University of Chicago Press
Publication date: 11/14/2011
Pages: 336
Sales rank: 1036752


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